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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Another problem with descriptive numbering is that the description can become out of date and irrelevant over time.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




One of the topics that usually raises a lot of debates is Part Numbers. One of my first takes on the complexity of Part Numbers was here – PDM, Part Numbers and the Future of Identification. Ed Lopategui reminded me about that topic in his GrabCAD post – Intelligent Numbering: What’s the Great Part Number Debate? few days ago. He speaks about four aspects related to handling of Part Numbers – creation, readability, uniqueness and interpretation. The conclusion is complex as well as the topic itself. Here is the passage, which outlines the conclusion Ed made.

Balancing all these diverse factors is difficult, because no solution is optimal for every company. Here are some final tips to help you make prudent decisions: 1/ Understand your PDM/PLM system part number generation capabilities; 2/ Understand the limitations of any other systems that interact with your parts; 3/ Go through every activity that requires interpreting part numbers and understand what system access is available, and how the interfaces work. This will provide a good basis for your interpretation cost; 4/ Understand how easy/difficult it is for a new employee to interpret a part number.

These tips made me think again about Part Numbering, data and different data and process management tools involved into the process of Part Numbers handling. Most of approaches are focusing on systems and functionality to handle part identification and classification. What we do is trying to align our need to identify and classify parts with what multiple systems can do. The hardest part is to find Part Numbers that will make all systems involved into the process (CAD, PDM, PLM, ERP, SCM, etc.) to work smooth. Honestly it is too complex and too costly.

So, how to manage that complexity? Is there a reasonable way to resolve the complexity of Part Numbering and made everybody happy? Thinking about that I came to conclusion that companies should start thinking about data first. From the longevity standpoint, data must have much higher priority compared to any data management system. In some industries companies are obliged to keep data for decades. Thinking about that, I want to outline some principles that will help you to do so and will allow to create some standardization around parts and data identification.

1- Disconnect Part Numbers and classification from specific applications. PN should not be dependent on requirements and capabilities of data and process management systems. Data has much longer lifespan compared to applications and systems. By defining PN independently you will keep data and processes in your company clean and well organized.

2- Generate PN based on classification, business needs and processes.  Develop independent service to make it happen. This service is most probably should be independent from existing data management systems and converted in some sort of URI based notation.

3- Use  independent service to convert independent PN into system specific identification. You can convert for any system you have at your disposal – PDM, PLM, ERP, SCM… What is important is to be able to control the process of conversion and adapt it each time data and/or process management system changes.

What is my conclusion? Product data is one of the most expensive assets in manufacturing companies. It represents your company IP and it is a real foundation of every manufacturing business. Think about data first. It will help you to develop strategy that organize data for longer lifecycle and minimize the cost of bringing new systems and manage changes in existing systems. I think, some services should be developed to make the process of part numbering easier for manufacturing companies. As manufacturing is getting global to maintain part numbering systems becomes a huge problem. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg




Identification. When it comes to data management it is a very important thing. In product data management and PLM it usually comes to the Part Numbers. Companies can spend days and months debating what to include in Part Numbers and how to do that. Smart Part Numbers vs. Dumb Part Numbers. OEM Part numbers, Manufacturing Part Numbers, Suppliers Part Numbers – this is only one slice of identification aspects in manufacturing and engineering. I want to reference few of my previous posts PDM, Part Numbers and the Future of Identification and Part numbers and External Classification Schemas - to give you some background of what potential problems or dilemmas you may have towards decision about numbering schemas and identifications.

These days product information is going beyond borders of your company and even beyond your stable supply chain. The diversity of manufacturers, suppliers, individual makers combined with increased amount of e-commerce is creating the need to use product identification more broadly and maybe in more synchronized and standard way.

My attention was caught by SearchEngineLand article – How Online Retailers Can Leverage Unique Identifiers & Structured Data. Read and draw your conclusion. Article speaks about usage of product unique identification in e-commerce – GTIN.

In e-commerce, there is a unique global identifier that is leveraged across all major comparison shopping engines and search engines: namely, a GTIN or Global Trade Item Number (better known in the U.S. as a UPC). These global unique product identifiers take the guessing game out of comparing two products to determine if they are the same item, eliminating the problems typically associated with entity resolution and big data — all you have to do is compare the GTINs.

The most interesting fact is the variety of GTINs are now part of product definition. is the initiative supported by Google, Yahoo, Bing and Yandex about representation of structured information on web pages. Google can aggregate product based on the comparison of identical GTINs. You can see an interesting patent filled by Google – Aggregating product review information for electronic product catalogs. Here is an interesting description:

An analysis module collects product reviews and determines whether each product review includes a product identifier, such as a Global Trade Item Number (“GTIN”). For product reviews having a product identifier, the module adds the product review to the product catalog and associates the product review with the product identifier. For product reviews lacking a product identifier, the module initiates an Internet search using information from the product review and analyzes search results to identify a product identifier for the product review.

You can ask how it applies to PLM and Part Numbers. In my view the initiative to have a standard of structured data representation presents the technique that can be used by manufacturing companies and software vendors. Web shows how to do it in an open way and increase the value of data access and analyzes. Finding similar parts inside your company product catalogs and across supply chain with future optimization can be an interesting solutions. Manufacturing companies are trying to solve this problem many years. It can also lead to significant cost benefits.

What is my conclusion? Adoption of web technologies and practice becomes an interesting trend these days. In my view, enterprise software (and PLM is part of it) is struggling from protectiveness in everything that related to data. Keep data close, hold format and data management practice – this is a very short list of examples you can see in real life. It was well-known business practice for many years. However, the opportunity from openness can be bigger. is a perfect examples of how an agreement between competing web giants can solve many problems in user experience and benefit e-commerce. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg



BOM 101: Preliminary Product Structures and Part Numbers

February 1, 2013

I want to continue my BOM 101 thoughts and speak about working with Bill of Materials during early stages of product development. Engineers are using multiple sources of information to create an initial Bill of Materials. The initial BOM structure can come from CAD system, other BOMs developed earlier and also created from scratch. One […]

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BOM 101: The four pillars of every BOM management solution

January 17, 2013

I suggest you an experiment. Invite two engineers and ask them to provide a definition for some of PDM/PLM related terms. I’d not be surprised if you will get more than two definitions. It is not unusual to spend lots of time during PLM software implementation meetings to define terms, language and meaning of things. […]

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Part numbers and External Classification Schemas

February 7, 2012

I want to talk about Part Numbers. Yes, Part Numbers, again… My previous blog – Part Numbering and the future of identification raised few interesting conversations. So, I decided to open a Pandora box of part numbering. The formal trigger for this conversation was Arena Solutions blog – Three consideration when choosing Part Numbering schema […]

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A Geek’s View on Part Numbers

August 17, 2011

I feel a bit geeky today. I posted about part numbers, document number and numbering few times in the past. These posts sparkled an intensive discussion about all possible and impossible data schemas, intelligent numbers and standards for part numbering. I want to give you a bit different approach to think about Part Numbers – […]

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