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Manufacturing Part Numbers 

 

PART II. 

 

Arguments for Significant Part Numbers

Two reasons for using significant part numbers go back to the beginning of "management information systems." Thirty years ago, a big computer installation had memory measured in "K" rather than "M," and it wasn't uncommon for there to be one or two display terminals (for that was what they were—cards were used for input, not keyboards) for several hundred people to share. Not only was there a minimal amount of information on the computer system in the first place, but access to that information was very restricted. Additionally, it was very important that those slow, ponderous mainframes not experience any problems in their calculations. Error detection and recovery couldn't be readily programmed into the machine's algorithms, so the system was made more robust by artificial constraints that would allow bad data to be easily rejected at the front end. These constraints led to two uses for part number significance: first, to replace a needed description field or to allow access to the description without requiring access to a display terminal; and secondly, to avoid working on a "bad" part number.

The first required a part number that actually conveyed informa­tion. In many cases, the part number prefix revealed the type of part—whether bushing, spring, resistor, capacitor, etc. That way, the person confronted with that part number at least knew what list to consult to discover what the part number represented. That was faster than waiting in line to use a CRT. The second use required that the part number have a certain form to be accepted by the computer at all. For example, it may have required that the part number have three numbers, followed by a dash, followed by six numbers. This second use led to additional significance over time, as more plants came on line in large corporations. At one facility with which I was familiar in the early 80s, we were allowed four prefixes for our part numbers—to make sure that they were kept separate from the part numbers used by other parts of the corporation.

There is little if any reason to consider these reasons any more. Most organizations now have a CRT that can access MRP inform­ation for every two or three employees—some have more than one per employee. It's quicker to look the part number up on the item master when there's a question—and besides, a description field is almost always displayed alongside the part number on most screens. More capable software and distributed computing has effectively removed the second use for significance as well.

There are still other arguments for significance. Many of them are based on "what if scenarios:

• What if the system goes down, and I need to know the description of a part?

• What if I'm out on the road, and I need to repair a product, or replace a part, and don't know its description?

• What if I need to order the part, and the system goes down, and I don't know what to tell the supplier?

• What if I want to have my automated assembly equipment check to make sure I have the correct part before putting it on my product?

• What if production is a harsh or "clean" environment (there­fore has little access to the system), and I need to make sure that we're using the correct part?

• What if I want to organize my stockroom by part type (all the resistors in one set of shelves, all the hardware in another)?

All of these are perfectly valid reasons for a significant part numbering scheme, but they can also be accomplished by other means. The other means are: a properly organized and printed part number listing, relational databases, and commodity coding. We'll discuss those briefly after examining some of the arguments for using nonsignificant part numbers.

To be Continued


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