Existing data prevents companies to improve Part Numbers?

Existing data prevents companies to improve Part Numbers?


Part Numbers is a fascinating topic. I’m coming back to blog about what is the best approach to manage Part Numbers. My last post about it was – Part Numbers are hard. How to think about data first? was just few weeks ago. In that article, I outlined few principles how to keep PN separate from surrounding data focusing on different aspects of parts – description, classification, configurations, suppliers, etc.

Yesterday, my attention  was caught by ThomasNet article – Are Part Numbers Too Smart for Their Own Good? The article nailed down a key issue why companies are still having difficulties with management of Part Numbers. Nothing works from scratch in engineering companies. Complexity of characteristics and history of existing Part Numbers and products are making real difficulties to adopt new PN management concepts. The following passage explains the problem:

Another problem with descriptive numbering is that the description can become out of date and irrelevant over time. Individual parts can have their own life cycles; if a part has been identified according to the product, what happens if that product is discontinued but the part continues to be used in a newer product? Or what if a manufacturer changes vendors and the part number contains the name of the vendor that originally provided the piece?

Gilhooley admits that some Ultra Consultants clients have decided that switching from descriptive to auto-generated numbering would require too much organizational change. Some companies stick with old systems, and some opt for hybrid systems that perhaps retain descriptive numbers for existing parts but use auto-generated numbers for new parts.

It looks like there is no single solution or best practice to solve the problem. The “traditional” engineering approach to keep options to manage a diverse set company configuration looks like the only possible way to solve this problem in existing PLM/ERP systems.

What is my conclusion? History keeps customers from moving forward. There are two aspects of complexity in Part Numbers: 1/ complexity of definition and data classification; 2/ historical records of PN in every company including catalogs and existing products. Together, they create a block to make any changes in existing PN schema and prevent companies from migration towards new approaches. New data modeling technologies must be invented to handle existing data as well as supporting customers to migrate into modern PLM and ERP solutions. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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  • This is so true, in my experience. What about using semantic web technology to map part numbers according to their characteristics?

  • This is so true, in my experience. What about using semantic web technology to map part numbers according to their characteristics?

  • So if I may infer a direction from your thoughts, when implementing a new part system, not only does the implementer have to relate old=new part numbers, but they also have to consider a system that allows future users to relate old=wasnew+isnew part numbers. No longer can the new system be a simple one-to-one relationship between old and new numbers, it has to be future proofed to allow for a many-to-one relationship because, inevitably, sometime in the future, the part numbers are going to change again.

  • beyondplm

    Peter, thanks for asking! Yes, mapping is one possible solution. Semantic web or any other mapping tools. It can certainly improve new tools. The challenge is that PN are used everywhere from PDM/PLM and ERP to supply chain, support and sales.

  • beyondplm

    Scott, thanks for your comment! You’ve made a very interesting inference. I can see PN evolution as part of company development lifecycle. In many cases, people are trying to invent a system that will last forever. Many systems you can see today designed that way. However, business and manufacturing are getting more dynamic than before. So, “change” is the most prominent status in manufacturing.

  • Given the complexity of the problem and even more so of the solution,
    some companies may opt to simply ignore it. But multiple BOMs with inconsistent
    numbering schema often hide a bigger problem: inconsistent attributes and

    I worked with a global automotive OEM on issues surrounding architectural
    complexity reduction and global quality management. I discovered that each product
    line was using different part numbers. This was obviously difficult to manage
    from a supply chain perspective. But, not less importantly, other metadata and
    data attributes such as failure modes, labor operation codes and other important
    information were codified differently, rendering cross product line reporting
    and analysis difficult and potentially lacking, if not erroneous.

  • beyondplm

    Joe, thanks for sharing this example. I agree – there is very high complexity of managing Part Numbers and related data. Supply chain is especially difficult since it involves multiple company policies and entire value chain.

  • Colin Bull

    Oleg, part numbering is a massive business change that is often neglected as it is deemed as just an attribute by PLM’ers. Intelligent PN’s stem from the time when the drawing was master and rather than reading the drawing the part numbers indicate certain key attributes for that part. So to convince an organisation that a non intelligent numbering system needs to show that the drawing is not the master. There also need to be a method to align the old and new for existing product lines for service and manufacture but using new for NPI. I also agree with Joe, the lost information such as failure modes due to multiple PN’s for the same parts is costing OEM.s millions.

  • beyondplm

    Colin, thanks for your comments! Agree with your assessments- PDM/PLM systems that have CAD vendor roots are designed around CAD models/ Drawings. Opposite to that, ERP vendors took Item Master as a foundation of everything. But ERP/BOM is poor in terms of capability to manage engineering data. This is unsolved problem. I blogged about that in my earlier article – Complexity of Part Management in PDM — http://beyondplm.com/2014/07/11/the-complexity-of-part-management-in-pdm/

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