How to manage product versions

How to manage product versions


There is nothing permanent except of change. As we developing products, we are making changes all the time. To manage product versions is inevitable process in every product development and manufacturing organization. It sounds like a simple process, but as organization is uncovering more details, to manage product versions can be a complex task to accomplish.

Product complexity and multiple disciplines

Manufacturing product is not an assembly of mechanical parts anymore. It is a combination of mechanical parts, electronic components and software. The traditional of management product versions in different disciplines are different. At the same time, management of product versions should include a combined view on how to identify each component of a product.

Part revisions, interchangeability and FFF

One of the well known debates in product development is attributed to management of part revisions. FFF is so called Form Fit and Function definition that for many years used as a criteria to decide when to use new Part Number and when to revision an existing Part. Fundamentally the discussion about Part revision is leading to the question of part interchangeability. The following two articles here and here can give you an idea of the debates between two options – assigning Part revision vs creating a new Part Number.

Part Revision vs Document Revision

It is important to separate Part and Document revisions. First is the attribute of part and it a reflection of part design and change. Document is a reflection of a product or part development. The changes of documents are required even part / product revision remains the same.

PLM systems supposed to handle both – part and document revisions separately. At the same time, you can find the concept of connected part and document revisions very complicated to manage in many PLM systems even today.

Software Versions

For many years software versions were completely disconnected for product development and revision management. It was a separate discipline. I know many companies that for many years acknowledged they have very little formality to manage software and hardware product versions and revisions. My attention was caught by the following document – Semantic Versions 2.0.0. It gives a very perspective on a framework to manage software versions.


Manufacturing, ERP and Material Master

ERP is another system and the domain that supposed to provide a framework to manage product versions. Typically managed on the level of Item Master or Material Master, revision level is an attribute that is alphanumerical that applies in addition to Part Number. Here are few links from Oracle Applications here and SAP here that can show you examples of item master revisions, process and references to standards.

Best practices and standards

The old joke says if you have 2 engineers, you might end up with 3 opinions. The same happen with the decision how to manage versions and revisions. A bit old, but still relevant article from SolidSmack can give you an idea of possible variations in product revision, naming and best practice. Ask the reader – should drawing revisions be letters or numbers?

Intelligent Part Numbers and Revisions

The topic of intelligent part numbers is often comes connected to the definition of revision. Intelligent part number has revision number or code as part of an overall intelligent part number pattern. The following article brings a good example of how intelligent part number used to identify versions of revisions in Ford Motors .


What is my conclusion? Products are complex these days. Even a simplest product can easy contain hundreds of components with many dependencies. To manage product versions, to correspond it to a correct revision of component(s) is a fundamental process in every product development and manufacturing organization. It is often done poorly because of separation of multiple design disciplines, manufacturing complexity,  inventory management practices and global distribution. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image credit wikipedia and


Share This Post