The future of Part Numbers and Unique Identification?

December 12, 2013


Identification. When it comes to data management it is a very important thing. In product data management and PLM it usually comes to the Part Numbers. Companies can spend days and months debating what to include in Part Numbers and how to do that. Smart Part Numbers vs. Dumb Part Numbers. OEM Part numbers, Manufacturing Part Numbers, Suppliers Part Numbers – this is only one slice of identification aspects in manufacturing and engineering. I want to reference few of my previous posts PDM, Part Numbers and the Future of Identification and Part numbers and External Classification Schemas – to give you some background of what potential problems or dilemmas you may have towards decision about numbering schemas and identifications.

These days product information is going beyond borders of your company and even beyond your stable supply chain. The diversity of manufacturers, suppliers, individual makers combined with increased amount of e-commerce is creating the need to use product identification more broadly and maybe in more synchronized and standard way.

My attention was caught by SearchEngineLand article – How Online Retailers Can Leverage Unique Identifiers & Structured Data. Read and draw your conclusion. Article speaks about usage of product unique identification in e-commerce – GTIN.

In e-commerce, there is a unique global identifier that is leveraged across all major comparison shopping engines and search engines: namely, a GTIN or Global Trade Item Number (better known in the U.S. as a UPC). These global unique product identifiers take the guessing game out of comparing two products to determine if they are the same item, eliminating the problems typically associated with entity resolution and big data — all you have to do is compare the GTINs.

The most interesting fact is the variety of GTINs are now part of product definition. is the initiative supported by Google, Yahoo, Bing and Yandex about representation of structured information on web pages. Google can aggregate product based on the comparison of identical GTINs. You can see an interesting patent filled by Google – Aggregating product review information for electronic product catalogs. Here is an interesting description:

An analysis module collects product reviews and determines whether each product review includes a product identifier, such as a Global Trade Item Number (“GTIN”). For product reviews having a product identifier, the module adds the product review to the product catalog and associates the product review with the product identifier. For product reviews lacking a product identifier, the module initiates an Internet search using information from the product review and analyzes search results to identify a product identifier for the product review.

You can ask how it applies to PLM and Part Numbers. In my view the initiative to have a standard of structured data representation presents the technique that can be used by manufacturing companies and software vendors. Web shows how to do it in an open way and increase the value of data access and analyzes. Finding similar parts inside your company product catalogs and across supply chain with future optimization can be an interesting solutions. Manufacturing companies are trying to solve this problem many years. It can also lead to significant cost benefits.

What is my conclusion? Adoption of web technologies and practice becomes an interesting trend these days. In my view, enterprise software (and PLM is part of it) is struggling from protectiveness in everything that related to data. Keep data close, hold format and data management practice – this is a very short list of examples you can see in real life. It was well-known business practice for many years. However, the opportunity from openness can be bigger. is a perfect examples of how an agreement between competing web giants can solve many problems in user experience and benefit e-commerce. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PDM, Part Numbers and the Future of Identification

July 29, 2011

Let me talk again about Part Numbers. The last time I wrote about Part Numbers, it created a healthy discussion. I’d encourage you to refresh your memory and read one of my blog post back one year ago – PLM Data, Identification and Part Numbers. I found some interesting facts specially reading all 51 comments to this post. Finally, the following picture on Josh Mings’ yfrog, made me think about Parts, Items and Numbering system again.

The picture is, obviously, funny… However, it made me think about some problems related to identification of “things” in CAD, PDM, PLM products and, actually, about global data identification in a manufacturing company.

Part Numbers and Global Identification Problem

One of the problems I can see in manufacturing organizations is related to identification of assemblies, parts, documents and other related information. The problem is not new. It was exists many years. The elements of identification have multiple dimensions. You can think about different phases of lifecyle on one side. On the other side, you can think about manufacturing sites. There are many other elements in this identification schema. You can ask me – companies are implementing solutions to identify parts – what’s the big deals? It is just names or numbers…

I think, these problems become more complicated because of several trends that happen in manufacturing these days. I just bring few – globalization and global manufacturing, the complexity of products, supply chain optimization and many others. In my view, the complexity of identification causes raising complexity of software to support it and, at the end, the complexity of business processes. Take a look on the following picture fromWikipedia (obviously, I don’t want to expose any customer data I have):

I can also mention few other problems that exist in every manufacturing company and not only for large OEMs – handling of loosely coupled information, manage multiple and sometimes un-planned information sources, harmonization of many “small packets” of corporate data, etc. To have an efficient identification can be helpful. I can see companies are spending lots of time discussing an “identification” problem and trying to come to a reasonable solution that fits their need.

