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How to Fix Your Problems With Equipment Serial Numbers

Why Serial Numbers?

By knowing your SAP serial number status using serial number management in SAP MM (Materials Management) and other related SAP modules,  great efficiencies can be realized by folks in all industries that require serialization. Here are some issues and  common requirements across industries.

What are some of the problems with managing Equipment Serial Numbers and the benefits of solving them:

1. Cradle to Grave Product Lifecycle Tracking

Each serial number has its own life-cycle, comes to life in either manufacturing or procurement or conversion. Most people benefit greatly from knowing about their serial numbers:

  • With Serialized Equipment, you know where each piece of equipment is located
    • At the warehouse
    • En-route during shipping
    • At a customer site
    • In repair
  • S/N service history, what has been done to it in the past, what kind of calls were received
  • What the warranty status is
  • Contract coverage
  • Is it part of a program

2. Warranty and Extended Warranty Contracts

When a customer calls the service hot-line with their s/n,  the customer service representative will look up the serial number status in SAP which indicates whether that s/n is under warranty or not and what type of service is covered for that part and customer.  Is it under warranty or contract? By maintaining serial number history, SAP can help to know what product service is covered and what can be offered as an up-charge? For example, “Repair” is covered and customer can pay up for other services, for example 24 hour spare part delivery versus the usual 3 days. Or they can buy an extended warranty contract during the call.

3. Allow RMA Returns, Seamless and Easy to Execute.

RMA or Reverse Material Authorizations are easier said than done. Whether the issue occurred after order taking, while the unit is being picked and packed, during shipping, immediately after receipt, DOA, issues with the material, or at a later time:  Make the customer whole again and happy is your best business objective.

Think about Amazon Returns - does Amazon record serial numbers?  Usually only on items they sell themselves.  That's why 3rd party sellers normally perform their own fulfillment if what they sell should have a serial number, which allows them to apply, record and track serial numbers. 

Industry trend: Service contracts allow for better RMA services and are key to getting those coveted positive customer reviews.

4. Equipment Records, Really?

In SAP, the serial number record is expanded to an equipment record.

That is where a lot of the additional serial specific data lives. The equipment record has a system-wide unique ID, the Equipment Number, tied to the material and serial number. This is a great concept to leverage within your company.

Many times, the serial number is unique and sufficient to identify a part. In other cases, the same serial numbers may exist between two or more parts.  In these situations, the part and serial number combination will yield the unique record. In addition to that, the equipment number, which can be thought of as a company internal record locator ID is surprisingly useful:

Equipment Number Improves Technician Productivity

The equipment number is that one ID that immediately finds the record. 100% match. Folks take advantage of that, by printing the equipment number on the equipment tag. Or, load the equipment number to the RFID tag (Radio Frequency Identification), or 3-D bar code. Rather than using the serial number - which may not yield an immediate hit, technicians embrace using the equipment number in short order, utilizing it during their work.

The equipment record then is the home of all things serialized. 

May sound trivial, however, untapped improvements can be realized in Serialization. This is huge!

5. Serial Number Itself

S/N width and S/N template itself is an important discussion:
  • How wide are your serial numbers?
  • Up to 18 chars?
  •  What do existing serial numbers look like, what are your current naming rules
  • Does everyone in your organization know how to read serial numbers
  • How about your customers?

Current and future naming standards are important in maintaining your SAP serial number history.  This allows it to be a speaking serial number, meaning you can track changes all the way back to the beginning of the part's existence. What are the recommendations in SAP with regards to Serial Number design and are you following them?  Are there industry naming conventions you must follow.  Are they Milspec (Military Specification) compliant?

6. Integrating with Other Functions

Often times, for example, in Aerospace and Defense, part and serial numbers are controlled via engineering orders (USAF calls it TCTO or Time Compliance Technical Orders) which requires that we do something to the item in question. Which in turn, makes it a new part or serial number.

And your rules around S/N management may differ between organizations; business rules can be set up that way in SAP.

Serial number management integration areas that come to mind include:

  • Engineering Change Management
  • Document Management
  • Inventory Management, Supply Chain
  • MDM
  • Procurement, POs (Purchase Orders), Receiving – goods-receiving of serial numbered equipment
    • If s/n recording at time of GR is not an option (may be buried on a palette or too many) there are other ways to create s/n
  • Sales, and, Service
If you’d like to read more about SAP serial number management  and how to create serial numbers in SAP ERP, click the button below to download the free SAP Serial Number PDF presentation document.
Download your Serial Number  Management in SAP Overview

Soren Detering

My name is Soren. I am the founder of Detering Consulting. I began the company in 2003 because I wanted to provide more value for SAP customers. I knew that many of them were missing out on all the great benefits that could be obtained from the software. Before establishing Detering Consulting, I completed my education by obtaining a Master’s in Computer Science. After that, I worked at SAP in Germany and SAP Labs in North America for 10 years. My extensive background in solution management, project planning and -management, implementation services and leadership includes experience in: Automotive, A&D, High Tech, Medical Equipment, and Manufacturing Industries.
Me and my teams have successfully assisted many customers with their SAP ERP software, completed several full life cycle implementation projects, and carried out over 30 projects in SAP ECC and S/4 Hana. My experience has given me the unique ability to scope out ERP solutions in a very short amount of time. I have a knack for finding untapped money-making opportunities and discovering areas where customers could be saving money. I currently live and work in Palo Alto, CA just 10 minutes away from the SAP office. I dedicate myself to helping our clients with our SAP consulting services. In my spare time, I enjoy sailing, kickboxing, and spending time with my family and our two Taiwanese Mountain dogs.

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