Big Dog, Little Dog: Why Parts Classification is Key for Success

Written By: Julie Pike
  • 6/7/2018

Parts classification is key to success for your product development process. In fact, classification is key to success in any situation where you are trying to bring a diverse group of people together with a common understanding. Let’s consider what happens when you show a group of people an object and ask them what it is. You’re bound to get a multitude of answers. If you ask them what a “battery-operated portable light” is called, you might hear “flashlight” and “torch”, among other responses. In this instance, the group knows that each word is referring back to the “battery-operated portable light”, but in a situation where the object is taken out of context, using different vocabulary can be confusing. 

Growing up a bookworm, I’d often be confused that characters in British novels set in contemporary times would use “torches” when they went out at night. I assumed they were olden-time torches (pieces of wood soaked in flammable liquid and set aflame), not realizing that “torch” to the author translated as “flashlight” to me. While my thinking modern day Brits had a penchant for 18th century living doesn’t have serious consequences (except confusion the first time I went to the UK), this story illustrates why it’s important for all stakeholders involved in the product development process need to be using the same vocabulary. 

Since many manufacturers today have a global workforce – with a diverse set of experiences and backgrounds – it is imperative that all stakeholders completely understand each other and use the same nomenclature. Even small, seemly insignificant spelling errors can make it difficult for stakeholders to find a part they’re looking for. If someone were to misspell “transmitter” when inputting it into the system, another user may not be able to find it and believe that this part doesn’t exist. This can lead to part duplication and drive up the cost of parts inventory. Having a strong metadata structure ensures that, no matter what stakeholders are searching for, they all leave with the same conclusions. 

How Parts Classification is Like Adopting a Pet

Metadata is made up of the classification structure, the attributes that go with those classification nodes, and the name that is then derived from these things. Let’s take a step out of the technical world and look at how metadata is important for something a bit more personal: adopting a pet.

If I were to go to an animal shelter and ask to adopt a pet, I could walk away with any type of adoptable animal: a dog, a cat, a horse, a snake. Unfortunately, a horse won’t fit in my yard and my landlord would not let me bring a pet snake home. I need to be a bit more specific: “I would like a dog”. There again I run into trouble – what if I need a small dog to fit into my apartment and the shelter offers me a Great Dane? 


We need to add some attributes to the classification of “dog” to understand what we want and apply a naming rule so that everyone knows exactly what we’re looking for: the type of pet you want, the primary breed, and one specific feature so we can quickly understand if it’s available or not. Now, I can walk into the shelter and ask for “a chocolate lab” and the shelter can quickly tell me if they have what I’m looking for or not. 

Parts classification serves the same purpose. It helps stakeholders quickly and effectively find the right parts when they need them. This can have a major role in getting products to market faster and increasing reuse of parts and components. 

For manufacturers that produce products that are long-term investments for customers, ensuring that you can continue to service these products for years to come is imperative. Being able to search for parts and understand how changes to these parts affect the product – and having the metadata available to trace these changes as the product evolves – is very important to be able to continue servicing customers in the best way possible.

Inside of an organization, metadata can benefit every single stakeholder. Engineering is the obvious beneficiary of parts classification, but logistics, the supply chain, marketing, and aftermarket service benefit too: 

  • Logistics can see benefits of reducing delays and fees, of making certifications and compliance a little more straightforward and standardized. In addition, if it’s a global company, metadata can help translate items into different languages. 
  • The supply chain also is concerned with the ease of translatability. Other key benefits include standardizing external communications and being able to do cross-classification analysis to draw conclusions on supply chain data.
  • Marketing needs to be able to communicate engineering data. Being able to optimize search engine results because your organization has consistent naming can help get your organization’s name out there.
  • Metadata production (or lack thereof) affects aftermarket service the most. Their goal is to reduce unplanned downtime for customers and support customer needs. If they have difficultly searching for or finding replacement parts or being able to arrange service, they are not able to meet this goal – leading to very unhappy customers. 

Being able to classify parts into a strong metadata structure enables your product development process to function efficiently and smoothly and reaps numerous benefits for stakeholders across the organization. 

Attending this year’s LiveWorx? Be sure to attend a panel on parts classification on Tuesday, June 19th. “The Cost and Business Benefits of Parts Classification” will feature reps from Daktronics, Weatherford, Solar Turbines Inc, and GE Industrial Solutions who will share their parts classification journey and offer advice on how you can start your own transformation journey today. Register here

  • Windchill
  • Electronics and High-Tech
  • PLM

About the Author

Julie Pike

Julie Pike is the PLM Content Marketing Specialist at PTC. She has spent her career in marketing and communications primarily in the technology industry. Follow her on Twitter at @julie_pike.