Part number system: How to get started

What is a part number system?

A part number system is used within a manufacturing company as a way for individuals and departments to identify and track parts. Categorizing parts in a standardized way can create efficiencies in many manufacturing processes.

Often manufacturers will use either an intelligent part numbering or non-intelligent part numbering scheme. Read our article “Part Numbering Schemes—Intelligent vs. Non-Intelligent” for the pros and cons of each type of part numbering scheme. This article will provide you with helpful tips to consider when selecting a part number system and highlight some tools available to help generate and manage part numbers.

Factors to consider when selecting a part number system

Electronic Parts

It is important to understand how your organization will use and manage part numbers when choosing a part number system. If a part number system is chosen and not fully accepted and followed within an organization, confusion and inefficient manufacturing processes may result.

It can be difficult to switch from one part number system to another, especially if your team is already familiar and comfortable with an existing system. People are creatures of habit, so make sure a switch to a new system is justified and will improve efficiency. Also, be prepared to spend some time and attention updating your existing part numbers to the new convention.

If you are just getting started and need to decide how to structure your part number system, consider the following:

What will your part numbers be used for within your organization? Get feedback from your team and consider their suggestions on how to structure the system. Does the part number need to carry data with it in order to enable other business practices?

Will part numbers be handed off to suppliers or contract manufacturers, or perhaps across different business systems? If so, does that other business system have data type and size restrictions? It is a good idea to consider the needs and requirements of members outside your immediate organization.

Your business operations can also influence which part numbering system to use. An original equipment manufacturer (OEM) that creates its own part numbers has entirely different business needs than a company downstream in the supply chain.

Also consider your business tools. Will your current system support your part numbering needs? Can you maintain your part number system with your existing tool or will your part number system be more effective by bringing another system into the mix?

These are just a few considerations for selecting a part number system that makes sense for your business. Gather all this information early to help establish a successful part number system.

How to manage part numbers

For a part number system to work well, it is important to establish good processes for generating part numbers and to use a system that is well equipped to manage part numbers.

Whether you use an intelligent or non-intelligent part numbering system, it is important to make sure you do not duplicate part numbers. Using the exact same part number for two entirely different parts can cause serious problems including delays on the manufacturing line, confusion over the BOM record and incorrect part ordering. These problems can ultimately impact your bottom line.

While using the same part number for two different parts seems like an obvious pitfall to avoid – it can happen when more than one person has the authority to create a part number. Additionally, reaching the end of a number series (e.g. 999) can cause confusion that may unintentionally lead to part number duplication. How you manage a part number system can help you avoid these issues.

Here are some examples of how manufacturers manage a part number system.

  • Paper log record – This is a quick and easy method for generating a part number. With this method, one person is in charge of assigning part numbers to help prevent duplicate part number creation. However, there are some downfalls to this approach. Relying on a single person to generate all your part numbers risks creating a bottleneck and a single point of failure in your manufacturing process.

  • Excel spreadsheet or Access database – While these tools can allow for quick part number generation, it is difficult to keep data under control due to the limited lock and security restrictions with these tools. As a result, part numbers can be easily duplicated. Assigning the part numbering responsibility to one person can mitigate the duplication risk, but this also creates bottlenecks in your manufacturing processes. The variety of number formats in Excel may also confuse your numbering scheme, especially if your scheme incorporates symbols such as dashes, making it difficult to keep your part number structure consistent in this tool. It can be tedious and time-consuming to manage part numbers in Excel when a given part number is used in several entries across multiple Excel BOM records.

  • Business tools – There are a variety of other tools that support part numbering needs without the pitfalls of methods mentioned above. Here are a few to consider:

    • Partnumber.com: This is a free utility for assigning intelligent part numbers and creating part descriptions.
    • Bill of materials (BOM) software: Several BOM software products provide flexibility to generate either intelligent or non-intelligent part numbering schemes. With minimal restrictions on formatting your part numbering system, part numbers can contain letters, delimiters, spaces, hyphens and other characters.

While BOM software is not free, manufacturers find great value in the ability to manage and maintain part numbers. And with many BOM management systems like Arena PLM, manufacturers are able to get off the ground seamlessly and do not require hefty IT assistance.

With Arena PLM, you can share your product data with suppliers and contract manufacturers, giving them access to part numbers. This feature helps prevent duplicate part numbers. Plus, parts can be defined for a category and sub-category, allowing for a more robust way to group parts.

Conclusion: Create efficiencies with the right part number system for your business

To make an informed decision about which part numbering system to use, it is important to understand how your part numbers will be used and managed. Structuring your system accordingly from the start will help create efficiencies in your manufacturing processes.

It is often difficult and therefore not recommended to change from one part numbering system to another. However, it is more reasonable and common for manufacturers to switch tools for managing part numbers. For example, a company just getting started may decide to capture part numbers in an Excel spreadsheet and then move to a BOM management solution that will enable a growing manufacturing company to more efficiently manage its part numbering system. The transition from Excel to BOM software is easy – many BOM systems are capable of migrating existing part numbers from an Excel spreadsheet into the system.

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