Part Numbering Systems

July 12, 2022

A part numbering system is a crucial part of any hardware engineering organization, as a measure to ensure clear communication between stakeholders and remove duplicates within a system of record. However, many team’s fail to have a robust part numbering system, if any at all, which prevents them to move with confidence. In this post learn the best practices around part numbering and how to ensure collaborators, customers, and manufacturers leverage part numbers to everyone’s advantage.

The basics

Part numbering systems provide a unique number to each component, drawing, assembly, design, etc within a company’s system of records. While part numbers can vary in length, a good system will ensure enough digits to scale across the life of the company. There are generally 3 sections to a part number: the category, the number, the revision.

The category of a part number generally refers to what kind of design the part is. For example, the category can reference that a design is simply an assembly vs a stand alone part, or it can reference that the design is a PCB, resistor, nut, bolt, LED, etc. By incorporating the category section in a part numbering schema, it enables designers to quickly identify various components in a BOM or quickly retrieve its associated information. Categories also help with search, as BOMs can quickly approach thousands of line items, making it difficult to find a specific component or group of parts.

The middle section of a part number is the functional number of the category. For example, you may have 397 various bolts. The category of the part number will identify what kind of design it is, and the functional number will provide the bolt with a unique identifier. This allows for part number schemas to scale as more designs and components are added to a company's vault. Without the category fields and solely relying on the unique identifier, part number schemas would not be able to scale and can look like a random set of numbers.

The last part of a part numbering schema is the revision number. Hardware engineers will at some point heard or used the phrase “rev A” design, or something similar. Generally the revA design is the first acceptable design to enter production, and not part of a prototype or validation build. To keep a systematic approach with each design as the design changes the revision number should increment with it. So a part number is not only unique in the category and the design, but also the revision of the design. Metadata along with downstream engagements such as supply chain considerations, BOM management, sourcing, and SKUs rely heavily on which version of the part to reference. The version number in the part number schema ensures that not only the right design is referenced, but also that the correct revision is referenced.

Even a simple part numbering schema can exponentially help accelerate product cycles and reduce frictions around cross-functional collaboration

What do I do with my part number?

Part numbers, also referred to as customer part numbers (CPN), can have a meaningful impact, not only during the design process but also in procurement and manufacturing. In the design process, part numbers help engineers organize designs and easily reference them. Part numbers can also provide value to components across multiple projects (ie library components, etc) to ensure appropriate referencing.

For operation teams, part numbers are a crucial part of communicating with suppliers and building out the supply chain. As teams communicate with suppliers, conversations can be tied to a particular part number. Meaning if the design changes and the revision of that number changes, conversations are easily traceable to a specific revision and can be translated over to newer designs. Referring to designs by part number (including the rev number) reduces miscommunication, creates a structured process across parties, and most importantly creates organization around procurement.

For manufacturing teams, referencing part numbers enables a closed feedback loop to engineers by referencing designs by a part and rev number. It ensures data and manufacturing learnings are associated with the appropriate designs and enable a faster and more accurate feedback loop.

For very simple projects, a part numbering system may seem like overkill. But very quickly referencing designs with drawings, with suppliers, and with manufacturing data can get overwhelming. At Bild, we’re seeing some of the youngest startups adopt a part numbering schema early on, to build a reliable system around communication and documentation.

Ready to see how a simple numbering system can accelerate speed of development and reduce risk? Reach out to us to get started on Bild!