Why Intelligent Part Numbering May Not Be Smart

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part-numberingConsultant Scott Moisan wants to make one thing clear: he doesn’t expect you to agree with everything he says. He just hopes you’ll listen to why he strongly prefers non-intelligent part numbering schemes over intelligent part number schemes. For 21 years, he has tackled product lifecycle management (PLM) implementations of all flavors and sizes. What follows is bone-crushing honesty. These upcoming unvarnished truths surrounding PLM best practices may make those of weak constitutions shudder.

Arena: You say in most cases, non-intelligent part numbers is the way to go. Why?

Moisan: With an intelligent part number scheme you typically have to know a lot of information about the part in order just to create a part number. For example, take a capacitor which can have a dizzying array of attributes like Capacitance, Surface Mount or Thru-Hole, Tolerance, Voltage, Type (Ceramic, Tantalum, Electrolytic, Poly-Film) or package size. An intelligent part number for a Capacitor might use a “C” for the first digit, the second digit might use “1” for Surface Mount or “2” for Thru-Hole, then your third digit might be tolerance, the fourth digit could be information on packaging and then finally the last digit(s) might be for the Capacitance. When you build intelligence into a part number it can get extremely complicated because each category of the part (Capacitor, Resistor, IC, Fastener, Spring, Washer) could correspondingly have its own array of attributes that further describes that type of part. So where do you stop? In many cases you will need to know almost everything about that part before you can assign a part number.

Arena: When you’re in design mode, you might not know all the information about the part that an intelligent part number is requiring of you prior to its being officially ‘named’ or ‘numbered’. Are intelligent part numbers bad because they can slow down your processes? Are they based on best practices?

Moisan: Intelligent part number systems are almost always different for each and every customer—even if they were naming the same/identical parts. If you compared an intelligent part numbering system between two separate companies you would more than likely find that there is very little in common. So even if a user used an intelligent part numbering scheme at one company, and then moved to the other company, they would still have a long learning curve to assimilate the new intelligent part numbering system because they are always specific to each company.

We aren’t getting rid of the intelligence within a part, we are just shifting the intelligence from the part number to part category specific attributes. By adding attributes specific to the type of part you are creating a richer dataset. As a result, that makes it easier to search for the exact part you need.

Arena: Does a non-intelligent part numbering scheme take a much shorter time to create a part number?

Moisan: Yes. If I want to go create a part number for a capacitor, I would select the category for Capacitor and Arena PLM will generate the next available number in a sequence. I don’t have to know everything about the part either.

Arena:  It seems like an intelligent part numbering system is a cruel misnomer, because you lose flexibility when you are forced know everything about a part before you can even create it.

Moisan: Arena always prefers to implement a non-intelligent part numbering system due to its flexibility and simplicity.

Whereas an intelligent part number might take more effort as I explained in my capacitor example. Intelligent part numbering systems can be cumbersome and slow down your process.

Arena: In what situation would an intelligent part numbering make sense?

Moisan: For established companies that have had an intelligent part numbering in place for a long time. It’s often easier for them as an organization to not change. But for companies that are looking to adopt best practices or don’t have that much data Arena PLM makes it easy to change from an intelligent part numbering scheme to a non-intelligent part numbering scheme.

For companies that are happy with their current part numbering scheme, in most cases we can configure Arena PLM to use their intelligent part numbering system.

Arena: Can Arena PLM help customers cross over from intelligent to non-intelligent part number?

Moisan: Yes we can still track the new number with their legacy part number. So let’s say that a customer decided to change all of their part numbers to a new numbering system. They won’t lose visibility of their legacy part number or the ability to search on the legacy part number. Also we can configure Arena PLM so that they could still see their legacy part number from a bill of materials (BOM) perspective. There are definitely things that we can do to help facilitate the process as they cross over from intelligent to non-intelligent.

For more pros and cons to selecting the right part numbering system for your business, download our Part Numbering eBook. And if you have any advice you’d like to share on this topic, please comment below.

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About the Author

John Papageorge
John Papageorge has worked at some of the biggest names in the high tech industry, launching products and programs for companies, such as Oracle, HP, Cisco, and Microsoft. John's passion ... Read More 

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