The objective of configuration management is to track component parts of a larger entity either in a finished product or a sub-assembly. It requires relevant parts to be identified with a lot or version number and in some cases an asset number, for locating the component through its pre- and post-sales life cycle.
- Discrete Manufacturing - Configuration management adds a degree of complexity to the manufacturing and assembly operation. Each product needs identified uniquely or by lot, so that it may be referenced for possible recall after sale. Within each referenced product a list of configured lot or part numbers must be maintained with the ability to search for components. As often is the case, a component may develop a history of failure and the manufacturer may wish to recall all items which have used a specific part in the final assembly. For example, a hardware manufacturer may wish to recall all products that contain a referenced semiconductor by part and revision number.
- Software Distribution - A software company may wish to send updates to customers who purchased a package which contains a problematic or obsolete module. By announcing an upgrade or by contacting customers directly, specific releases of the package may be targeted rather than the entire product.
- Capital Equipment - For some capital equipment industries where the product is not sold but rented, the product with the individual components may be depreciated independently. This is especially the case where the useful and economic life of the components may vary individually within the assembled item. Where appropriate, costs of maintenance and repair can be accumulated against the component and in some cases depreciation can be calculated. In cases where the component has multiple uses and can be associated with different items, it may be disassembled and reassembled to form a different item or be placed into inventory for later use. In this example, major components have an individual economic life and are given asset numbers so that their value may be depreciated for tax purposes. In many cases companies use an Asset Tracking System which also may include Maintenance Management and Fixed Asset modules to track location, performance, repair costs and depreciation.
- Food & Drug - In companies that service food and drug industries, companies are mandated by the FDA to be able to recall products which may be harmful. Here the configuration management goes beyond the manufacturer’s lot number and includes tracing the origins of component ingredients back to the supplier. Whether the manufacturer needs to track the product to the retail shelf, the direct consumer, or consumers in general will depend on the product.
Not all components of a module or item need to be tracked equally. Configuration management adds to the cost of manufacturing due to the activities associated with recording components and tracking the item. It should be used where there is a distinct economic advantage or legal requirement, as in the case of asset tracking, or to meet FDA needs. In some cases configuration tracking can be used for only the critical portions of the item’s components. Several ERP software packages have inventory management modules that support configuration management. In selecting one, understand your needs and how you plan to use configuration management.