Supply Chain

The Simple Guide to Product Numbering

January 19, 2021

What’s the right product or part numbering scheme for you? Find out now.

A single product can contain dozens to tens of thousands of unique parts. Knowing which parts to use in a product and when they need to be used is key to an efficient production line with minimal errors. To identify and keep track of parts, manufacturers apply a part numbering scheme. This guide will explain the types of part numbers and share tips so you can select and implement the system that works best for your company.

What is a part number?

Simply put, a part number is a label that identifies and categorizes a specific part so that its role in products and location in the manufacturing process are easily understood and able to be accessed. Part numbers are also referred to as product numbers, serial numbers, item numbers, SKUs or product codes. Part numbers are often found as barcodes on a finished product. Part numbers can be used to further generate descriptive identifiers for finished items.

What is a part number system?

A part number system is the method used to create, categorize, search and locate parts based on their part numbers. Applying a part number system improves overall production efficiency because it shortens time needed to complete any of the aforementioned tasks.

Part number schemes

  • Intelligent Part Numbering: Also known as significant numbering, an intelligent part numbering scheme contains descriptive information about each part in the part numbers. Intelligent part numbers are typically alphanumeric and allow users to create categories for different product lines and subcategories for easier search and organization. For example, a 300-ohm resistor’s intelligent part number may be RES-300-02, where RES is a prefix that communicates that it is a resistor, 300 is an identifier for the resistance of the part in ohms, and 02 is a serialized suffix that designates it as the second distinct part in the RES-300 category.
  • Non-Intelligent Part Numbering: Also known as non-significant part numbering, a non-intelligent part numbering scheme is generated in numerical order regardless of the type of part. In a non-intelligent part numbering system, the diode from the previous example may be identified with a part number like 55427.

Pros and cons of intelligent part numbering

Pros:

  • Error prevention: In an intelligent part numbering system, part numbers can be easily “decoded,” so finding a part that is out of place in a design or on the production line is effortless.
  • Ease of search: Because intelligent part numbers have inherent categorization, finding parts among inventory and in documentation is intuitive.
  • Process improvement: Because of the above advantages, business processes like designs and approvals move more quickly.

Cons:

  • Requires training and knowledge: Intelligent part numbers contain information about the parts, so employees need to be informed of the structure of the selected scheme when transitioning to an intelligent numbering system.
  • Necessitates upkeep: When a new part is added to the inventory, it must be evaluated and labeled according to the existing scheme. If a part category appears full, a backup plan is needed to maintain consistency.
  • Potential for bottlenecks: Oftentimes, a single person or group of people is tasked with creating and managing an intelligent part numbering system, which can lead to slower design and approval processes.

Pros and cons of non-intelligent part numbering

Pros:

  • Saves time: Only a short amount of time is needed to create, execute and maintain a non-intelligent part numbering system. 
  • Little need for training: Because non-intelligent part numbering systems are essentially a list of sequential numbers, it’s possible for all employees to access, use and assign numbers. Additionally, new hires can focus on onboarding and acquiring other knowledge.

Cons:

  • Potential for error: Since non-intelligent part numbers contain no information about a given part, it’s easy to make a typo in any manual entry. Even a single incorrect digit can lead to significant errors that are hard to catch.
  • Difficult part maintenance and organization: With no information given in a non-intelligent part number, organizing inventory is less intuitive. Additionally, searching for parts in spreadsheets, databases and designs is more difficult and requires more time.

What to consider when selecting a part number system

Choosing a part number system for your company will take time and careful deliberation among multiple teams. It can be difficult (and expensive!) to switch from one type of part number system to another, so make sure all costs and benefits are taken into account before executing the final decision. Here are a few considerations to review with all parties before making a selection:

  • Feedback from teams who will be using part numbers most frequently: What exactly are part numbers used for in your organization? If there is an existing system, what has and has not worked? Will it be helpful for part numbers to carry details and data with them?
  • Needs and requirements of users outside your company: Will part numbers be used  by business partners or other systems? Are there restrictions for those parties like data types or character limits?
  • Tools for part number management: Do you have an existing database or software that will have to be upgraded? Will you need to adopt a new tool for the new system? 

How to manage part number systems

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for part number systems or the tools needed to manage them. Different business scales have business needs. Here are a few options for managing a part number system:

  • Spreadsheets and databases are easy for many employees to access and edit, plus software like Microsoft Excel and Access are ubiquitous in many business sectors. They can hold large amounts of data and have basic search capabilities.
  • Industry software and web clients are a specialized option for managing part number systems. Some basic tools are available at no cost, like partnumber.com, which simply generates part numbers and descriptions. 
  • A paper log may be a solution for small-scale businesses who only need one person to create and access part numbers. However, paper logs run the risk of being lost or damaged and are difficult to scale up with the business.

6 tips for creating part number schemes

  1. Don’t start part numbers with 0. Many softwares, like Excel, tend to drop these figures which can cause inconsistencies and confusion.
  2. Use as few letters as possible. Numbers are easier for speedy data entry and search.
  3. Keep a consistent part number length and formatting, preferably on the short side. Four to eight characters will work for most companies.
  4. Don’t use spaces or characters as delimiters that will confuse software, like slashes, parentheses, or apostrophes. Use hyphens (-) instead.
  5. Make not to reuse a part number, especially in non-intelligent numbering systems. This may seem obvious, but a duplication is not unlikely to happen if more than one person has the authority to generate part numbers.
  6. Avoid letters that may be confused with numbers, like I, L and O. Only use capital letters for consistency and differentiation.

Propel can help create and manage part numbers

A part number system that makes sense for your business will help improve efficiency in design, approval and manufacturing processes. Propel’s Product Lifecycle Management platform offers a set of high-capacity tools to help manage your new part number management system, from assigning to searching and pulling part numbers. To learn more about how Propel can enhance the benefits of a part number system, schedule a demo today.


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Author

Kathryn Kosmides

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