One of the fundamental things in product development and lifecycle is related to part numbering schemas. The discussion about part numbers is always emotional. Sometimes it feels like a disagreement about picking your child name. The dilemma is usually presented as “intelligent vs. non-intelligent” part numbers. You can read few recent articles about part numbers – Arena Solutions’ Part Numbering Schema: Intelligent vs. Non-intelligent, Ed Lopategui on GrabCAD – Intelligent Numbering: What’s the Great Part Number Debate? I wrote multiple articles about the same topic. The last one – Why to use intelligent part numbers in 21st century?
Jos Voskuil’ raises the question about “Intelligent” Part numbers? in his last blog. It gives great historical background about the intention of people to use intelligent part numbers. The connection to the digital future caught my attention. Article speaks about digitization and increased complexity as a factors that will lead us to eliminate part numbers – changes, product complexity, digital storage and the need to connect data sets. The last one is specially interesting. The following passage explains that:
In a digital enterprise, where data is flowing between systems, we need unique identifiers to connect datasets between systems. The most obvious example is the part master data. Related to a unique ID you will find in the PDM or PLM system the attributes relevant for overall identification (Description, Revision, Status, Classification) and further attributes relevant for engineering (weight, material, volume, dimensions). In the ERP system, you will find a dataset with the same ID and master attributes. However here they are extended with attributes related to logistics and finance. The unique identifier provides the guarantee that data is connected in the correct manner and that information can flow or connected between systems without human interpretation or human-spent processing time.
I found the discussion about “Intelligent” Part Numbers vs unique ID in database a bit misleading. Although I agree that we are moving fast into a digital future, I hardly believe unique ID will become a way to replace intelligent part number. The main reason is related to the fact information about parts lives in multiple databases in a company and outside of the company in a modern digital world. To reconcile all databases into specific internal ID is near impossible task that might be even more expensive than renumbering of all Parts used by a manufacturing company. These databases aren’t perfect. To reconcile databases or datasets produced by different systems in manufacturing company is very challenging. Semantic is not fully captured by data models of applications and databases. The keys in schema and data models can be unreliable. Semantics of information is subjective and can differ even for the same data. Combine data correctly is difficult and it can require lot of handwork.
So, what will be the future of part numbers? I can see there important trends that will happen in parallel.
1- Future developing product information standards. You can think about Product schema.org, which will provide a way to map meaningful part information between datasets.
2- Development of intelligent mechanisms to select part in applications. Think about it as a replacement for Part Numbers, but in a form that can capture a complexity of part information and, at the same time, to provide a connection to diverse set of information about the part.
3- Development of part selection devices such as scanners, AR devices, etc. These devices will help to identify physical parts location in manufacturing shop-floor or in physical products.
What is my conclusion? In the past, intelligent part number was the only source of information about part. So, the intelligence was in the number itself. Or, more precisely, in different elements of a part number. Product development environment and product information are getting more complex. More databases, systems, dependencies. Part catalogs are not a paper book any more. Manufacturing became global, which is another factor of information complexity. At the same time, legacy databases and systems will not disappear tomorrow. So, what will happen with Part Number? Should be invent a superficial intelligent part number? I don’t think so. But the information about parts is spread across multiple databases and data sources. So, the future is probably belonging to Part Number Intelligence and the ability to select and manage parts in a distributed environment. Just my thoughts…
Photo credit of O-scale models RustyRail