Part Numbers. There is no topic that drives more attention when it comes to discussion about how to organize the work in product development and manufacturing. It is usually a heated discussion and opinions are ranged between using intelligent, semi-intelligent, and dumb (simple) part numbers. In my OpenBOM business, we onboard customers, yet a rare discussion happens without talking about Part Numbers.
Speaking to hundreds of engineers and manufacturing companies about Part Numbers, I wanted to share my thoughts about why the conversations about Part Numbers are so important and why it is hard to find a consensus about how to manage Part Numbers. I also would like to speak about why there is no simple solution (yet) to Part Numbering.
In a nutshell, the problem can be articulated in the following way. While using dumb, not semantically rich part numbers makes total sense, we (put many manufacturing companies’ names here) believe there is still some value in using them and we would like to have “some” level semantics to identify Part Numbers.
So, here are three main reasons why engineers and many other people in manufacturing companies are literally obsessed with Part Numbers and how to use them.
There is always (!) some legacy…
There is literally a very small period of time between the moment you have “nothing” and “something” in product design, development, and manufacturing. I can even say that “ground zero” is literally not achievable. And at the moment of time, engineers start to use (and re-use) some of his stuff, Part Numbers are coming immediately into a play.
Excels (or other spreadsheets) are always the second-best software to manage product information. There are so many of them in every company and they contain different schemas to identify data. CAD models coming from different CAD systems are also using some semantically meaningful identification used for file names. If it happened to your organization to have some legacy databases or legacy systems (eg. ERP), these databases are using other notation for Part Numbers.
The moment you have some legacy, you’re already not at the place where you can choose the right solution, but you’re already in the place where you need to change what you have and this is really hard.
Engineers Love Efficiency
A typical innovative engineer is super lazy when it comes to the point of managing data. Because remember, all engineers need data, but nobody really wants to manage it. The fundamental thing that every engineer was to satisfy is his own laziness in the way data can be understood and semantically recognized. So, if the Part Number starts from “A”, it is easy to remember that it is an assembly, but if it starts from “F”, it is obviously a fastener. There are many situations in which data is disconnected from information systems and engineers like to be able to understand it without any additional tool or software system.
Multiple Systems and Absence of Trust
Let’s continue from laziness and efficiency and talk about multiple systems. The reality of every company is multiple systems- CAD, PDM, PLM, ERP, SCM… you name it. On top of this are always some Excel files (there is always someplace for Excel when one of the enterprise systems cannot do the work). With the high diversity of systems, engineers usually don’t have trust in a single system to manage parts. I always get the answer – what if the system is not available one day? How will we identify parts and what stands behind them? What if we will need to migrate data from one system to another? How will we identify the data? Another aspect is the use of the same data in multiple systems. For many engineers, a semantically rich Part Number is a bridge that in many situations “connects” disconnected systems.
What is my conclusion?
Part Number is a cornerstone many engineers use to semantically identify the information. Combined with multiple systems, an absence of trust, and a lot of laziness to manage data, engineers are sticking with semantically rich part numbers and won’t give up until they will figure out how to solve all their problems. What can change this status quote in the foreseeable future? The only viable solutions are simple yet powerful data management systems giving engineers the desired level of transparency, trust, and flexibility. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network-based platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.