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5 Considerations for Re-engineering a Part Number Assignment Program 

Part Numbers (PN): we hear the term used all the time, but why are they important? They’re a unique identifier – simple and concise. You might also hear terms such as product number, material ID, stock code, stock keeping unit, item number, stock number, or others depending on the technology being used. Without PNs to anchor business processes, we make up our descriptions, which means there can be many different descriptions for the same material. Using a Part Number Assignment ensures we are all talking about the same material.  

Part Number Assignment: Consider This Scenario

Imagine that you’re attending a CMC (Chemistry, Manufacturing and Control) meeting – there seems to be a lot of confusion, the meeting is slowing down, and you think you’ll never make it thought the agenda at this pace. You have back-to-back meetings all morning and can’t stay at this meeting past its scheduled time to get all of the updates and information you need. Having been trained in root cause analysis, you start evaluating the process and situation. You realize that although the agenda says we’re going to talk about Product A, everyone seems to be calling it something different, leading those in the meeting to believe we are really talking about three or four different products.  

This is a scene that repeats frequently across various industries, especially in smaller companies and when new products are being developed or introduced and the part numbers process has not yet been created. In the biopharma industry, in particular, early in the product lifecycle, a nominated candidate is given a number which becomes its identity. As the candidate progresses from pre-clinical to clinical, greater controls are needed, and part numbers are issued. Solves the confusion, right? Sometimes. 

A Part Number Assignment SOP (standard operating procedure) was most likely created early in the company’s evolution, and it worked well at that time. Team members didn’t want to remember the PN description, so it was decided to have an ‘intelligent’ PN. A group got together and came up with a dozen prefixes to be added to the PNs, which indicated the stage of the manufacturing process.  

This process worked well while the original creators remained at the company. Now, fast forward a couple of years: new team members have joined, and there’s a need to execute this same process, but the new members don’t have the knowledge of how and why the original PN system was set up the way it was. To the new team, the prefix doesn’t make sense – it’s difficult to select the perceived correct one, and now the PNs don’t make sense at all. The intelligence built in is corrupt. 

So, what do you do next? Below we outline five considerations for re-engineering a PN Assignment Program: 

5 Considerations for Re-Engineering a Part Number Assignment Program 

  1. Create a SOP. There may not be a standard operating procedure (SOP) that clearly defines how to assign part numbers, and perhaps more importantly, the associated description. Are there examples to help with understanding? 
  2. Consider current and future needs. When redesigning a PN system, it’s important to not only consider the needs today but also for the future. If you’re planning on using Excel, there are no constraints to your new PN convention or to the length of the descriptions. If you’re using commercially available software for supply chain planning, or planning on implementing one, you have to think about what the limitations on the PN field are – number of characters, only numbers, no special characters – or if the system creates the new PN. If the part number is too long, it may be truncated in reports or in EDI transfers, rendering the part number as an identifier useless. 
  3. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of intelligent part numbers versus non-intelligent part numbers. Part numbers are unique identifiers – there cannot be duplicates. If you’re considering an intelligent part number system, how will you ensure there won’t be duplicates? One way to proactively prevent duplicates is to have a list in Excel. This allows sorting the PN in ascending or descending order, which will quickly show PN already issued.  
  4. Regarding description, identify which fields will be visible internally vs. externally. As an example, the fields that will print on shipping paperwork that the customer will see will need special attention to maintain brand identity with a clear, concise, and meaningful description. If you use EDI, descriptions should have fewer than 35 characters to ensure information isn’t truncated. If the description is used in a meaningful way by the receiving software, the truncation may result in an error message. 
  5. And don’t forget each part number must have a unique description – in other words, there can’t be duplicates, and two-part numbers can’t have the same description. If there are two PN with the same description, how do you know which is the right one to reference or to use? 

Clarkston Consulting has experience in helping companies to design, re-design and re-engineer, and implement part number and description assignment processes. Our team of industry experts is ready to help your organization manage and implement these types of change to help you meet your business goals and needs.  

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Contributions from Linda Plumley and Zach McClughen