Many of the companies we work with operate in a production environment that necessitates the tracking of hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands, of parts. This demanding type of environment can heavily benefit from a part numbering system.
After all, parts must be managed, stored, retrieved and handled in ways specific to a 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 Part Numbering
Looking back, traditional part numbering systems and document identification methods originated well over five decades ago. This type of organizational system has its root in manual, paper-based record keeping, which involved the use of document identifiers and descriptive part numbers to give an idea of what exactly is a particular item.
The structure was such that each lengthy part number served as a detailed description of the particular part or assembly.
Over time, part numbering moved away from this descriptive approach, or what some call “smart” part numbers, and moved towards “insignificant” part numbers. This “insignificant” method is essentially comprised of a sequence of 5-6 letters and numbers without any embedded description or particular meaning.
This streamlined approach serves as the next generation of part numbering and 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 our age of modern ERP systems and part numbering. These part numbers can easily be integrated into a parts database accessible by employees involved in all parts of the process, including:
- Materials handling
- Production control
The Benefits of “Insignificant” Part Numbering
Practically speaking, there are many advantages to moving away from “smart” part numbers, which in the long run end up being far more cumbersome than unique part numbers. Here are some of the substantial benefits of “insignificant” part numbers:
Reduced Training Costs
In order to take advantage of “smart” part numbering, everyone throughout the company must be trained in the decoding the set part numbers. As companies grow and personnel changes, more and more time is wasted in training and interpreting these so-called “smart” part numbers. However, with “insignificant” part numbers, less training is required to create new part numbers and perform multi-field data queries.
Instead of relying on lengthy and cumbersome “smart” part numbers that attempt to describe a particular part or assembly, unique IDs are much shorter and easier to track. Unique IDs are traditionally made up of a sequence of five uppercase letters and digits, which is much easier to remember.
Reduced Chance of Errors
One of the biggest practical limitations of “smart” part numbers is that similar parts are given similar names, making it difficult to tell each item apart, especially during picking. As a matter of fact, this practice has been known to increase the risk of picking errors.
On the other hand, unique IDs are much better – they are unique to each part, and quickly assessed for accuracy during picking. Unique IDs also mean the part labels are easier for workers to read.
Improved Part Life Cycle Management
Where descriptive part numbers are effected by product information changes, unique IDs are not. Instead, a unique ID is assigned to each part as it changes and moves through the life cycle.
ERP Systems and Parts Numbering
All in all, the move away from “smart” part numbering helps with data mining, automated queries, and business analytics, especially as they relate to an ERP system.
With “insignificant” part numbers, product catalogs from different companies can be merged without losing any information. In addition, during an ERP selection project, a reliance on unique IDs makes the transition to and implementation of a new system much easier.
We find many of our clients have been using older legacy systems, in addition to 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 view changing from a “smart” part numbering system that many are comfortable with, combined with the shift to a new ERP system, as too much change to absorb at once. Therefore, they oftentimes just 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 method, 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.
To learn more about how Ultra can help you optimize your business processes, contact us today.