Part numbering systems: 7 best practices to optimize the process

December 26, 2022


Managing your product development and manufacturing processes requires you to understand your people, parts, and processes. Keeping careful track of individual parts and assemblies is an important aspect of product development and manufacturing and can very much factor into the success of your products.

part numbering system helps you track and name each part and assembly in your library by assigning an immutable unique identifier. This can help you organize new parts, track existing parts, and stay on top of your procurement needs. In this article, we’ll highlight some of the benefits of having an effective part numbering system and give you some actionable best practices for establishing one within your organization.

What are part numbering systems?

Hardware organizations use a part numbering system to help track, organize, and label all the parts and assemblies used across the product lifecycle. The system helps reduce part duplication as well as categorize parts so that you can work more efficiently and minimize miscommunication across teams.

It’s important to keep your part numbering as simple as possible. If the part number scheme is overly rigid, complex, or ambiguous, it can be tough to implement, potentially slowing down processes and causing production mistakes. Your part numbering system should be based in your product lifecycle management software (PLM), so that you can prevent conflicts with external part numbers, as well as more easily navigate different bills of materials (BOMs). 

If your part number system is based in computer-aided design (CAD) software or an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, it can be difficult to track and manage data across these disparate systems. A PLM, on the other hand, centralizes data from all these sources to provide a complete view of all your product content. 

Risks of using disparate part number schemes

Utilizing multiple part-numbering schemes is fraught with risk. The main risk is miscommunication between suppliers, internal departments, and even customers. When two different parties refer to the same part with different identifiers, it can easily lead to delays or mistakes in production.

Instead, you want to have a unique identifier for each unique set of parametrics of a part that is used across all systems and understood by all stakeholders. You can have multiple unique elements assigned to a part, like the manufacturer part number (MPN) or supplier PN. These additional identifiers can further reduce duplication and present multiple dimensions of uniqueness, but the primary identifier should be the individual part number generated in your PLM platform. 

Benefits of an effective part numbering system

An effective part numbering system can significantly benefit your organization. Below, we’ll discuss a few main reasons why investing time and effort into constructing a solid part number system is worth it.

Helps to avoid duplication within your part library

Duplicates in your PLM part library can lead to confusion and issues in procuring the correct parts. With a part number system in place, each item has a unique identifier that will, if implemented correctly, remove duplicate items in your PLM part library

Prevents mistakes in data entry

Manual data entry presents a risk of errors or inconsistencies being introduced into any software system. Data entry errors can significantly impact your business through the creation of mistakes that propagate into production. With an automated part number system in place, you can reduce the likelihood of errors by ensuring part numbers are entered into the system correctly and that all associated metadata is linked to the correct unique part number.

Serves as a common ID to connect disparate software systems

Businesses often use many different software systems to run their operations. Nearly every aspect of business has a different platform, which can lead to confusion within your processes. When you have a common ID for each of your parts, they remain consistent no matter which platform someone is using, from your ERP system to your financial software. Part numbers created in your PLM can easily be transferred to your ERP or manufacturing execution system (MES) via an integration to maintain this consistency.

Saves time and money in ordering the precise parts

If you’ve ever placed an order for the wrong part before, you understand the frustration of having too many of the wrong parts and not enough of the right parts. This type of mistake will cost you money and waste time. You can be more precise when ordering parts if you have unique part numbers, so you can ensure you have enough of what you need when you need it.

7 best practices for part numbering systems

Now that you know why part numbering systems are so important for your PLM system, let’s dive into some of the best practices you should use when creating your part numbering system. 

It’s also important to note that different suppliers will use different part number schemes, so you need the right tools to integrate your systems.

1) Employ a semi-intelligent customer part number (CPN) scheme

Using the right scheme in your part number system is the first best practice to keep in mind. While in the past, there was an emphasis on having an intelligent part numbering scheme, now we know that a “non-intelligent” system can work just as well in many situations. 

A semi-intelligent part numbering scheme serves as an optimal middle ground for most companies as it provides a hybrid between the non-intelligent and intelligent options. A semi-intelligent part number typically includes a prefix and a suffix. The prefix is often a category-based series of digits and the suffix is a counter that is incremented for each new instance of the category. Overall, a semi-intelligent scheme will allow you to get the benefits of a parts numbering system without added complexity.

2) Use numeric item identifiers

When you pick identifiers for your parts, you want to make sure that they are numeric (numbers) and not alphabetic (letters). Letters can be hard to recognize in certain fonts or can even be confused with numbers, like the letter O and the number 0. Numbers are easier to identify, which reduces the number of data errors and makes it simpler for your teams to use and share with suppliers and vendors.

3) Keep part number length consistent

You also want to make sure that the part numbers you create are of a consistent length. Usually, somewhere between six and eight digits is a good length. When your part numbers are the same length across all categories and systems, you can reduce the chance of error and create consistency across the board. However, you don’t want the numbers to be so short that you end up exceeding the quantity of part numbers that you’ve allocated.

4) Ensure item identifier numbers are unique and permanent

Each item identifier you use should be unique. There should be no duplicates or copies of part numbers, no matter how many systems you use. You also want to make sure that the part number is permanent, so it won’t constantly change or update over the course of the product lifecycle, which can lead to communication and data entry errors. 

You can avoid part number duplicates with the help of a PLM system like Duro, which can validate each new part number and check the system for duplicates.

5) Avoid using special characters and leading zeros

When you create a part number system, you want to avoid “leading zeros,” which refers to a zero — or string of zeros — at the front of the part number. Some software tools will strip off leading zeros from a numeric value, thereby corrupting the intended part number. You will also want to ensure that any breaks in the number are made using dashes or a hyphen, not a space or a letter.

6) Utilize category-based part numbering

Utilizing part categories within your part numbering scheme will allow you to easily find parts and filter through your component library. The category portion of the part number, as mentioned above, is typically contained within a three- to four-digit prefix of the part number. With a category-based part numbering scheme, companies can stay more organized as well as save time and reduce part duplication

7) Base your part numbering system in PLM and not CAD

Some companies make the mistake of basing their part numbering system in a computer-aided design tool (CAD) rather than their PLM system. This can cause problems because a CAD tool doesn’t have access to other parts and assembles not generated within that CAD package. It can’t assign numbers as needed because it doesn’t “know” about them. In addition, this workflow opens up the risk that two CAD tools generate the same number for different parts. 

When you use a holistic PLM like Duro, you know that when you enter new BOMs, parts, and assemblies into the system, a new part number is assigned to each item and is tracked consistently. A PLM acts as a centralized repository that all data sources can connect to, so part numbers are easily shared between your other integrated systems. This allows your company to build data cohesion and ensure proper communication. 

Create your part numbering system effortlessly with Duro

A part numbering system helps you regain control and improve your product development and manufacturing processes. With a proper system in place, you can communicate effectively between all internal and external stakeholders. Without one, you can waste time and money correcting mistakes that are likely to occur in production. 

Hardware organizations don’t need to create their own part number systems. They can use a PLM like Duro that comes with an integrated part numbering system. Duro PLM automatically generates and assigns part numbers when BOM components are created in the PLM or integrated CAD tools. Once assigned, part numbers are immutable and cannot be reused (thus avoiding the potential for part number duplication) by another component, even if the original component is deleted. 

To learn more, check out Duro and see how we can improve your business processes through a cloud-native PLM with an integrated part number system.

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