A Repost

Posted on December 2nd, 2012. Posted In Rant

I posted this almost 4 years ago, but a post on Eng-Tips.com riled me up again. It deals with “smart” part numbers, so if you don’t care you can stop reading now. For those of you who are still reading, and have read the original post, I’ve added on a bit more.


A warning: This post will have absolutely nothing to do with SolidWorks, or CAD for that matter.

Why do people feel that part numbers need to represent anything? Too often I’ve seen “smart” part numbers end up being so convoluted that you need a PhD in cryptography to understand anything. What’s bringing this on? I’m ashamed to admit it, but there is such a part numbering system here. It’s not as ugly as some I’ve seen, but it’s frustrating nonetheless. Naturally, I tried to get the powers-that-be to see the error of their ways but, in the end, I had to concede. (Today is only my third day, I don’t want it to be my last.)

What so many people fail to realize is that a part number is just a placeholder in the MRP system (or whatever inventory control system you’re using). The part description is the important part. Yes, I know there are those who are screaming “blasphemer” at me, I don’t care. The minute you implement a “smart” part numbering system, you’re setting up for future failure. At some point you’re going to have a new part that is really similar to an existing part so you’ll add some sort of suffix or prefix to its number so you can differentiate between the two. Next thing you know, you’ve got a third one that’s similar to the other two. Another suffix, perhaps? Oops, look, here’s a fourth one. Ok, we’ll just create another classification, slide the first three over and now we’re good. Right? Crap, what to do with the old numbers? Hey look, this part is sort of like the first four, but it’s also sort of like these ones over here…
It’s enough for me to want to pull my hair out.

Everyone, for the most part, has heard of the KISS principle, right? Keep it simple stupid. A part number should be just that, a stupid number. Whether it’s 4-, 5- or 6-digits really depends on your company’s needs. How many parts are you dealing with? Let the description take care of telling you what it is: Screw, HHC, 1/4-20 x 1, GR5; Cable, Red, 4 GA; Number, Part, Stupid.

Think about it, no more having to train newbies on how your part numbering system is deciphered. No more having to come up with new codes. Need a new part number, just take the next available one. The world is already confusing enough. Let’s not make it worse with “smart” part numbers, ok?

Update: So I re-posted this because of a question that was posted in the SolidWorks forum on Eng-tips.com. Here’s the link, but I’ll try to sum it up. The poster was asking about “non-significant” part numbers, then had a list of part numbers and what types of parts/assemblies they were assigned to which made them significant. On top that, he was asking what he should do if he ran out of numbers. He had things set up so that he had upwards of 200,000 numbers per type! Perhaps I’m naive, but I can’t think of a company where they have 200,000 unique upper level assemblies. Hell, I’m thinking 200,000 unique part numbers would be hard to reach for the vast majority of companies but I’m not about to say it’s impossible. However, were he not trying to set up his system in 5 groups, he’d have a pool of 1,000,000 unique numbers that I seriously doubt would be exhausted. This goes to strengthen my point. If you used part numbers as strictly place holders, your life will be much more simple.

</end rant>

  • I’ve talked about this topic frequently enough. I guess I never got around to making my own article about this. Yes, to quote myself, “Smart numbers are dumb.”

  • A never ending discussion LOL.
    I dig smart part numbers. I worked for the Suzuki, Honda, & Nissan factories. They used smart part numbers & it works. The part number IS the BOM. The part number tells you everything about that part; what it is, what it fits, what its made of, what revision it is, etc.
    Have the part in hand, you can guess pretty darn close what the part number is. See the part number, you know exactly what the part is (see above).
    All these factories have huge part warehouses, arranged by part number. So you can walk into the warehouse & go exactly where the part box is, no map required.
    Cheers, Devon

    • Jeff Mirisola

      There will always be those companies that are able to implement systems that work. However, given the conversation we had on Twitter, it sounds to me like their part numbers are the descriptions just coded if you will.

  • dzinn

    “The part description is the important part. Yes, I know there are those who are screaming “blasphemer” at me, I don’t care.”

    Hey Blasphemer!
    The part number is go-to component of identifying parts. Otherwise they would have never been used. How many mounting plates are you going to have in a single project?

    Smart part numbers may or may not be smart, but on this I will stand my ground: when you force me to create part numbers for hardware, please provide a block of numbers that will include all sizes (lengths in particular) even though that size is not currently used. example: 123456-1608 could mean a #8 SHCS that is .500 inches long. And if I find out that I need a #8 SHCS that is .875 long, and a part number hasn’t been created for it, then it becomes 123456-1614, meaning the lengths come in increments of 1/16″ and 14 = 7/8″. I don’t care what the prefix is, that could dumb or smart, but give me a way to plan for upcoming sizes that are not currently defined. Otherwise you end up with #8 screw, .5 long, part number: 1051269-001, and the next length up is 1034538-001.

    • JeffMirisola

      Nope, sorry, won’t do it. The part number examples you’re using make no sense to use. A simple 5-, 6- or 7-digit number are all one needs, in my opinion. For me, as I said, a part number is nothing more than a place holder. Nothing more, nothing less. While I thank you for sharing your opinion, I disagree with it completely.