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 Copyright © 2021  by David M. Anderson

In mass production, economies of scale are realized at the product level.

In Lean Production, Build-to-Order, and Mass Customization,
economies of scale are realized at the level of part and raw materials.

    Standardization supports the fundamental precepts of build-to-order and mass customization: All parts must be available at all points of use, not just "somewhere in the plant," which eliminates the setup to find, load, or kit parts.  As a stand-alone program, standardization can reduce cost and improve flexibility.1

    Standardization makes it easier for parts to be pulled into assembly (instead of ordering and waiting) by reducing the number of part types to the point where the remaining few standard parts can receive the focus to arrange demand-pull just-in-time deliveries.  Fewer types of parts ordered in larger quantities reduces part cost and material overhead cost. 

    The following practical standardization techniques are presented in all of Dr. Anderson's in-house seminars.  Dr. Anderson is an experienced workshop facilitator who can help companies quickly implement standardization.

The Zero-Based Standardization Approach

    Dr. Anderson has developed an easy-to-apply approach that is more effective than part type reduction measures, which require tremendous efforts for their return. Reducing active part numbers, say from 20,000 to 15,000 will, in fact, lower material overhead somewhat, but may not reach the threshold (eliminating part related setup) that would enable the plant to build products flexibly without delays and setups to get the parts, kit the parts, or change the part bins.

     This is a very effective technique to reduce the number of different parts (part types) by standardizing on certain preferred parts. This usually applies to purchased parts but it could also apply to manufactured parts. The methodology is based on a zero-based principle that asks the simple question: "What is the minimum list of part types we need to design new products?" Answering this question can be made easier by assuming that the company (or a new competitor) has just entered this product line and is deciding which parts will be needed for a whole new product line. One of the advantages of new competitors the ability to "start fresh" without the old "baggage:" too many parts. Just image a competitor simultaneously designed the entire product line around common parts. Now image doing the same thing internally. This is called the zero based approach.

    The zero based approach, literally, starts at zero and adds only what is needed, as opposed to reducing parts from a overwhelming list. An analogous situation would be cleaning out the most cluttered drawer in a desk, a purse, or a glove compartment; removing unwanted pieces would take much effort, and still not be very effective. The more effective zero-based approach would be to empty everything, and add back only the items that are essential. Where the "clutter" ends up is the difference in the approaches: in the drawer, purse or glove compartment or in the garbage can. Similarly, parts reduction efforts have to work hard to remove the clutter (excess part variety) in the system, whereas zero-based approaches exclude the clutter from the beginning. The clutter is the unnecessary parts that would have not been needed if products were designed around common parts. Not only do these excess parts incur overhead costs to administer them, they also lower plant efficiency and machine utilization because of the setup caused by product that are designed to have more parts than can be distributed at every point of use.

Standard Parts List Determination consists of the following steps:

• Establish baseline list from usage history (see graph below)
• Add new generation parts
• Eliminate parallel lines of parts (tolerance, strength, etc.)
• Investigate and optimize availability and sourcing
• Structure parts lists into some logical order
• Obtain feedback and concurrence from Engineering, Manufacturing, Quality and Purchasing.

    This approach determines the minimum list of parts needed for new designs and is not intended to eliminate parts used on existing products, except, when the common parts are functionally equivalent in all respects. In this case the new common part may be substituted as an equivalent part or a "better-than" substitution, where a common part with a better tolerance can replace its lesser counterpart in existing products.

    Even if part Standardization efforts only apply to new products, remember that in these days of rapid product obsolescence and short product life cycles, all older products may be phased out in a few years.


Purchasing Leverage.  Being able to order larger quantities of standard parts and materials provides purchasing leverage where buyers can benefit from suppliers economies-of-scale and arrange more frequent deliveries, to support just-in-time operations.

