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Tom Sawyer and the Part Numbering Schema

You folks remember when and Tom and me went to free ol' Jim from the shed. I figgered we'd just pry the board off the winder and lift the bed leg off'n the chain that was holding Jim and we'd all crawl back out and be done with the business.

It's good thing I had Tom Sawyer along, or that's just what I'da done. But Tom he wouldn't allow for that on accounta cuz it didn't have no style. So we set to diggin' a tunnel and making a pie with a rope made out of a bed sheet and sawing off the bed leg (and eating the sawdust) and whittling down spoons and candlesticks and all kinds of 'citement that I don't have to tell you about on accounta cuz you already read all about it in the fine book my Mr. Mark Twain. The whole deal took us 'bout two weeks and three chapters and ended up with Tom getting shot and Jim getting captured. My, but it was a first rate affair!

So not long after that episode, Tom and me, we sets to ciphering out a part numbering scheme. So Tom, he say "Now you work your mind, and study out a plan to number parts, and I will study out one, too; and we'll take the one we like the best."

I went to thinking out a plan, but only just to be doing something; I knowed very well where the right plan was going to come from. Pretty soon Tom says:


"Yes," I says.

"All right—bring it out."

"My plan is this," I says. "We just use sequential non-intelligent numbers. We can easy assign categories up front for each o' the projects. Then we move from general to specific, so's we can have maybe a category and a sub-category, but they wouldn't be but two alpha-numeric characters each so's to not be confusing. Then for the purchased items we'd just assign them a separate alpha-numeric code. All the numbers would be unique and tracked in the database. Wouldn't that plan work?"

"WORK? Why, cert'nly it would work, like rats a-fighting. But it's too blame' simple; there ain't nothing TO it. What's the good of a plan that ain't no more trouble than that? It's as mild as goose-milk. Why, Huck, it wouldn't make no more talk than breaking into a soap factory."

I never said nothing, because I warn't expecting different; but I knowed mighty well that whenever he got HIS plan ready it wouldn't have none of them objections to it.

And it didn't. He told me what it was, and I see in a minute it was worth fifteen of mine for style, and would get the parts all numbered same as mine would, and maybe get us all fired besides. So I was satisfied, and said we would waltz in on it. I needn't tell what it was here, because I knowed it wouldn't stay the way it was. I knowed he would be changing it around every which way as we went along, and heaving in new wherever he got a chance. And that is what he done.

Once we got to looking at the parts we had to track I said "Here's the ticket. This spreadsheet from accounting has all the parts set into categories already. It would be simple to use the categories accounting's already laid out."

Tom says: "It's as simple as tit-tat-toe, three-in-a-row, and as easy as playing hooky. I should HOPE we can find a way that's a little more complicated than THAT, Huck Finn."

"Well, then," I says, "how'll it do to put dash numbers on everything, the way we done before with that old system?"

"That's more LIKE it," he says. "It's real mysterious, and troublesome, and good," he says; "but I bet we can find a way that's twice as long. There ain't no hurry; le's keep on looking around."

So Tom got to looking and put in dashes betwixt ever'thing from here to yonder, then he spaced all the numbers out by fives--he said it was to catch mis-keys or some such foolishness--but I 'lowed as to how it was using up 80% o' the digits without no sequencing requirement a body gen'ly expects when you skip numbers.

"Well, if that ain't just like you, Huck Finn. You CAN get up the infant-schooliest ways of going at a thing. Why, hain't you ever had any education at all? You use up all the available numbers in a hurry then you go back in and insert new numbers betwixt the ones you already got. Then you go in and change numbers that you're not using when you run out of numbers. It's gaudy, Huck. I wish there was already obsolete numbers so we could change the description of numbers we already use."

I says: "What do we want be inserting numbers later when we can just add a digit now?"

He looked kind of weary and discouraged-like, and says: "It ain't no use to try to learn you nothing, Huck." He put his chin in his hand, thinking. Pretty soon he sighs and shakes his head; then sighs again, and says: "No, it wouldn't do—there ain't necessity enough for it."

"For what?" I says.

"Why, to use vendor's number imbedded in ours," he says.

"Good land!" I says; "why, there ain't NO necessity for it. And what would you want to do that for, anyway?"

