You are on page 1of 8

Part number design goal

Let's step back a moment and consider our essential requirements for a part numbering
system.
Any part numbering system uniquely identifies an item approved for a
specific application. Accurate, consistent, unambiguous identification
over the entire part lifecycle is essential for correct product assembly,
testing and maintenance.
We must ensure that a new identifier is assigned whenever a variation in attributes can
have a meaningful effect on the item's form, fit, or function in the application.
A good part number design allows us to:

Meet design requirements by clearly distinguishing one part from other parts
when the difference is meaningful.

Ensure procurement and production efficiency by ignoring differences when


these are irrelevant in the application.

Rules for a good part number system


Our design goal hasn't imposed any constraints so far. But as with most designs, the
part numbering scheme must consider human factors and how the design will be used.
The part numbering system must accommodate high-volume users people who work
with hundreds or even thousands of part numbers each week. Document control
analysts, warehouse clerks, purchasing agents, production supervisors, and field
technicians need to accurately and concisely convey part numbers, often over the
phone in noisy and distracting environments.

Part number length


For most companies, a consistent length of up to 7 characters works quite well.

Consistent length

All part numbers should be the same length. Varying lengths make it difficult to know
whether any characters have been omitted or truncated. Different computer applications
may sort varying text lengths unpredictably.

Maximum length
A practical part numbering system design should account for the limits of short-term
memory. The "magic limit" is typically considered to be 7 1. Many years of academic
study, verified by real-world experience, proves that data entry errors increase as the
number of characters increase. After a certain length, errors increase at an increasing
rate: at 15 characters, the error probability approaches 100% 2.
Any scheme longer than 7 characters:

requires most users to write down, rather than simply remember, the part number
for even brief use; and

increases the likelihood of data-entry errors 3.

Part number character set


Best part number design considers data entry eye-hand coordination, i.e., "clerical
speed and accuracy", as well as compatibility with common office applications and
practices.

Numbers, not letters


Computer keypad characters are most efficient for high-volume users. The keypad
allows single-hand operation, and the layout is easily memorized.
Numeric characters are universal, visually distinguishable, and independent of local
language variations. In many fonts, alpha characters appear quite similar to numbers. If
your product is built or serviced in another country, can users easily enter your nonnumeric characters on their keyboards?

No leading zeroes
Avoid starting a part number with a "0" (zero) character.
A number with a leading 0 has two unfortunate effects: some people may write 123 for
your part 000123, and some computer applications (like Microsoft Excel) discard all

leading zeros during import, making a mess of your bills of materials. Although this rule
reduces your possible part universe by 10%, it's well worth the cost.

Hyphens as delimiters
Separate a part number into chunks when it exceeds about 6 characters. For efficient
data entry, we'll limit our delimiter choices to symbols on the numeric keypad.
Part numbers are often used as the filename for importing bills of materials, exporting
design packages and viewing file attachments. Therefore, do not use:

Computer file type and folder path characters: /, * and . symbols.

Characters near the font baseline (period and underscore) that can be obscured
within a hyperlink. For instance, 276543-01 is easier to read
than 276543.01 or 276543_01.

And never use a space character.


The safest delimiter character is a hyphen: 276543-00
For consistency, if your number scheme includes a delimiter, all part numbers should
share the same format. For example, don't use-00 for some parts, -000 for others, and
omit the dash entirely on yet others.

Best part number design solution


Taking into account our rules, this very simple part number design has been
successfully applied in a huge variety of industries, organization sizes and technical
environments:
Conclusion: A part numbering system using 7 or fewer numeric
characters is the easiest to manage for the majority of our users.
Five to seven numeric characters permit a universe of up to 10 million (without leading
zero, 9 million) unique parts, far more than most companies will see over their entire
lifespan.
Recommendation: 6 numeric characters, no delimiter. Start
at 100001 and increment.

Our short, numeric, non-significant part number provides the fastest data entry, with the
fewest possible errors. It's the most efficient solution for heavy users in purchasing,
manufacturing, receiving, service and other places where employees constantly work
with a wide variety of part numbers.
PLM software can easily generate the next part number in sequence, prevent conflicts
with previously-issued part numbers, and find parts based on the number (if you happen
to know it) and description and other attributes when you don't.
If you're now wondering how part characteristics can be included in your part
number, you're thinking of a "significant" ("smart", "intelligent") part number
scheme. Although significant numbering schemes are no longer considered good
practice, we identify the risks and offer suggestions for avoiding some of the
problems.