Lowering Material Overhead.  There is far less material overhead to procure standard parts and materials, which are more common, more readily available, and have more sources.  When asked during Design for Manufacturability classes, purchasing managers say that their effort to procure standard parts are 5% to 10% of the effort to procure the rest of proliferated parts lists.  Thus, material overhead for standard part is ten times less and the material overhead rate should be structured accordingly.  In the article on measuring total cost, the easy procedure to used to quantify overhead would be to split the material overhead so that standard parts are charged 10% of the total material overhead and the unusual parts are charged 90% to (a) reflect the real costs and (b) to encourage use of the standard parts and materials.

Spontaneous Resupply Possible.  Many costs can be reduced by arranging spontaneous resupply of parts and materials, instead of the more expensive forecast-based purchase orders and holding inventories.



C Cost Reduction

C Quality:  

C Flexibility: 

C Responsiveness:



        This part standardization procedure was implemented by the Dr. Anderson at Intel's Systems Group. Starting with 20,000 parts for printed circuit boards and computers, this standardization approach generated a preferred parts list of 500 parts, which is 2.5% of the original! For resistors, capacitors, and diodes, 2,000 values were reduced to 35 values (less than 2%).
        Fasteners for computer systems were standardized on one screw! This is how the standardization process worked: Service wanted a Phillips head so they, and customers, could keep using the same tools. Quality wanted a captivated “crest cup” washer to protect surface finishes and yet still have a locking effect. Engineering wanted the 6-32 size screw to be only a quarter inch long. Manufacturing recommended that the screw be three-eights of an inch long so that it would not tumble as it was fed to auto-feed screwdriver.
        Previous designs had so many different screws that Manufacturing could not use their auto-feed screwdriver at all. The next design used the standard screw in 40 locations. This, and the correct screw geometry, made use of the more efficient auto-feed screwdriver practical. In order to feed the screw, it had to be one eighth of an inch longer, but this meant that the screw would protrude beyond the fastened material. This violated a workmanship standard prohibiting such protrusions; some people even thought the standardization was doomed. But the workmanship standard was modified to allow the protrusion as long as it did not pose a safety hazard or compromise product functionality in any way.
    Intel's enforcement goal was not 100%, as might be required for a totally flexible operation, but we felt that even 95% usage would result in significant material overhead savings.
    In general, it should be possible to generate a preferred parts list that is 2 to 3 percent of the proliferated list. For very standard parts like fasteners or passive electronic components, it should be possible for the preferred parts list to be less than 1 percent of the current list.


 Tool Standardization. A subject related to part Standardization is tool Standardization, which determines how many different tools are required for assembly, alignment, calibration, testing, repair, and service. Company-wide tool standardization can be determined as follows: Analyze tools used for existing products. Prioritize usage histories to determine the most "common" of existing tools. Work with people in manufacturing/service to determine tool preferences. Coordinate common tool selection with common part selection. Issue common tool lists with common parts lists.

Feature Standardization. "Features" are any geometry that requires a separate tool like a drill, ream, hole punch, bend radii, and cutting tool bit for machine tools. These tools need to be standardized using the same procedures as parts.

Raw Materials Standardization. If raw materials can be standardized, then the processes can be flexible enough to make different products without any setup to change materials, fixturing mechanisms, or cutting tools. Raw material Standardization can apply to bar stock/tubing, sheet-metal, molding/casting, protective coatings, and programmable chips.

Process Standardization. Standardization of processes results from the concurrent engineering of products and processes to ensure that the processes are actually specified by the design team, rather than being left to chance or "to be determined later." Processes must be coordinated and common enough to ensure that all parts and products in the mass customization platform can be built without the setup changes that would undermine flexible manufacturing. Example: auto-feed screwdrivers.


Standardization of parts helps part suppliers rationalize their product lines and allow them to:

C reduce their overhead costs and subsidies, which allows them to be more cost competitive

C improve their operational flexibility, resulting in better delivery.

C simplify their supply chain management,

C free valuable resources to improve operations and quality, implement better product development practices, and introduce new capabilities like build-to-order & mass customization.


Standardization can be implemented by forming a standardization task force, which would include key people from Engineering, Manufacturing, Purchasing, Quality, Costing, plus appropriate managers and implementers. A key member of this effort would be a “database wizard” – a designated person who has the skill and availability to quickly extract data and generate many Pareto plots from various IT systems. The standardization steps are:

• Generate interest in standardization by creating an overall Pareto chart showing the periodic consumption of all parts (on the vertical axis) in descending order, with only the descending count on the horizontal axis in the format of figure above, but without part numbers.