Identification Silver Bullet and Semantic Web Promise

Is there a “silver bullet” that can help to companies to solve identification problems? Unfortunately, in my view, the technologies that were developed 20-30 years ago cannot scale up to handle existing complexity of the information stored in CAD, PDM, PLM, ERP and other business systems. I see an interesting promise coming from semantic technologies that were developed for the last decade. One of the possible solutions is to apply the techniques developed on the web such as URI as well as elements of RDF and OWL to identify elements of data. In a nutshell, the idea of unique global data identification that can be developed on the level that provides Part Numbering schema in multiple divisions in your company.

What is my conclusion? There is no silver bullet that can solve the problem of Part Numbers and data identification in manufacturing companies tomorrow. Data related problems cannot be solved overnight. At the same time, application of new technologies that were developed on the web for the last 10-15 years can provide a step by step plan to solve the current “data disaster”. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

*picture is courtesy of solidsmack yfrog account.

PLM and Engineering Documents Identification

July 15, 2010

My new website and blog is BeyondPLM. The original post is here.

The question of identification is probably of the most complicated and always raises lots of interest. I had a chance to discuss early on my blog a topic related to Part Numbers and Part Identification. The discussion raised lots of opinions and comments. You can track them on the following link. PLM marketing and sales speeches are rarely discussing this topic. It assumed as a solved problem. However, I don’t think so. Today I want to discuss multiple aspects related to the identification of drawings.

I read article by Kean Walmsley of Autodesk on his blog – Through the interface . He is discussing the idea of identification of drawings using QR Code. Kean presented various ways you can today handle QR codes in software and how you can organize your work with help of QR-enabled software. He is talking about coming AutoCAD plug-in to do this job.

Another article by Jeff Sweeney of 3DVision Technologies in his bar-coded blog post presents an idea how possible to use bar-code or how he called “1949 year technology” to identify drawings. In his example, he proposed to create an association between file attribute and bar-code and automate processes related to document.

Both articles made me think about different aspects related to identification of engineering documents, and I decided to share and discuss it.

Internal vs. External
Documents are everywhere. However, in my view, most of the organization can clearly differentiate between documents that are belonging to an organization and are under formal control of the organization and documents that circulated outside.

Logical vs. Physical
Most of us are working with virtual documents or files – CAD Files, Related PDF files, Images, Scans and just office documents with embedded design and engineering elements. However, organizations are still printing documents for various purposes. I can see some of them, such as use of documents in the manufacturing shop floor or sending documents together with physical products as part of documents and some others.

Inside of the organization your documents are flowing between different people and organizations. You can see more and more organizations are starting to think about a single content management system. In some cases, PLM system is playing a role of a content management system for engineering documents. However, there are lots of situations where documents are distributed between multiple systems- CMS, PDM, PLM, ERP, etc. To be able to identify correlated documents can be an interesting solution.

The cost of storage is growing down. I’d expect IT in few more years will be discussing an option how to have all data on “spinning disks”. Flash storage is still expensive. So, a question of archiving and identification of drawing in archives can be interesting as well.

What is my conclusion today? I think, the problem of identification is a huge one. With all respect to our paperless future, we are document-driven society. I’m not touching now the future CAD on the cloud without files. We are still in a very preliminary stage in our trials to understand the problem of handling documents globally. There are many aspects that I mentioned in this post, and it seems to me, they are still very distributed within an organization’s boundary and beyond. I can envision kind of layered solution that will solve this problem. I’m looking forward to your comments and discussion.

Best, Oleg

PLM, RFID, RuBee, Virtual and Real

June 4, 2010

I was thinking about RFID technology and how it can impact the development of future PLM software. One of the problems I can see in design and manufacturing is a missing link and information about product’s life after they leave manufacturing shop. There is almost no reliable way to monitor products in a real life. Try to answer on the following questions that can sound crazy today: How your product was transported? What was an air temperature in a storage facility? What condition car or plan or whatever else experienced before it was broken? You can think about many interesting questions. Is it real to answer on them?