Authorities for using short, numeric, nonsignificant part numbers


Experts strongly recommend the use of short, numeric-only, non-significant item
numbers. We have not found any modern authority that recommends using significance
in part numbering.
Here are some relevant comments from our PLM book list:

Another important point about item numbers is that they should be as


short as possible. Part numbers are keyed, copied and used as verbal
identifiers. The shorter the numbers, the more accurate people can
be. Obviously, the greater the number of digits in a part number, the
greater chance of error. We also recommend that only numeric digits
be used.
Clement, et al.: Manufacturing Data Structures, page 20

The solution...is to use shorter non-significant part numbers. We have


found that part numbers of 5 or 6 digits are the most effective.
Garwood: Bills of Materials: Structured for Excellence, page 73 (author's emphasis)

Identification numbers are preferably short, not long. The characters


that make up the number are preferably numeric, not alpha. Any
symbols to be used with the numeric characters are preferably limited
to dashes.
Guess: CMII for Business Process Infrastructure, page 81

All tests point to numbers alone as being more easily identifiable with
far less chance of error... Tests have also shown that smaller numbers
are easier to write and remember accurately. Hence, the ideal part
number is all numeric with as few characters as possible.
Mather: Bills of Materials, page 100

I prefer a non-significant number because there is a longer life and


less error... Typically, companies run out of numbers in certain
categories of a significant number. Also, a non-significant part number
is more cost-effective to use than a significant part number.
Monahan: Engineering Documentation Control Practices and Procedures, page 33

The most critical of these issues is that, over time, the significant
numbering systems tend to break down. ... As time passes, variations
arise which were not foreseen. One digit was set aside where two are
now needed. Significant numbers thus tend to lose their significance.
They no longer do the classification coding function intended by their
inventors.
Watts: Engineering Documentation Control Handbook, page 49

I had responsibility for issuing blocks of part numbers for all GM


engineering units. I was involved [in] multiple efforts to define a
"smart" part number scheme that works. We never found one. .... The
easiest and simplest solution is a purely sequential numbering system
where the number has no significance other than [as] a tracking ID.

Francis Criqui, Director of Engineering Standards, General Motors Corp.

Part numbers versus product numbers


So-called "smart" part number schemes attempt to encode the part's significant
attributes within the number. A smart number scheme can cause substantial problems
for engineering, purchasing and production. Learn why intelligent part numbers are no
longer good practice.
For this discussion, the terms smart number, intelligent number, significant
number are all used to indicate the same idea.
However, there's one case where adding some significance is useful or, at least, not too
harmful.
First, it's important to distinguish part numbers from product numbers (also called model
numbers, catalog numbers, sales numbers, etc.).
Product numbers identify your saleable items to the outside world. The product
number represents high-level marketing characteristics that can be usefully encoded.
Stable product numbers suggest feature continuity despite non-interchangeable product
changes. A BMW 325i car built in 2010 is quite different from the version sold 25 years
earlier, yet long-time customers understand the evolution. Customers, sales and
marketing personnel, distribution channel partners and customer purchasing agents all
refer to the "same" general product while engineering makes radical product changes
over time.
All model changes are defined as "interchangeable for the application" (that is,
marketing or support purposes), for as long as marketing or product support considers
the items interchangeable. Non-interchangeable engineering changes will simply bump
the marketing number's revision, which is never exposed outside the company.
However, the "significance" risk remains much the same: if there are more than a
handful of product numbers, or if a product number is displayed on the product or its
packaging, errors in managing a significant product number are easy to make and
expensive to correct. An extensive product catalog drives towards non-significant
product numbers.

Part numbering supported by PDXpert


PLM software
PDXpert PLM software makes it very easy to adopt a non-significant numbering
scheme. PDXpert software can be used to auto-generate part numbers, and its freeform (Google-like) text searches make part look-up quick and simple.
Like most part numbering software, PDXpert PLM software can follow industry part
number best practices by sequentially assigning document and part numbers. If you
help your users by separating your part numbers into short groups (e.g., 1234-5678),
PDXpert PLM software will ignore the delimiting characters when incrementing: 12349999 is followed by 1235-0000.
If your part numbering system uses a "semi-significant" scheme, PDXpert PLM software
can assign document and part numbers based on your defined item types. Each part
and document template can "subscribe" to a unique or shared item numbering format
that permits category prefix (e.g., "HW-"), sequentially-assigned base number, and a
fixed suffix (such as "-01"); the next part number from HW-12345-01 will be HW-1234601. Users can further modify these assigned values as needed.
And, if your company must use an "intelligent" part numbering system that requires
human interpretation and assignment, PDXpert PLM software will accept manuallyentered document and part numbers for all of your items. The software easily accepts
mixed schemes, such as importing legacy significant numbers while auto-assigning
shorter non-significant numbers.
In addition to accommodating your specific part numbering system, PDXpert PLM
software supports all organizational stakeholders:

Duplicate part numbers are automatically prevented based on rules that can
optionally include part or document class and type subclasses.

When creating a new part record, users are prompted for consistent item
descriptions using "text templates" based on the part type.

A specifying designer can provide unit costs for part list roll-ups.

Each part can have its own supplier source parts list, which includes the ability to
rank preferred usage.

Users can add a virtually unlimited number of file attachments that are either
"locked down" on item release, or can be modified throughout the entire part life
cycle.

Even non-technical users can easily find parts by relying on familiar "Google-like"
free-form text searches that not only return the most relevant parts, but also can
return similar items that may be substituted, with the resulting part list ranked by
relevance.

Complete part histories are tracked by releasing and canceling parts revision
records using change forms.