Ask some folks in the industry what comes to their mind when you mention concept design, and most would probably start talking about the new 2D sketching and 3D direct modeling capabilities that are making its way into CAD applications. But if you have ever actually done design work as an engineering, you know there is far more to it than that. You often start with a Bill of Material (BOM) as you do a sketch. Yet it seem like there is very little focus on that aspect of concept design in terms of technologies to help engineers. That’s why I started to look a little more closely at Arena Solutions PartsList and PDXViewer

In this post, I’ll provide a little background on this product, the capability it provides as well as my own commentary and analysis.


In 2000, Michael Topolovac and Eric Larkin founded the company to continue the development of the Arena BOMControl PLM system that they started back in 1994 at Light & Motion Industries. In February, Arena Solution launched two new products, PartsList and PDXViewer (press release), to work alongside BOMControl.

Capabilities Provided

Today, we’ll be focusing on the two new products offered by Arena Solutions: ParsList and PDXViewer. Let’s take a look at the capabilities that each provides.

First, let’s start with PartsList.

  • Users can create BOMs by adding new components or import spreadsheets in the form of CSV files.
  • When importing CSV files, you can map your spreadsheet columns to the fields in PartsList.
  • By default, a PartsList BOM includes the following fields: Item Number, Manufacturer Number, Manufacturer, Description, Distributor, Distributor Number, Quantity, Reference Designator, Cost, File, Part Notes, URL and Buy.
  • The fields for PartsList can be customized by the user. The size of the columns that show these fields can be resized and reordered.
  • Through its integration with Octopart (corporate website), which provides component information about electronic parts, PartsList automatically fills out all of the BOM fields such as costs, descriptions and even data sheets.
  • The URL field takes the user to the supplier’s web page about that part.
  • The Buy field lets you add the component to your shopping cart so you can purchase it.
  • The BOM can be exported in the CSV format or the Product Data eXchange (PDX) format, a standard organized by the Interational Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI, corporate website).
  • The PDX format acts like a package of structured information and files that includes BOM, prints, drawings, specifications, images, messages and other files. All of this is captured in a single file. This single file can also be imported or exported by several PLM systems.
  • PartsList works inside of web browsers, so there is no installation of a software application.

Second, let’s look at PDXViewer.

  • PDXViewer lets users view PDX files, which includes BOMs, part information, Approved Vendor Lists (AVL), Approved Manufacturer Lists (AML) and other files.
  • PDXViewer allows users to filter these files based on their attributes or by selection. A user could select a subset of parts and only send that information to another person.
  • PDXViewer also works inside of web browsers, so there is no installation of a software application.

Commentary and Analysis

OK. We now know a little bit more about what capabilities these products provide. Now lets talk about what it means for engineers.

Concept BOMs for the Engineer

As I mentioned before, there aren’t many tools for engineers to mockup conceptual BOMs. Most just use spreadsheets for that purpose today. So is there any advantage of using PartsList over a spreadsheet?

If your products include a lot of electronics components, then the answer is a resounding yes.  The advantage isn’t in creating the list of parts. It’s in getting all that other information you need to be populated for each component. You need to know the cost. You need to know the suppler. The capability of automatically populating those fields from Octopart is huge. Not only because of the automation, but also because of the accuracy. Human error can take the form of incorrect information.

There are many PLM systems that trending towards supporting mechatronics products. However, there are very few that support conceptual BOMs like this.

Sourcing for Contract Manufacturing

An important characteristic of the PDXViewer product is in filtering and exporting. I know. It doesn’t sound like the each-shattering functionality. But here is why it is important.

Some subsets of even just individual components from a mechtronic product might be sourced to a specific supplier. If you are only sourcing a subset of the components, then you certainly don’t want to provide more information about the product than necessary. Yet, you do want to share as much information such as data sheets and the like. The fact that PDXViewer lets you filter down to what you want to source to one supplier and export only that information lets the engineer or purchasing agent accomplish both goals: share information but do it in a IP secure fashion.

Summary and Questions

OK. Let’s hit the recap.

  • Arena Solutions, which was founded in 2000, launched two new products called PartsList and PDXViewer in February of this year.
  • PartsList lets engineers create conceptual BOMs and use an integration with Octopart to automatically fill out lots of information about those parts. These BOMSs can then be exported in CSV or PDX formats.
  • PDXViewer lets engineers open, filter and export PDX files. These files can be used to interact with suppliers in an IP friendly fashion.
  • If your products include a number of electronic components, then these two products can offer a significant advantage in developing, managing and sourcing BOMs.

Those are my thoughts, now it’s time for you to sound off. What do you think about tools that let you develop BOMs outside of a PLM system? Are any of you using PDX to exchange information with your suppliers?

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.