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Epicor Recommendations: Part Numbering – Part 2 of a 3 part series – from an Epicor White Paper

  • 17 September 2014
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48.2

Summary of Part Numbering Options

Standards for your Customers, Suppliers, and Manufacturers

This section discusses the base part numbering. It may not be within your control to change the part numbering methodologies of your suppliers, manufacturers or customers. It is, however, possible to have your own part numbers for all of the above.

This is a great question. Why not use your supplier or customer part numbers for numbering your own parts?

  1. Consistency: Just as you have multiple customers, your customers will have multiple part numbering standards. For proper inventory control, it is best if all your part numbers internally are consistent.
  2. Elimination of Duplicates: What if two of your suppliers, or two of your customers, happen to both use the same part number to call out two different items? Now you have to come up with some method for eliminating these accidental collisions of data. This is one of the biggest reasons for coming up with your own system, so that you do not have confusion of data.

Exceptions and Disclaimers
In some cases, where manufacturing companies are doing subcontract work, it may be more complicated to define your own part number to the part than it is worth. This needs to be taken into account when making part numbering decisions. But even in these cases, it is still possible to use your own numbering system for internal part number control, and have those part numbers reference the customer part number in their drawings, documentation, sales orders, POs, etc.

Summary of Options
There are several numbering options outlined below. As noted, this document recommends the third, “semi-meaningful” numbering system for most companies.
Meaningful Part Numbering
This is where the digits of the part number each have a specific meaning, resulting in the ability for a knowledgeable user to know what a part number translates into. This can be very useful if there are many similar parts with specific variations. However, having a completely meaningful system makes for a very complicated structure, and necessitates a strong engineering organization to control the part number assignment. Also, if there are many different types of components, it can be prohibitive to define this completely. Some companies choose to only use a fully meaningful part numbering system on their finished goods.

Non-Meaningful Part Numbering
In this case, the part number itself does not mean anything significant. This could be a sequentially assigned number, or can appear to be random. Consider a company that manufactures tractors. Part number 10001 could be a Bolt, 10002 = Steering Wheel, 10003 = Tractor, 10004 = Rear View Mirror. This apparent randomness can cause confusion. Also, sorting inventory by part number is totally meaningless. When searching by part number, you MUST know what you want.

Semi-Meaningful Part Numbering (Recommended)
This is a system where there is some meaning in the part number—defining the type of part, but not down to every final detail. The initial segment of the part number would classify the part’s type, color, size, etc. This will cause all similar parts to be together when sorting inventory by part number. Not all attributes of the part are defined. At some point, there become too many attributes to track in the part, so a sequential number is assigned to differentiate from other similar parts. The actual description and differences are stored in the part description, as well as the part’s drawing.

Part Numbering Rules

What Digits Are “Allowed”?

Best practice dictates that the list of allowed digits should be limited. In general, all numbers and letters are always allowed. Also typically allowed and endorsed would be a dash. This includes the 37 digits:

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ-1234567890

Some other potential characters (not recommended) include:

$ % . / +

In general, if you limit your part number to letters, numbers and a dash, you will be compatible with most systems out there.

Support for Bar Coding
The table to the right shows the allowed character set for “Code-39” bar coding. This is just one of many bar coding systems. Note that this is a limited set. There are an asterisk and space included in the bar code, but these are not recommended as part of the numbering system (see below). Note that backslash, double and single quotes are all missing and should not be used if you are doing any bar coding of your parts.

Always Disallow a Space
Like many ERP systems, Epicor “allows” a space in a part number, but this practice is highly discouraged. For example, the system allows a space at the beginning of the part number, it allows a space at the end of a part number, and it allows multiple spaces in the middle of the part number. Each of these options is treated as a different part number, even though they “look” the same to the naked eye. See the examples below. Note that when printed on a report, you would not be able to see the difference in many of these seven different part numbers (i.e., if the quote symbols were not there, you would not be able to see all the spaces).

