Many of the companies we work with operate a production environment that necessitates the tracking of hundreds – if not hundreds of thousands – of parts.
Parts must be managed, stored, retrieved and handled in ways specific to the manufacturer’s unique operation, especially in high mix production environments.
To help manage and effectively track parts, ERP systems and part numbering systems have evolved as a way to reference each part in a standard fashion.
The Evolution of Parts Numbering
Looking back, traditional part numbering systems and document identification methods originated well over five decades ago. The organizational system has its root in manual paper-based record keeping, and involved the use of document identifiers and descriptive part numbers that give an idea of what the item is.
The structure was such that each lengthy part number served as a detailed description of the particular part or assembly.
As researchers note, over time part numbering moved away from this “descriptive” approach, or what some call “smart” part numbers, and moved toward “insignificant” – essentially a sequence of 5-6 letters and digits without any embedded description or particular meaning.
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.
This move from “smart” numbers to unique or “insignificant” part number IDs makes sense in this age of modern ERP systems and part numbering. These part numbers can easily be integrated into parts database that can be accessed by materials handling, production, engineering, production control, purchasing, or sales.
Practically speaking, there are many advantages to moving away from “smart” part numbers, which end up being far more cumbersome than unique part numbers.
“Insignificant” part numbers offer substantial benefits including:
- Reduced training costs: In order to take advantage of “smart” part numbering, everyone throughout the company must be trained in the 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. However, with “insignificant” part numbers, reduced training is required to create new part numbers and perform multi-field data queries.
- Decreased complexity: 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.
- Reduced chance of errors: One of the biggest practical limitations of “Smart” part numbers is that they 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 just that – unique to each part, and quickly assessed for accuracy during picking. Unique IDs also mean part labels are easier for workers to read.
- Improved part life-cycle management: Unique IDs are not affected when product information changes, as a descriptive part number is. Instead, a unique ID is assigned to each part as it changes and moves through the life cycle.
ERP Systems and Parts Numbering
In all, the move away from “smart” parts numbering helps in data mining, automated queries and business analytics, especially as relates to ERP systems.
With “insignificant” parts numbers, product catalogs from different companies can be merged 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 of our clients that have been using older legacy systems are also using some sort of home-grown “smart” part numbering system. Many use the implementation of a new ERP system as an opportunity to cleanse their data and develop new “insignificant” part numbering system.
However, others find that changing from a “smart” part numbering system that many are comfortable with, combined with the change to a new ERP system is too much change to absorb – and stick with their “smart” part numbering system. Some use a hybrid approach and retain the old “smart” part numbering system for their old part numbers, but use “insignificant” part numbers for all new parts going forward.
Regardless of the approach, most companies have realized “smart” part numbering is an antiquated approach to part numbering and data analysis. Many are putting plans in place to shift from “smart” to “insignificant” part numbers in the near future.