• Arrange training on standardization methodologies (or, at least, have all implementers read this page) followed by workshops to standardize each category of parts and materials.

• Discuss any Pareto charts previously generated, including any anecdotal and documented consequences of standardization shortcomings.

• Start with the early steps: :ist existing partsto immediately stop the proliferation, clean up database nomenclature (e.g., for the many labels for bolts and screws), eliminate approved but unused parts, eliminate parts not used recently, eliminate duplicate parts, combine parts with multiple grades and tolerances, eliminating the lower version, with “better-than” substitutions, and scrutinize long-lead-time parts to see if they could be converted to standard parts with better lead-times.

Prioritize opportunities of what categories of parts to standardize first and start from the top of the list creating standard parts lists for a new product or family in a workshop.

• Similarly, standardize raw materials  features and processes, all of which are discussed in Chapter 5 in the DFM book..

• Determine related investigative tasks to identify standardization issues, like backward compatibility, “copy-exact” policies, implications of lean/cellular manufacture.

• Start the process of developing standardization implementation procedures. Discuss and assign tasks to change procedures or policies that may hinder standardization.

• Assign tasks to generate more Pareto plots.

• Designate people to do the above.

• Subsequent sessions would analyze new Pareto plots, specify additional investigations, start creating lists of standard parts/materials, obtain approvals, and issue the lists.

• For the standardization of expensive parts (Section 5.3 in the DFM book), quantify the benefits of the standardization (in the format of Figure 5.3) for specific cases, and, in general, start the process of creating a financial model to help quantify the overall cost savings and overcome resistance to some products getting what appears to be a “better” standard part.

• Issue the standardization lists  and incorporate into subsequent DFM training

• Encourage standardization through appropriate material overhead rates, prequalified standard parts, floor stock, personal display boards, spec books, and cost metrics.

• Perform product line rationalization, ideally as a first step if time permits, to eliminate or outsource the most unusual products that usually have the most unusual parts (see Product Line Rationalization article.)

Here is an email you can use to send this information around:


Subject: Article on How to implement Standardization

To: all

I just found an illustrated web page that shows how to implementation standardization.+

First it shows how to do standardization with the key steps superimposed over a generic Pareto plot.

Then it summarizes the cost benefits,  other benefits, and Standardization results.

Lastly, it shows how to implement standardization.  A few people on this email list could form a task force and implement standardization using this procedure, as this was first tone at Intel's Systems group three decades.   The full procedure is presented in Chapter 5 of the author's DFM book.



To discuss  Standardization as a Foundation of Lean and BTO, send phone or email:





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Dr. Anderson is a California-based consultant specializing in training and consulting on build-to-order, mass customization, lean/flow production, design for manufacturability, and cost reduction. He is the author of  "Build-to-Order & Mass Customization, The Ultimate Supply Chain Management and Lean Manufacturing Strategy for Low-Cost On-Demand Production without Forecasts or Inventory" (2008, 512 pages; CIM Press, 1-805-924-0200, and "Design for Manufacturability & Concurrent Engineering; How to Design for Low Cost, Design in High Quality, Design for Lean Manufacture, and Design Quickly for Fast Production" (2010, 456 pages; CIM Press, 1-805-924-0200;  He can be reached at (805) 924-0100 or; web-site:


1. David M. Anderson, "Build-to-Order & Mass Customization, the Ultimate Supply Chain and Lean Manufacturing Strategy for Low-Cost On-Demand Production without Forecasts or Inventory," (2008, 512 pages, CIM Press,1-805-924-0200;; Chapter 4, "Standardization of Parts," and Chapter 5, "Material Variety Reduction."

For more information call or e-mail:

Dr. David M. Anderson, P.E., fASME, CMC
phone: 1-805-924-0100
fax: 1-805-924-0200

copyright © 2021 by David M. Anderson

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