Interesting detail on a common problem. The answer depends on the details of your system and how you guys like to do things.
This seems to be the rule of thumb for using configurations to manage multiple entities:
Avoid multiple part numbers in a single SolidWorks file. But if you do it then all PN in the file need to be released at the same revision letter (or whatever your revision scheme is).
It is not worth the complexity to try to have 222-1 and 222-2 on different revisions (but it is possible, and we have some legacy stuff in this state). Not sure how your system works, but if each set of related PN (with dash numbers) are on one drawing that ensures they will stay sychronized, and then this is not really a big deal.
If you are using a separate spec document (or just a drawing based table that covers all variations) then that also doesn't sound very risky. A separate spec can be Pasted as a Reference to all the drawings (or vice versa), if there are multiple drawings involved, so that it is easy to find and update. It would avoid having multiple SolidWorks files with basically the same model, and you wouldn't need configurations.
""""What about inserting the base part into other SolidWorks part files which carry the variation metadata?""" Oh, I think I see... you could either use an assembly or insert part into part. I think either could work if you want to have models for each variation without remodelling.
Word is: don't use Items. I've heard this from VAR and others, there are generally better ways.
Good points. Part of what I would like to do is avoid reving anything that doesn't really need to be revised. If we need to add a new variation, say a new color of paint, I would prefer not to rev the 3D CAD, or a 2D drawing (which we rev independently) but instead rev another document. Part of the question then, is how do we manage this in a BOM? If the top level BOM has several variations based on variations of several parts, how do we handle this? It starts to seem more like an ERP system, not a PDM system.
Hmm, yeah. So maybe you are looking to get an accurate as-built BOM for a particular product or serial number going out? That does sound like ERP/MRP. If it is not a consisent change - all flux capacitors will be built with red resin now - then it is not really a normal BOM change, which is what EPDM is better at. But I'm sure there are folks who could make it work somehow in EPDM.
Our ERP system does have a "Configurator" where the sales guys add options. So, once the configurator options are set up, we don't need to rev anything for that.
There are some open source ERP/MRP systems now if you don't have anything in place.