"Well, some of the best authorities has done it. They didn't have a database, so they just used the vendor's number. And an obsolete one would be better still. But we got to let that go. There ain't necessity enough in this case; and, besides, the engineers wouldn't understand the reasons for it, and how it's the custom; so we'll let it go. But blame it all, this whole thing is just as easy as it can be. And so it makes it so rotten awkward to get up a difficult plan. There ain't no similar parts with different materials—now there OUGHT to be different materials so we could append material codes on all the part numbers."

"Why, Tom Sawyer, how you talk," I says; "We ain't got no use for material codes."

"We HAVE got use for it. How you talk, you better say; you don't know nothing about it. We've got to have imbedded material codes; they all do."

Then Tom come up with a scheme where the same part number got a different dashed suffix after it got sent out for some operation. Like a plated part had the same number but the dash changed so all the parts had to have a dash even though not one in a thousand would get plated.

But I weren't convinced on accounta' cuz the part was a whole new part after plating same 's any other raw stock what got machined, and I said as much.

"But would you just think for one second, Huck? We can burn up three digits that way, maybe more if'n we stipulate that they all have to end in zero! Say, we could have a part number longer'n Moses's beard time we're done, and we could run clean out o' part numbers with half of the digits not even used! My but ain't it elegant, Huck!"

Then I 'lowed as to how we could just leave off the zero since it didn't add any information differentiating the part since they all ended in zero.

"That ain't got anything to DO with it, Huck Finn.

"Well, then, what's the sense in wasting digits then?"

"Why, blame it all, the digits don't cost nothing."

"But you can use them for something else, can't you?"

"Well, spos'n you do? Eventually you've got to run out of numbers. It's the right way and it's the regular way." So I just kept mum on that.

Then Tom, he says "Now, the thing to study out is, how to know which is the next number to assign."

"Take the next available number," I says, "like the database shows."

He only just looked scornful, and said something about nobody ever heard of such an idiotic idea, and then he went to studying. By and by he said he had ciphered out two or three ways, but there warn't no need to decide on any of them yet. Said we'd got to present the plan to the managers first.

So we presented the plan to the managers and some of them wanted file locations and some wanted pricing information imbedded in the number. And most ever' one of 'em wanted to spell out what the part was just by looking at a couple o' letters in the part number. Then I said we'd tried that before and lands didn't we get burned on accounta' cuz most ever' thing we had used one of 'bout 7 letters in the alphabet and the rest of 'em didn't get used until we'd run out of letters that made sense, then you was stuck with a letter that had no never mind to the word you was trying to spell out anyway. One feller'd think that PG was for plastic grommets when another had in his head that it meant Purchased Goods when all along it was for wraP, Granular. But they wasn't going to set for nothing less.

Then one manager asked if we couldn't add some characters into the part number that said whether the piece was a component or an assembly. By golly, Tom got real excited about that and set about right after the meeting to code in assemblies as differ'nt from parts. He come up with about three ways, then finally landed on putting more characters in the assemblies than the parts. I shoulda' knowed better but I 'lowed as to how there weren't no need to know that at the part number level. Says I: "What in the nation is the engineer going to DO with that information?"

"DO with it? He can cross reference it to his own part number he's made up in a spreadsheet, can't he? That's what they all do; and HE'S got to, too. Huck, you don't ever seem to want to do anything that's regular; you want to be starting something fresh all the time. What if an engineer could just assign a part number without consulting a library of books and jumping through a barrel o' hoops? That would be a pretty howdy-do, wouldn't it! I never heard of such a thing."

"Well," I says, "if it's in the regulations, and he's got to have it, all right, let him have it; because I don't wish to go back on no regulations; but there's one thing, Tom Sawyer—if we go to making this system too confusing, we're going to have all kinds of uncontrolled documents around for cheat sheets; and as for the engineers, they ain't had no experience in all this high-falluting systeming stuff, and so don't be surprised if—"

"Oh, shucks, Huck Finn, if I was as ignorant as you I'd keep still—that's what I'D do."

Then Tom set all kinds of rules as to what kind of stuff could go in which place then he set more rules breaking all o' them rules so that you could have alpha or numeric characters some places and not a soul would know which was which, and some of the characters could be three and others only two in the same spot. Then Tom set about putting whole differ'nt rules on assemblies from parts. Then my lands, Tom was joyful. He says;

"Now we're all right. It'll take about a week to enter a number and it's bound to be wrong!"

Frank Leany

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