AltiumLive 2022: Alex Sapp on How to Create a Better BOM


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I recently spoke with Alex Sapp, director of API commercial strategy at Octopart, about his AltiumLive presentation, “How Resilient is Your BOM?” In this interview, Alex details the takeaways of his class, and some tips and techniques for creating more reliable BOMs and dealing with the current supply chain uncertainties. 

Andy Shaughnessy: How are you doing, Alex?

Alex Sapp: I’m doing great, Andy. 

Shaughnessy: I understand you have a pretty cool AltiumLive presentation. Why don’t you give us a taste of it?

Sapp: I have about 25 years under my belt now from different seats. I’ve worn an OEM six sigma hat, a distributor hat, an ISO and quality control hat, and a logistics and component inspector hat. And after all these years of witnessing pains and issues that a lot of the folks have had within the supply chain, we are starting to see things get a little bit easier right now. There’s less friction with cross-pollinating data between organizations, transparency in the data they're using to make better decisions.

In the last couple of years of the pandemic and shortages, companies were forced to get smarter about how they acquire and use data, how they design things, and how they can mitigate all of these line down situations and purchase price variances. Worst of all is respinning a board. So, my whole pitch during this presentation is how to create a resilient BOM.

Shaughnessy: What’s so important about this presentation? Why should somebody attend?

Sapp: There are three important takeaways that I’m trying to communicate. The first one is to design more effectively using a really robust API within your design solution. This is critical. It’s mission critical to design efficiently and effectively so that you don’t get painted into a corner of lines down or respinning a board.

The second takeaway is how to safely identify alternates during the inevitable shortages which will always occur. And then the last piece is more of a consideration, which is that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, as Winston Churchill once said. The effects are demonstrably different when you’re able to have a full picture of what’s been going on in the supply chain.

Shaughnessy: It’s great to get designers more information up front, where they can take care of things and make their mistakes early, before they’re really expensive. 

Sapp: That is right. It’s all about safely identifying risks, depending on whatever your risk tolerance is within your company or program, and using the API wisely. When you use that data programmatically in your workflow, you have the ability to retrieve effective, real-time, accurate data that enriches your ability to make solid decisions.

Shaughnessy: Sure. Now, what are you seeing out there in the supply chain? It seems very hectic and stressful. Are there any bright spots that you want to point out? 

Sapp: Absolutely. I’m definitely positive about what’s been going on. Obviously, these shortages are impacting the bottom line for a lot of companies, but these difficulties have really forced us to be innovative. We no longer have the luxury of just dealing with e-commerce and data provided through the internet. Now we’re being forced to go through these processes. And I think that it’s made us better. It’s made us operate smarter, faster and cheaper.

But one critical element that we bring to the table now is data, specifically about the procurability of components that these design engineers are placing into their bills of material. And we now have the ability to go back in time, up to 10 years, and look at what inventory was available from very specific suppliers on a very specific day and time range.

And this tells us how effective those parts are that they’ve chosen for their board. So for example, all too often business analysts and data scientists look at a bill of materials. And when they look at it at a higher level, maybe at a customer part number level or an internal part number level, they’ll see that there are a multitude of approved alternates.

But when you compare the parts against our vast empirical data, you see that maybe three of those parts haven’t been purchasable for the last 12 months, so to me, that says that maybe that’s not the wisest part selection. From a technical standpoint, it’s a drop-in replacement, but you can’t buy it. So this new data point allows engineers to proactively mitigate that before they invoke an alternate part that their team just can’t buy. It’s exciting! It’s the first time an organization’s done this.

Shaughnessy: And it gives the designer the information up front that they need, and as you said, the user interface is so simple that it’s not going to be a chore to use. 

Sapp: That’s right. And if you’re using the API inside of your design solution, like Altium Designer, it’s so robust. I highly recommend using our Nexar API. We have more than 280 data feeds going into that singular API.

Shaughnessy: All right. Is there anything you want to add? 

Sapp: Yeah. I would say that using an API feed within your design solution or workflow really enriches your visibility. Querying alternates helps mitigate these issues on the front end so that you’re not in a corner later. And you should always be open to looking at historical procurability and other data points within the supply chain to help you really ensure that the board that you’re creating is resilient on the front end.

Shaughnessy: Well, good. Thanks for your time, Alex.

Sapp: Awesome. Thank you.

Watch Alex Sapp's "How Resilient is Your BOM?" presentation below.

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