sleepIn the previous post, I described that the item is the primary entity used in the connection between a PLM system and an ERP system. The initial definition comes from the engineering department, defining the main characteristics of the item, like ID (part number), Description and Classification Data for engineering usage.

Next when the item reaches a certain maturity stage, that it will be purchased or produced, the initial definition needs to be transferred to the ERP system and to be completed in ERP with logistical data. Often as part of the classification data, the engineer has already defined what type of item it will be. This information can be used in ERP to apply default data based on a certain template item or derived-from item.item_id

Item identification / Part Number

Most of the manufacturing companies are using so called ‘intelligent’ part numbers to identify their items. This was done for historical reasons. As there was no IT system in the company, the part number contained logic and information in order to ‘immediately’ understand its usage.

For example M210-23-4-00-A3.C tells me immediately it is a manufactured part, first time used in the milling product line (210) and it is used for hydraulic (23), not in stock (4), a preferred item for engineering (00) and its definition can be found on the drawing with the same name, size A3 revision C.

If you did not understand this directly from the number, it does not mean you are not intelligent, although it is an intelligent part number. This shows that intelligent numbers are useful when people are trained and have a good memory. For everyone else in the company (and joining the company later) the number is initially the same as a meaningless number.

For that reason is is recommended to use ‘non-intelligent’ numbers to identify parts. This creates no overhead for people to learn all kind of intelligent numbering mechanisms and it pushes everyone to look to additional information which can be understood immediately, like the description or classification data. We have now IT systems like a PLM or ERP system that allows us to display more than a number.

For backwards tractability of course beside the new meaningless part number, there can be also a place holder in the IT system to define what the origin of the part was (with the intelligent part number). Specially when companies merge this will happen. The same part exists in different numbering schemes in each company. The only way to solve this is to add a new identifier, preferred to be the ‘non-intelligent’ number.

Conclusion: For part numbers it is recommended to use non-intelligent numbers based on a sequence, avoiding the creation of legacy information (merge) or training to understand the items by number.

Now the new created part has a meaningless identifier, we have achieved two things:

  • The PLM and ERP system have unique key to share. Identifying this number with its revision (if relevant) immediately makes it clear for both the PLM and ERP system which part is meant.
  • To understand what the item really does, we need to understand additional information like its description


: Not all ERP systems support revisions of items. Some work always with the actual version of the item. Where PLM systems trace and keep the exact definition of an item, often ERP systems trace the item by effectivity. You need to know what was the engineering definition, when the item was manufactured.


Description / Classification

Initially when an item is defined the engineer might create a description, like HYDRAULIC CLAMP without any further details. Some years later there might be 10 or more hydraulic clamps in the system, where some of them might be identical and others differ. However the description HYDRAULIC CLAMP might be sufficient for a part list to be shipped to a customer (we do not want the customer to know the exact item characteristics in order to have him order the spare parts through us).

Often on the engineering side an additional description field is added, which is a detailed description. This description is used internally and should be standardized in order to support the engineer to select the right item.

So HYDRAULIC CLAMP could have an internal definition HYDRAULIC CLAMP 400-600 describing its usage. This detailed description should be either enforced and generated by the PLM or should be handled through a librarian or standardization role in engineering. This should be combined with a classification of the new item. The advantage of a detailed description and classification is two-fold:

  1. It supports engineers to search for existing items – so reuse is more likely. Often the description in the ERP system was not built in this way and for that reason engineers re-invent items while they might exist.
  2. The classification will alert the engineer or librarian that an item with the same classification characteristics already exists. This means it might be identical or an additional classification characteristic is needed to differentiate the two items.

The definition of a new item would go through the following steps:

  • The engineer defines the description and can work with the item in a temporary mode as he is not sure of using the new item in this way
  • The item becomes mature and he needs to generate the detailed description.
  • At this stage the librarian or a standardization committee might come in, to analyze the need for the new item. And if so to define all its classification data, knowing it is a new and unique item needed.
  • Once the engineering definition is completed, the item definition can be send to the ERP system in order to complete it with logistical data – who can manufacture it and tens of attributes more. The item still is not released
  • A hand-shake from the ERP system will confirm that the item definition is completed and as part of the release process the item can be approved for manufacturing. In case no pre-production stage exists it might be released even.

new item defintion

Conclusion: Standard Description, Detailed Description and Classification information is done on the PLM side to support reuse of items and to avoid creation of similar items with a different part number. The ERP systems uses the description definition and completes the definition with ERP required information. Data relevant for the engineering is synchronized back once the full definition is available.

The next post in this sequence will be discussing the BOM transfer to ERP