More Recommendations on Part Numbering

Three years ago, a previous post made the case for the key approach to nomenclature, as opposed to the obsolete “smart” numbering systems. In the key approach, the only job of a part number is to be a unique item identifier, through which all relevant information can be retrieved from a database. But you still need to think what items you want to have unique IDs for.

To issue operator instructions, or support customers, you may be tempted to have a different ID for each version. If you do, however, for all intents and purposes, different versions of the same product are different products, which is not what you want when analyzing market trends.

The original Volkswagen beetle went through many versions from its launch in 1938 to the last one in Mexico in 2003, but it is still thought of as the same model, in the sense, for example, that it makes sense to add the sales figures for all these years and say that 21,529,464 were built.

For this to be possible, you need a version-independent product name. Version must be an attribute attached to the name that you use to retrieve the version-dependent technical information, but the different versions remain linked by the product name for all other purposes.

If you buy components to assemble into industrial products, you may find it expedient to just use the naming conventions of your suppliers and customers. You don’t care how they came up with these names but, as long as they are unique, they support your communications with them, and you don’t have to worry about generating your own. It sounds like a good idea but it’s not.

First, even if you believe in single-sourcing, you may not have achieved it yet, and you have some components with multiple suppliers, using their own part numbers. If you just use your suppliers’ part numbers, and have four suppliers for the same bracket, you will have four items in your database that you will have to identify as alternatives, when all other items in a bill of materials are used in conjunction.

In addition, it will make the number of components appear larger than it really is, underestimate the frequency of use of your components, and won’t help you collocate functionally equivalent items in your warehouse.

Second, you have no guarantee that no two suppliers will ever use the same name for different parts. It is unlikely, but, to make sure it doesn’t happen, you add a supplier prefix to the names, which ends up doing exactly what you wanted to avoid: embedding information in the names.

The bottom line is that having your own names for components, subassemblies, and finished goods — with no embedded information — will serve you better in production planning and logistics/supply chain management.