What is the Right Part Numbering Scheme for you? Intelligent vs. Non-Intelligent
What is a part number?
Manufacturing sophisticated high-tech electronics and medical device products requires the use of many parts—anywhere from thousands to tens of thousands. Having the right part numbering system and approach is critical to make it easy to reference, re-use, and avoid part numbering related mistakes.
Manufacturers use part numbering schemes to assign a unique number to each part. Before software programs simplified the process of creating and maintaining part numbers, most companies relied on manual logbooks with highly intelligent (categorized) numbers.
Part numbering schemes
Part numbering disciplines and processes have changed over the year and most manufacturers use one of the following types of part numbering schemes:
- Non-intelligent – Also referred to as “non-significant.” The part number does not provide any information about the part. Non-significant part numbers are typically serial (pulled in numerical order), regardless of the type of part. Using this part numbering system, a resistor could be assigned part number 000416782.
- Intelligent – Also referred to as “significant.” The part number contains descriptive and informative details that provide significant information about the part. With this type of scheme, a part number generated for a resistor might be RES-100-0003, where “RES” stands for resistor, “100” is the resistance value in ohms and “0003” is a serialized suffix.
Which scheme should you use?
In any manufacturing organization, pulling a part number should be an efficient and accurate process. Consider your current and future operations when selecting which type to use. Here are some pros and cons of each:
Advantages of non-intelligent part numbering
Using this type of scheme will save your organization time upfront. You can ramp new employees quickly, avoid relying too heavily on any one person, and maintain the system without much overhead. Here’s how:
- Time savings: It takes little to no time to pull a sequential number for an item. Assigning a part number can happen fast. You do not have to know anything about the part to give it a number.
- Little training needed: If your organization hires new employees they will not need to learn how to define a part number and can focus their attention on other tasks. Assigning a new part number can happen with minimal training.
- No single point of failure: To rely on a single person who knows the part numbering system in great detail might mean you sometimes have to wait to assign a part number. With non-significant part numbering, you can easily have multiple people pull part numbers. Your company can continue to run efficiently even if one of them is out sick or leaves the company.
- Simple maintenance: It is easy to maintain this type of scheme, as it’s essentially a sequential list. You will not have to decide where and how a new part fits into your scheme.
Disadvantages of non-intelligent part numbering
Using a non-significant part numbering scheme isn’t completely error-proof; mistakes can happen, especially if data entry is involved, and managing similar parts can be difficult. Here’s why:
- Potential for errors: Because it doesn’t have meaning, a non-significant part number does not provide any cues to help a user evaluate a part. If a number is manually entered into an ERP system, even an experienced person may fail to spot a data entry error. Part number 0004167822 could inadvertently be entered as 0004167823, and with no frame of reference for a user to determine if the part number makes sense in the context of other data, the error will likely go unnoticed.
- Difficulty managing part numbers: Without common prefixes, this type of part numbering scheme may require more work to maintain. You’ll need to track additional metadata to define your parts and then use that information for grouping or searching among them, since their part numbers don’t provide identifying information.
Advantages of intelligent part numbering
Significant part numbers offer time savings downstream, and they can help prevent data entry mistakes and improve manufacturing efficiency. Here’s how:
- Search efficiency: With this type of scheme you can group similar parts in your design documentation and spreadsheets and then more easily sort and search among them. You can also locate physical parts on the stockroom floor more efficiently. It’s easy to see where all the resistors are when they’re all labeled with a part number starts with “RES.”
- Error reduction: This type of number scheme provides a frame of reference for each part by specifying the group to which it belongs. If a shop floor worker needs to quickly verify that a part meets general functional requirements, s/he can use the part number to assess it. Since a significant part number can be decoded, it makes it easy for someone to spot a part that’s in the wrong group.
- Process improvements: The data contained in significant part numbers may also allow your team to move parts through your corporate processes more efficiently. Because parts in a class are all handled the same way, change routings, review processes and manufacturing steps can be predefined for part number classes or categories. When a new part of a particular type arrives, the steps to move the design forward are immediately apparent.
Disadvantages of intelligent part numbering
While there are many benefits to using a significant part numbering scheme, this type of scheme also has some shortcomings. For this type of scheme to work well in an organization, employees must be familiar with different kinds of parts. Such a scheme also demands ongoing attention and can introduce delays in your processes. Here’s why:
- Training and knowledge required: These part numbers have meaning and the stakes are high if parts are not properly defined. The person assigning numbers must know how to place a part in the right group. An incorrectly classified part can be misused because of the information implied by the part number.
- Ongoing maintenance: A new part that does not fit your current scheme will require an evaluation of the entire scheme and definition of a new part type. The logic of the part numbering system must be understood and carefully maintained, and group sizes must be planned in advance. For example, if all the significant digits in a string (0-9) have been used and there’s an eleventh part type that should have a number in that group, what do you do? You need to spend time upfront planning for how to avoid this type of conundrum and how to address any challenges when they arise. When a change is required, you’ll need to spend time updating the system and training people on the changes.
- Process inefficiencies: You may need a specialist to handle most part numbering if you use a significant scheme. In this case, a single person or group can become a bottleneck. And pulling a part number may require time and discussion, which slows down the design process.
How Arena PLM handles part numbering
Manufacturing a product is multifaceted: engineering changes occur, parts become obsolete, suppliers run out of stock and the list goes on. These challenges are difficult to handle without a systematic method to track, organize, and share product information. A strategy for organizing part data, including part numbers, and a method for communicating that data to all who need it can help.
Arena Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) helps your team use part numbers to collect all data about a part, to share that information, and to keep everyone on the same page. With Arena PLM, manufacturers can control the engineering change process, share accurate, up-to-date bills of materials (BOMs) with their contract manufacturers (CMs) and make sure everyone on their team is working with the latest information.
Arena PLM supports all part numbering schemes and allows you to use part numbers as efficiently as possible. You can transfer an existing part numbering scheme or establish a new one when you get started. Part numbering schemes in Arena PLM can be defined for a category or sub-category and can use formats as basic as a sequential series of numbers and as complex as a series of meaningful fields. Part numbers can contain letters and numbers and can be formatted with delimiters, spaces, hyphens, and other characters.
Arena also integrates with other systems like CAD, EDA, PDM, and ERP. You can minimize data entry errors by connecting Arena PLM to the other tools you’re using and pushing part numbers between them automatically.