“ ABC 123” (one space at the beginning, one in the middle)

“ABC123“   (one space at the end)

“ ABC 123“ (one space at the beginning, one in the middle, one at the end)

“ABC 123”  (two spaces in the middle)

“ABC 123”  (one space in the middle)

“ABC123”   (no spaces)

ALSO, there are some bar coding systems (e.g., UPC-A) that prohibit a space in the bar code translation. This is reason enough to set this rule!

What Digits Should Not Be “Allowed”?

Epicor ERP prohibits very few characters. However, in order to maintain usability with other systems, it is generally best practice to disallow certain values from being used in the part number itself. The recommendations below are to help maintain compatibility with other systems outside of Epicor, so as to keep the part number usable.

  1. Epicor ERP does not differentiate between upper and lower case letters. That means that Part number “ABC-001” and “abc-001” would translate to the exact same record in the system. Please note that this is not necessarily the same rule as in other systems. Some ERP systems can distinguish between upper and lower case when creating part numbers. For this reason, we suggest that if there are any alpha characters, they should always be in either upper or lower case throughout the entire dataset.
  2. Special characters. These include (but are not limited to) the characters in the list below:
    • Characters translated as “wildcard” characters. These are generally used in searching for parts, and if you include a wildcard in the part number, then it becomes impossible to search for and find the part number that includes this wildcard. Wildcard characters include: * ? ~.
    • Inch and foot (double and single quote marks “ and ‘ ). Many times, these can cause problems, especially when searching for a part number with a quote. Systems generally create internal queries that say Part Number = “ABC-123.” If you have a quote in the middle of the part number, this would improperly translate to PartNumber = “abc-123”” (a double quote at the end), and the system fails. As a best practice, do not use these symbols.
    • Other special characters that can also do nasty things in some systems: ~ ! @ # ^ & ( ) _ = { } [ ] | < > ,
  3. Weird combinations of regular characters:
    • 123E3 – The letter “E” happens to have a special numerical meaning to some systems, especially Microsoft Excel®. For example, if you enter 123E3 into a cell in Excel, it automatically changes it to 123,000.00 for you, because it believes that this is an exponential equation.
    • Do not use the number zero and the letter O in the same part numbering scheme.
    • Do not use letter I (Upper Case “I”), the letter l (Lower Case “L”), and the number 1 in the same system. This is for human readability reasons.
    • Sometimes the “Z” and number “2” can cause issues for readability, as well.
    • Microsoft Excel re-interprets the tilde-question mark “~?” as just a question mark. This is a special combination so that you can search for a question mark. This is yet another reason not to include these two characters in your part numbering scheme.
    • The caret character ^ (also known as the up arrow; it is “Shift+ 6” on U.S. keyboards). This character is also interpreted as an exponential when placed between two numbers in some systems; i.e., part number “3^2” would convert to 9 (= 3 squared).

Additional Reasons for Suggested Restrictions

  1. When exporting data from Epicor ERP, various software packages tend to interpret and modify the results. For example, when Microsoft Excel imports data, it interprets values such as quotation marks or spaces, and will make incorrect decisions to strip or change those values.
  2. All-numeric part numbers or all-numeric parts with a decimal number can also be problematic, especially if there are leading or trailing zeroes. For example, part number 000123.4500 can magically change to part 123.45 when another system or program (Excel) sees an all-numeric value. (For this reason, we suggest that an all-numeric format never start or end with zeroes.) The same part number with a dash will translate correctly in Excel: 000123-4500.

About Epicor
Epicor Software Corporation is a global leader delivering business software solutions to the manufacturing, distribution, retail, and service industries.  With more than 40 years of experience, Epicor has more than 20,000 customers in over 150 countries.  Epicor solutions enable companies to drive increased efficiency and improve profitability.  With a history of innovation, industry expertise and passion for excellence, Epicor inspires customers to build lasting competitive advantage.  Epicor provides the single point of accountability that local, regional, and global businesses demand. For more information, visit www.epicor.com.

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