Get Smart When it Comes to Part Numbering

  • August 25, 2014
  • Feature

By Dennis Gilhooley, Jr., Ultra Consultants

It can be a challenge for manufacturers to manage, store, retrieve and handle parts that reflect a company’s unique operation, especially in high mix production environments. The challenge is even more daunting for manufacturers that operate a production environment that requires tracking hundreds – if not hundreds of thousands – of parts. To help manage and effectively track parts, part-numbering systems have evolved as a way to reference each part in a standard fashion. Looking Back It’s worth noting that traditional part numbering systems and document identification methods originated well over five decades ago.  With roots in manual paper-based record keeping, the process usually involved using lengthy, descriptive part numbers that provide a detailed description of the particular part or assembly. Over time, part numbering moved away from “descriptive”  or   “smart” part numbers, and moved toward “insignificant” numbering system – essentially a sequence of 5-6 letters and digits without any embedded description or particular meaning. A Streamlined Approach This move from “smart” numbers to unique or “insignificant” part number IDs makes sense, especially for those organizations looking to upgrade or implement a new ERP system.   This streamlined approach serves as the next generation of part numbers or unique IDs. In database terms, the part number is “insignificant” and relevant data fields are attached providing for complex query and data analysis. Unique part numbers are easily integrated into parts database that can be accessed by materials handling, production, engineering, production control, purchasing, or sales. Key Benefits: Practically speaking, organizations achieve key benefits when shifting from “smart” part numbers, which end up being far more cumbersome than unique part numbers, to “Insignificant” part numbers. Benefits include: Less training: With the “smart” part numbering system, resources are needed to train the entire team in decoding the part number.  As companies grow and personnel change, more and more time is wasted in training and interpreting these so called “smart” part numbers.  By contrast, “insignificant” or unique part numbers require little if any training to create new part numbers and perform multi-field data queries. An easier framework: Instead of relying on lengthy and cumbersome "Smart" part numbers that attempt to describe the particular part or assembly, unique IDs are much shorter and easier to track. Unique IDs traditionally are made up of a sequence of 5 uppercase letters and digits, which is easy to remember. Improved accuracy: Note that "Smart" part numbers give similar names to similar parts, which makes them difficult to tell apart during picking and increases the risk of picking errors. Unique IDs are specific to each part, and quickly assessed for accuracy during picking.  Unique IDs also mean part labels are easier for workers to read. Streamlined part life-cycle tracking: A unique ID is assigned to each part as it changes and moves through the life-cycle. Unique IDs are not affected when product information changes, as a descriptive part number is.   Smarter Parts Numbering We see the move to “insignificant” parts numbering evolve with the use of data mining, automated queries and business analytics, especially as relates to ERP systems. This approach to parts numbers lets companies merge product catalogs from different companies  without loss of information.  In addition, during an ERP selection project, a reliance on Unique IDs makes the transition and implementation much easier. We find that many companies that have been using older legacy systems are also using some sort of home-grown “smart” part numbering system.  That’s why the implementation of a new ERP system is an opportunity to cleanse data and develop new “insignificant” part numbering system.   We also see some companies find changing from a “smart” part numbering system a challenge since many are comfortable with the approach. When changing to a new ERP system they opt to stick with their “smart” part numbering system.   Finally, we see some companies using a hybrid approach to retain the old “smart” part numbering system for their old part numbers, but use “insignificant” part numbers for all new parts going forward.   No matter the approach, taking the complexity out of part numbering is a smart strategy. AUTHOR BIO Dennis Gilhooley Jr. Dennis Gilhooley is a Senior Consultant at Ultra Consultants , independent ERP experts with a focus on delivering business process improvements to manufacturers.  Dennis has more than 15 years of experience in business process improvement, management consulting, ERP implementation, lean manufacturing, project management, portfolio management, sales management, education and technology training, supply chain management, and project management. Dennis has a BBA in Marketing from Loyola University, Chicago and a M.Ed. (Computer Science) from DePaul University. He is APICS – CSCP certified, PMI – PMP certified and an IBM trained Lean Six Sigma Black Belt

Learn More

Did you enjoy this great article?

Check out our free e-newsletters to read more great articles..