RFID and RuBee

From Wikipedia: Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is the use of an object (typically referred to as an RFID tag) applied to or incorporated into a product, animal, or person for identification and tracking using radio waves. Some tags can be read from several meters away and beyond the line of sight of the reader.

This is a new way to identify everything, by adding a tag (physical device) to everything. Such tags can be very small and provide a way to track them using special screening devices. The RFID type of the devices was designed with a passive behavior. The new promising technology called RuBee ( coming to change RFID devices and make them active). RuBee device will be able to transmit actively information using special radio frequency protocol.

From Wikipedia: RuBee IEEE 1902.1 (IEEE P1902.1) is a two way, active wireless protocol that uses Long Wave (LW) magnetic signals to send and receive short (128 byte) data packets in a local regional network. The protocol is similar to the IEEE 802 protocols which are also known as WiFi (IEEE 802.11), WPAN (IEEE 802.15.4) and Bluetooth (IEEE 802.15.1), in that RuBee is networked by using on-demand, peer-to-peer, active radiating transceivers.

Gathering Physical Information

By implying various tracking technologies such as RFID and RuBee, we can think about the ability to gather an amount information about products we design and manufacturing. It will be giving us a significant advantage in different aspects of product development – optimizing manufacturing and supply chain, usage experience, warranties and many others. I can think about many use cases where manufacturers, suppliers and retailers will be able to communicate in a much easier way in a chain of designer-manufacture-retail-consumer in both directions.

What is my conclusion today? I think RFID, and RuBee technologies can make a shift in communication in the engineering and manufacturing world. Is it practical today? I think we can see some examples of RFID usage in a supply chain and retail these days. The biggest problem is cost of tag and reliability of tracking devices. However, I expect cost (and size) of a device to be smaller. In addition, tracking devices will be improved as much, we’ll push forward various WiFi technologies.

Best, Oleg


PLM Data, Identification and Part Numbers

April 9, 2010

I’d like to follow my yesterday post about PLM data modeling and talk about one of the issues that in my view are very important in PLM systems and implementations. The issue of identification or how it sometimes called “numbering system” is fundamental when you start thinking how to organize you product data. This is not a new problem, in my view. It comes all the time in the beginning of each implementation, when you start thinking about how to identify literally everything in your system. It normally starts from Part Numbers but spread out later.

The identification is a very complex problem. In the beginning, you can easy underestimate the size of this issue. However, as much you will be going forward you can easy come to the conclusion that this is one of the most important issues to decide before doing any implementation. I’d like to put few of the challenges that I think important to mention when you think about identification.

Multiple Systems
In the situation when you run many systems, you need to synchronize numbering and identification schema between them. This can be a not simple task and require significant effort and time.

Global Design and Manufacturing
Product development is going global these days. You want to design, build and support your system on a global scale. Product design and manufacturing are often happening in different countries and locations. In many cases, your local manufacturing facilities will be using local ERP system with local numbering and identification schema. At the same time, global product design will be interested to rely on the single identification worldwide.

Manufacturing and Supply Chain
The product development activity can be split between different parties – OEM’s and suppliers. OEM and suppliers are using separate and often different systems. To synchronize or coordinate numbering systems between them is another challenge on a global scale.

Company Mergers and Acquisitions
This is another type of the activities when you will face identification problems. Mergers and acquisitions happen and, in this case, you need to make an effort to create a single common identification schema from two or more separate systems.

This is not a full list, but figure out the most critical aspects that need to be taken into account. Recently, I came across a very interesting write-up about Part Numbering on the ZeroWait State blog. I think you can get some ideas about possible Part Numbering options such as – intelligent, semi-intelligent, automatic.

What is my conclusion today? I think the problem of the identification will become more urgent very soon. Most of the systems in product development and manufacturing were designed 15-20 years ago and considered problem of the identification as a number in a local database. Growing exchange in design and manufacturing information on a global scale will introduce new types of identification problems. In my view, enterprise systems in general, but PLM specifically will need to learn some lessons from internet systems development to find a right solution to this problem.

I’m interested to hear about your practice and experience with implementation of identification systems in your organization and during the implementation you made.

Best, Oleg



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