ECCMA Newsletter: The Pitfalls of Standardizing on a Single Classification System

There are several classification systems out there that describe particular taxonomies. In fact, classification systems are adopted in specific regions of the world. In the engineering e-commerce environment, enterprise data management depends heavily on integrating product information into diverse technical documentation. For example, we often need to centralize multi-vendor product descriptions into a single e-catalog.

The number of transactions, the amount of data and the time required, have combined to make it necessary for global Products and Services Categorization Standards (PSCS). In the U.S., the two most common to system design engineers are eClass classification and UNSPSC coding – both of which use a standardized vocabulary to tag data sets, categorized using a four tier classification hierarchy. 

The language used in PSCS can be broad and non-detailed, as with the NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) or very detailed communicative language like that of the eClass classification. Offering a more neutral taxonomy, UNSPSC coding
falls somewhere between these two classifications, while it accounts for classes of products and services, it doesn’t offer descriptions.

There’s also, of course, the eOTD™, which was developed to allow ECCMA members to improve the quality of their Master Data and their descriptions. It serves as a common mapping table between classifications. The dictionary includes classes (also known as item names or noun qualifiers) and properties (also known as attributes or characteristics), as well as, units of measure, currencies and controlled values (days of the week for example). The eOTD collects terminology from many standards and industry consortia, which results in a fair amount of duplication.

So what does all this get us? If it was a perfect world and you were starting the process from scratch, the classification process would be pretty straightforward. But, as we all know, the world isn’t perfect and the classification of existing “jungles” of parts/and or products can prove difficult, and often, the value has a point of diminishing return. Take the simple case of classification in the home. More specifically, let’s visualize the kitchen. Open the drawer that holds your forks, knives and spoons and I bet it looks quite organized. In my house, there is a drawer that contains spatulas of different shapes and materials (steel, plastic, flat, bent), the potato masher (mesh type and round wire type), the manual can opener, amongst all the barbeque tools, which can’t fit in any other drawer. That drawer pretty much describes the “General” category of a Classification system.

So how does an Engineer find such parts/products when needed in order to find and reuse an existing design, located in the “General” category? Combining classification and other means like: attribute searching, geometric volume searching, and a new means on the scene called “topology” searching, can save the day. 

Engineers have longed for the day to be able to find something in an existing database like an L bracket, the Stainless Steel variety, with a 4 pattern .2581 DIA clearance hole, on a 2 inch diameter bolt circle. How does an Engineer find that using traditional classification systems? Sure, if a classification exists, use it. However, budget constraints generally prevent engineers from being able to classify such a part without a significant premium.
Start by rationalizing your current supply chain and your standard parts in use. Once you determine how big the pile of parts is, discuss ways to classify and properly attribute them in a way that forces design reuse. In addition, look for products that can help you geometrically fingerprint the inventory, adding another search for reuse capability. 

Again, evaluate the approach you are taking with any classification system before you invest good money after bad. Research tools and technology that can make the whole find and reuse experience a good one. Know this: a happy and efficient engineer is a successful engineer.

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Adam Beck

Director of Marketing at CADENAS PARTsolutions | A Marketing graduate from the Miami University, Farmer School of Business in Oxford Ohio, Adam has years of experience in marketing and design for a variety of industries.