Choosing a part numbering scheme is one of the more important decisions you make as you move toward production.
Once you commit to a part numbering scheme, you are married to it for a long time to come, so you need to be 100% sure it is nimble enough to evolve and scale right along with you.
I’ve written some articles recently addressing the pros and cons of intelligent and non-intelligent part numbering, as well as unique challenges that come with an intelligent part numbering system that are useful to read as you decide on a part numbering system. But even within the buckets of intelligent and non-intelligent, part numbering schemes vary. Ultimately, the correct system is one that takes your unique business process into consideration.
So before you commit to any part numbering scheme, ask yourself these three questions:
#1: How do part numbers serve each team within your organization?
In your search for the ideal part numbering scheme, consider how the entire enterprise will be affected.
In general, engineering and design teams tend to prefer intelligent part numbering schemes because the descriptive names can help them identify parts more quickly. On the other hand, your operations department may prefer the efficiency and universality of non-intelligent numbering schemes.
Your engineering team may want some intelligence built into the part numbering system so they can quickly identify components. For example, they may often need to zero in on capacitors or resistors within the BOM, and want a special label to identify those items.
There may also be automated processes connecting business system that rely heavily on the formatting of part numbers—for example the number of characters in the part numbering string. If this is the case, your part numbering format must be perfectly consistent and uniform in order to make sure integrations don’t break down.
#2: Will your part numbering scheme incorporate suppliers, contract manufacturers or different business systems?
Considering the needs of manufacturing partners outside your immediate organization is also a smart idea (although this can be difficult if you are still establishing key partners in your production process.) Your suppliers have a stake in your numbering scheme too, so finding out how they manage part numbers can help you optimize your process from the beginning.
It may also make sense to consider your organization’s position in the manufacturing chain and how many organizations you will be working with up and down the chain. If you are sending data to several organizations on both ends, you may want to choose a system that is as standardized as possible.
#3: What business tools will you use to manage your parts?
Adopting a new part numbering scheme is a major move—you don’t want to complicate matters by choosing a scheme that is too complicated for your existing business tools.
For example, if you manage part numbers in Excel, you may need to include information in the part that helps you run part searches. If you use a PLM system that can generate automated numbers for you, you need to decide how to communicate this information with vendors working outside your PLM system.
Lightweight automated tools to help you number
Many PLM and ERP systems simplify the process of generating and tracking part numbers. But if you’re a small manufacturer who doesn’t have access to one of these tools, or is still stuck in Excel, here is one web service that can help you generate part numbers relatively easily.
- Partnumber.com: This is a free application for assigning intelligent part numbers and creating part descriptions.
This service is straightforward and can help you get started with numbering. But as your system becomes more complicated, we recommend tools that can help manage a large library of part numbers.
Putting any kind of new system in place is a challenge. Do you have any war stories you’d like to share?