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I’ve been dealing with manufacturer part numbers for over 20 years here at Marshall Wolf Automation and in that time we’ve seen the good, the bad and the downright infuriating.

No worries, I’m not going to name names here as I know many of us working in this industry, including manufacturers, have little to no say in how their products are numbered.

Here are the all-stars:


1) S and 5 should be avoided… unless they actually mean something.

If you are creating a part number for something that is 5 volt then it does makes sense to have a ‘5’ in the part number. Maybe your product is ‘slim’ and an ‘S’ is welcome.

Take pity on us all and do not use a ‘5’ and an ‘S’ right next to each other. Part number S5SS5 speaks for itself. 

2) If the 0 doesn’t mean anything then don’t use it.

There is nothing worse than more than two zeroes right next to each other. The more there are the more you are telling your users that you want them to sit there counting them, every time they need to order them.

I know that the intentions are sometimes good when using zeroes. The zero might mean ‘no option here’ while the any other code implies a specific option. For instance ABC000000S510 might mean there is no option chosen for those middle six (yes, I had to count them) spaces. If the part number is ABC001000S510 that lone middle ‘1’ might mean ‘with cover’. Do you see how frustrating that is?

The easy solution is any time there are options, especially if the majority of your sales involve products without the options, have them be at the END of the part number. This way if there are no options you have a nice, easy part number. If there is no dash on the end you know it’s option free!

3) I lied, there is something worse than having more than two zeroes right next to each other.

The joy of the O and 0. Having to search a part and having no idea if the font they are using means O or 0 in their world, looking up one way and hoping it’s right.

Taking a look at the width of the letter and making a wild guess. If not, try, try again.

4) Keep it short.

Unless you are building something REALLY complicated, there is no reason for a part number to extend past the allotted number of spaces I have in my system for a part number.

If your part number is really long, suggestion #2 could probably help you shorten it pretty quick.

5) Have the part number mean something and be consistent.

It does not make sense to use ‘5’ as the code for a 12 volt item. How about ‘3’ for red? WHY? Why not use ‘R’ for red? Maybe ‘12’ for 12 volt? Just a thought…

Once you choose your code, use it for every part number. Don’t have –R mean red and then assume we know that a blank space means green. We don’t. Make it –G for green, just like –R means red.

6) Do not call your series one thing and then build your part numbers having nothing to do with it.

Why does it make sense to anyone to have ‘ABC’ series have part numbers like this: KLB212. How does this help your customers find anything?

It’s simple; if your series is ABC then your part numbers should all BEGIN with ABC.

7) If you must change your part number, think about how you change it.

Avoid part number changes if at all possible. If you have to do it, make it make sense. Is it just a new revision?

Don’t change a random number in the middle of the part number from a B to an 8. We won’t notice. Add a –A for revision A and make sure your spec sheets and descriptions let us know what that means.

8) PLEASE avoid spaces, special characters and upper/lower case (really?) letters in your part numbers.

A dash (-) is all you get to use other than letters and numbers.

9) Never start your part number with a zero.

Just don’t.

10) Let’s not forget that once you build a beautiful series of part numbers it can still be sidelined by… SAP.

Do everyone a favor and use your SAP # internally… it means nothing to anyone else. Your brilliant part numbers will tell everyone everything they need to know!

If this blog can help just one series be numbered in a better way it makes it all worthwhile.

Note: Thank you to Amy for reading through my first draft and reminding me of a few I had missed. There was one recommendation she had that didn’t make the list; ‘Once you create a part number you are not allowed to change it for 10 years’. I thought that was a bit excessive and we do not want to be unreasonable… how about 9 years?

Did you find what you were looking for? I’m responsible for helping our customers find anything and everything they are in search of. Whether you prefer a blog, an online search, social media or e-newsletters, my goal is to have it ready when you are.

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