Standard Part Classification Systems: An Incomplete Solution

How Industrial Manufacturers Can Avoid the Usual Standard Part Classification Pitfalls


Considering the vast number of components in an average manufacturing company’s parts library and the amount of people who access it, it’s no wonder why problems of confusion and parts mismanagement arise.

For most, the solution appears to be straightforward, create a simple classification system based on physical features of the parts. However, upon more analysis, implementation of these systems run into problems such as subjective categories, inconvenient search processes, and limited integration into other operational aspects.

Trying to conceptualize how to begin to classify such a vast number of parts can make anyone’s head spin, and eventually the conclusion will be drawn that your classification project will fail, or get to a point of diminishing return.


Classification systems are everywhere in everyday life, and have been essential to anyone who has organized anything. The best example is the one that most of us have seen in grade school, and that is Linnaean Taxonomy.

How Industrial Manufacturers Can Avoid the Usual Standard Part Classification Pitfalls


To refresh your memory, this is the diagram that resembles a tree with the first known (and most basic) organisms on the bottom connected by lines branching out into the many different Kingdoms, Orders, Species and so on that we know today.


Another familiar classification system is the Dewey Decimal System, which categorizes books within libraries by assigning each with a series of numbers corresponding to the nature of the book. In this system, there are 10 different main classes such as Philosophy, Religion, and Social Sciences that all books fall under. Then there is a decimal point, followed by a string of numbers which further categorize the book.

By being able to assign each book a code that narrows down to its specific subject, you would theoretically be able to think of a topic then use the system to find books that pertain to that exact topic.

How Industrial Manufacturers Can Avoid the Usual Standard Part Classification Pitfalls


The Linnean Taxonomy and Dewey Decimal System are structures, which are very similar to the current standard part classification features in CAD systems today. Starting with a relatively small number of main categories, parts are first divided into basic groups and then continually subdivided into smaller more specific groups.


Although there is no universal definition for categorizing parts, there are a few standard part classification systems which are prominently used throughout the industry. Two of these systems are eCl@ss and UNSPSC. The first, eCl@ss, is a very detailed organizational structure while UNSPSC is more of a neutral taxonomy, accounting for classes of products and services but no descriptions.

Although there are generally 4 levels to the eCl@ss classification, it begins with 30 different main classes on the top level, and each successive level has multiple choices. With a basic knowledge of mathematics, it is easy to see that the number of different possible categories can get out of control pretty quickly.


Even when it should be obvious, the solution is never cut and dry.

Issues arise when there is a discrepancy in how something should be classified. For example, let’s say that a new book on sports medicine is to be entered into a library and assigned a number. Starting with the broadest categories, a problem arises as to whether the book should fall under Technology or Arts/Recreation.

What happens when one person’s natural reaction is to classify it one way, and another thinks of a different way. This problem will surely arise in your classification project.

How Industrial Manufacturers Can Avoid the Usual Standard Part Classification Pitfalls


Although there can be rules set forward of how to classify from the top down, it may not be intuitive to all employees. If everyone is not on the same thought process on what the layers of classification should be, then there will be time wasted when the employees cannot navigate to a part they have in mind within a timely manner. This is the first reason your classification project will fall short.


Having a classification system that is not intuitive to all employees can make things confusing to learn, but it also makes finding things even harder. Also, a prominent mindset of “If I can find the parts, why shouldn’t anyone else be able to?” is hindering effectiveness.

Currently, the search options are very limited, and are not effective when browsing for a part to fit a design criterion. If a designer has an idea of what part they want to use, how do they go about finding it? If it is not a standard nut or bolt, it may not immediately be apparent what path to choose. And if that is the only search option, many times designers would rather just model up the part on their own. This leads to problems in duplicating parts that are already in the system, and not keeping a standard across the company.


Lastly, most standard part classification systems lack of integration into other company processes such as purchasing or inventories. This communication is critical to overall product design, and is costly when a problem is discovered late in development. A program that gives designers the added benefit of seeing whether or not a product is approved before implementation into the design saves time and increases visibility.


So why doesn’t everyone use the Dewey Decimal System to deduce where to find their book in a library? Because it has been replaced by far faster and easier browsing and searching methods on computers found in almost every library. In the engineering world, CAD technology is relatively young, and it takes time for the problems to become overbearing. However, that time is quickly coming, and without an open mind to other possible solutions, the problems of current classification systems will become larger as parts libraries increase. Engineers have longed for a way to find parts quickly, but haven’t had the tools to do so until recently.


Luckily, there are new solutions to these issues, offering a combination of classification with sophisticated search methods to provide user-friendly and intuitive Parts Management.  The truth is, “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got” – Albert Einstein.


Find out how today’s leading industrial manufacturers are using powerful search functions and a strategic parts management strategy to sidestep the classification dilemma, with outstanding results.


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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.