thinkHappy New Year to all of you and I am wishing you all an understandable and digital future. This year I hope to entertain you again with a mix of future trends related to PLM combined with old PLM basics. This time, one of the topics that are popping up in almost every PLM implementation – numbering schemes – do we use numbers with a meaning, so-called intelligent numbers or can we work with insignificant numbers? And of course, the question what is the impact of changing from meaningful numbers towards unique meaningless numbers.

Why did we create “intelligent” numbers?

IntNumberIntelligent part numbers were used to help engineers and people on the shop floor for two different reasons. As in the early days, the majority of design work was based on mechanical design. Often companies had a one-to-one relation between the part and the drawing. This implied that the part number was identical to the drawing number. An intelligent part number could have the following format: A4-95-BE33K3-007.A

Of course, I invented this part number as the format of an intelligent part number is only known to local experts. In my case, I was thinking about a part that was created in 1995, drawn on A4. Probably a bearing of the 33K3 standard (another intelligent code) and its index is 007 (checked in a numbering book). The version of the drawing (part) is A

A person, who is working in production, assembling the product and reading the BOM, immediately knows which part to use by its number and drawing. Of course the word “immediately” is only valid for people who have experience with using this part. And this was in the previous century not so painful as it is now. Products were not so sophisticated as they are now and variation in products was limited.

Later, when information became digital, intelligent numbers were also used by engineering to classify their parts. The classification digits would assist the engineer to find similar parts in a drawing directory or drawing list.

And if the world had not changed, there would be still intelligent part numbers.

Why no more intelligent part numbers?

There are several reasons why you would not use intelligent part numbers anymore.

  1. PerfectWorldAn intelligent number scheme works in a perfect world where nothing is changing. In real life companies merge with other companies and then the question comes up: Do we introduce a new numbering scheme or is one of the schemes going to be the perfect scheme for the future?If this happened a few times, a company might think: Do we have to through this again and again? As probably topic #2 has also occurred.
  2. The numbering scheme does not support current products and complexity anymore. Products change from mechanical towards systems, containing electronic components and embedded software. The original numbering system has never catered for that. Is there an overreaching numbering standard? It is getting complicated, perhaps we can change ? And here #3 comes in.
  3. BarCodeAs we are now able to store information in a digital manner, we are able to link to this complex part number a few descriptive attributes that help us to identify the component. Here the number is becoming less important, still serving as access to the unique metadata. Consider it as a bar code on a product. Nobody reads the bar code without a device anymore and the device connected to an information system will provide the right information. This brings us to the last point #4.
  4. In a digital enterprise, where data is flowing between systems, we need unique identifiers to connect datasets between systems. The most obvious example is the part master data. Related to a unique ID you will find in the PDM or PLM system the attributes relevant for overall identification (Description, Revision, Status, Classification) and further attributes relevant for engineering (weight, material, volume, dimensions).
    In the ERP system, you will find a dataset with the same ID and master attributes. However here they are extended with attributes related to logistics and finance. The unique identifier provides the guarantee that data is connected in the correct manner and that information can flow or connected between systems without human interpretation or human-spent processing time.

GartnerWorkforceAnd this is one of the big benefits of a digital enterprise, reducing overhead in data handling, often reducing the cost of data handling with 50 % or more (people / customizations)


What to do now in your company?

There is no business justification just to start renumbering parts just for future purposes. You need a business reason. Otherwise, it will only increase costs and create a potential for migration errors. Moving to meaningless part numbers can be the best done at the moment a change is required. For example, when you implement a new PLM system or when your company merges with another company. At these moments, part numbering should be considered with the future in mind.

augmentedAnd the future is no longer about memorizing part classifications and numbers, even if you are from the generation that used to structure and manage everything inside your brain. Future businesses rely on digitally connected information, where a person based on machine interpretation of a unique ID will get the relevant and meaningful data. Augmented reality  (picture above) is becoming more and more available. It is now about human beings that need to get ready for a modern future.



Intelligent part numbers are a best practice from the previous century. Start to think digital and connected and try to reduce the dependency of understanding the part number in all your business activities. Move towards providing the relevant data for a user. This can be an evolution smoothening a future PLM implementation step.


clip_image002Looking forward to discussing this topic and many other PLM related practices with you face to face during the Product Innovation conference in Munich. I will talk about the PLM identity change and lead a focus group session about PLM and ERP integration. Looking from the high-level and working in the real world. The challenge of every PLM implementation.