When dealing in the world of auto numbering (and more specifically auto part numbering) we have to understand that there are three types of auto numbering we can use, intelligent numbering, semi-intelligent numbering, and dumb numbering (or random numbering). Just so that we are all on the same page, let me give a quick explanation of each type:
Intelligent numbering – The advantage of using this type of number is that no matter what it is attached to, that piece of information will be instantly identifiable by only the number. For instance, you could have a part number for fasteners built in this fashion X-Y-Z-A where X is the type of fastener, Y is the pitch, Z is the material and A is the size. This would mean that H-F-AL-10 would stand for a 10mm hex head screw with a fine pitch and zinc material (obviously we also need length and other information to fully define the screw but I am sure you get the point).
Semi-intelligent numbering – This type of numbering is used to help classify groups of items without trying to describe them completely. This type typically uses a prefix or suffix along with a random number. For instance FST-23484 would be a fastener and HNG-23484 would be a hinge however the random number tells you nothing about the specifications of either of those parts.
Random numbering – This in my opinion is the absolute best option for numbering and I will explain why later in this article but here you just have a random number, 389673, which has absolutely no significance to the class or function of the article it is attached to.
When talking about SolidWorks Enterprise PDM in specific, you can handle each of these types of situations, however the way you deal with them will vary greatly. Intelligent part numbering schemes will require custom programming in the form of an add-in. In my opinion, this is the worst possible type of part numbering to use because it is inflexible and if thing change or companies merge down the road it will become a big problem trying to figure out what to do with these numbers. Semi-intelligent and random numbering schemes can both be created by the serial number generator built into SolidWorks Enterprise PDM. If you are interested in Intelligent or Semi-Intelligent numbering, check out our awesome AutoDocumentNumbering tool for PDM.
Because both types of numbering are so easily obtainable, we need to put some thought into which type to use. As far as I am concerned both types are reasonable however if given the choice at my own company, I would use random part numbering. The reason I would do this is to be as generic as possible to that I can conform as easily as possible to any events which may happen down the road. Keep in mind that company names, product names, products lines, etc change as time goes by so tying references to those things into your part number is just asking for trouble. The main reason for not using random part numbers is that they give no information about the object they are attached to but that is exactly why you use a PDM system. You can quickly search for a part number and see an unlimited amount of meta-data associated with that object to easily identify exactly what it is. If there was no PDM system in place, then it would be more difficult to justify a random part number however I still feel it is the best choice.
When you are making your choice, I urge you to keep in mind the following quote from Francis Criqui of General Motors:
“As Director of Engineering Standards at General Motors, I had responsibility for issuing blocks of part numbers for all GM engineering units. I was involved multiple efforts to define a “smart” part number scheme that works. We never found one. The challenge to PLM is the “lifecycle” portion; automotive lifecycles are often 50+ years and perhaps longer dependent upon information retention policies. There is no way a part with a lifecycle of 50+ years should be subjected to the requirements of a technology with a lifecycle of 18-24 months. The easiest and simplest solution is a purely sequential numbering system where the number has no significance other than a tracking ID.”