Why to use intelligent Part Numbers in 21st century?

Why to use intelligent Part Numbers in 21st century?


Several people asked me the same question earlier today. It wasn’t tricky question. It was a question PDM and PLM pundits are discussing for years. And the question is “should we use intelligent or dumb part numbers. Do you think, I’m kidding? No, I’m not…

The number of articles and blog post about part numbering schema is overwhelming. It looks like all bloggers writing about CAD and PLM ((including myself) ) already posted at least one blog about that. Just to mention few posts – Part Numbering Schemes—Intelligent vs. Non-Intelligent; Intelligent Numbering: What’s the Great Part Number Debate?Part Numbers are hard – how to think about data first; Connecting ERP to PLM.

I’ve heard a lot about the fact companies implementing PLM should use the opportunity and move from the practice of intelligent part numbers. It will save time and will make your life easier. So, you probably think intelligent numbers are in the past and you can see them in the back mirror of your new car. It might sound like that with an increased efforts to implement PLM systems by large and small companies these days. So, why people are still using intelligent part numbers? Until today, my conclusion was that people feel more comfortable with intelligent part numbers because of 3 main reasons:

1- It is self-defined and helps engineers to keep their existing habits and processes in places.

2- You don’t need to implement it using PLM, ERP or any other system.

3- It can be used across multiple systems.

Most of PLM vendors are allowing multiple options for part numbering schema. It includes both (intelligent and not) approaches in their PLM systems. It usually came with a large portion of explanations about advantages and disadvantages of both approaches. I thought that the answer is somewhat in the middle and development of intelligent part numbers can be an overkill for organization already decided to implement PLM system. So, customer should use technology, apply classification schema and treat part number as internal element of data model.

Here is the thing… Something is changing in the way companies are thinking and working these days. Manufacturing is getting more connected and it might force us to review part numbering schemas and the way we think about it. Obviously PLM or whatever other system(s) we use in engineering and manufacturing should have a way to identify data. As a result of this an increased number of people and related services can be interested to use part numbers outside of the system for variety of reasons – design contractors, suppliers, contract manufacturers, customer service teams, e-commerce website, etc. To hook them all to a single PLM system can be not feasible.

Also, product lifecycle span is becoming longer compared to a software lifecycle. The data you create today using one system will have to move to another system sooner than later. By developing intelligent part numbering schema, you can eliminate many problems in the future when you will be migrating data between systems and services.

I want to risk myself and share my opinion here. I can see an increased importance to use intelligent part numbering schema these days as we move into connected manufacturing eco-systems. Modern cloud-based engineering and manufacturing software will create a surge for companies to develop data schema independently from PLM system. It will also help to integrate systems and services together using Web APIs and web friendly integration systems.

What is my conclusion? The changes are coming to manufacturing. It is getting more global and connected with many dependencies and cross-company processes. In such eco-system intelligent part numbers can simplify processes and eliminate the need for additional data mapping. How engineering, manufacturing, procurement, supply chain and other software will handle new way to getting access to the data across systems? This is a big question and the note for software and system architects. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



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  • Hi Oleg,

    it is really the most discussed topic ever. People often discuss about using or not using intelligent numbers without showing alternative solutions. In my projects the opinion changed after I presented the classification module or, even simpler and more effective, an additional attribute “part classification”, where old logic can be stored.

    The funny thing about intelligent numbers is that companies who never used them, do not miss them :). I worked for such a company, where simple number string was used for 20 years. It was a nice time: no discussions about numbers or new number ranges or new assemblies etc. at all :). Manufacturing worked without issues and in many international sites. Such use cases could be a nice contribution in projects.

  • beyondplm

    Hi Alexander, Thanks for sharing this information! I guess, company that never used intelligent Part Numbers relied on classification schemas or additional attributes (you explained) to store the information. The information used for intelligent part numbers is usually essential for company business. It is just managed other way when company switch into simple numbers.

    Here is the thing – if part information is needed anyway, then it all depends on how flexible is the system to use it. My point about an increased important of intelligent number is that it is self-contained and can be easy taken out of any system for different use.

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  • Geoff Laycock


    I have been a big fan of intelligent part numbers for a long time. Coming from a business that sold only configurable products every day and rarely selling the same exact product multiple times made it almost impossible to use anything else.

    The real benefit I see for using intelligent part numbers is simply that it increases sales. Even if you have a great internal ERP and/or PLM system that uses random part numbers with attributes that are well defined and easy to use, you customers, almost certainly, will not. They must rely on your catalog/website/customer service/application engineer to help find the correct part number. The real goal of coarse is to sell more product and make more money. The easier it is for your customers to determine your part number the easier it is for them to buy.

    I have always been amazed by how many customers I have met that know the intelligent part number system and could create our part numbers faster than we could. Once they have used the system enough it becomes second nature to them and even more difficult for a competitor win any regular business.

    When you provide tools to easily learn and use the smart part numbers then the user adoption and use of the system increases.

    I am delighted to see your optimism for the future of intelligent part numbers as almost everything else I have read has been strongly against the idea. The thing is, I think most of these opinions only take into account the internal part of the business and forget that if the customer is not buying then there is no business.

  • beyondplm

    Geoff, thanks for sharing your insight. IMO people are afraid to be locked by PLM, ERP, and other technologies without knowing Part Numbers. Although if you have a system in place chances it will go down are low, but it is physiological (irrational) rejection and PLM technology has nothing to do here. Another good reason to use intelligent part numbers is related to cross-system data exchange. Best, Oleg

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