Two Approaches to Managing Alternate Parts


I have a part (actually multiple parts) that can be made by 2 different manufacturers: in-house and an outside source. Parts from both sources are functionally identical and treated as interchangeable in assemblies. What is the best way to handle this? Is it possible to have a part with multiple manufacturers? Could I create two parts and have Aligni treat them as interchangeable?
– H.D. at Overwatch Imaging


The short answer is to use Aligni’s Part Alternates feature. Here’s a bit more detail…

You’ll get the most out of Aligni if you maintain your database to be consistent with Aligni’s Manufacturer / Vendor relationships model. In summary:

  • Every item (part) has a unique Aligni P/N (SKU)
  • Each item has a single manufacturer
  • Each item’s manufacturer P/N is unique to that manufacturer
  • Each manufacturer has one or more vendors

In this post, we consider two distinct situations in the current case because the two situations justify different treatment within Aligni:

  1. Two commodity parts are manufactured by two different manufacturers that are functionally equivalent. An example of this would be electronic resistors.
  2. One part is specified but is manufactured by two different service providers. An example of this would be a machined part built-to-spec by a machine house.
Part Alternates are shown and managed on the details tab of the Part page. This part in our online demo database is a good example with three part alternates defined.

First Case: Different Manufacturers

In the first case, let’s consider two electronic resistors that are manufactured by two different manufacturers. In the electronics industry, these are commodity parts that are available from many sources. They are sometimes colloquially referred to as “jelly bean” parts and are often considered “generic”. However, on our Part Alternates documentation page, we caution against configuring these parts in Aligni as generic.

So per our suggestion, these two parts would get separate Aligni part records, each associated with its respective manufacturer. You would then associate the parts to each other using Aligni’s Part Alternates. You have two options for this association:

  • Equivalent – This means that two parts are suitable for any installation. They have identical parameters and differ only by manufacturer.
  • Alternate – This means that two parts are similar, but substitution requires consideration.

At this point, the choice becomes industry or application specific — your organization will need to decide to what level “functionally identical” may be interpreted. For example, components intended for spaceborne instruments may be functionally identical to others for terrestrial applications, but may require special consideration for use in space.

Second Case: Generic Manufacturers

Let’s consider a different class of part, machined parts, and suggest one possible way to set things up for that scenario. Here, you’re the designer of the part and you provide drawings, schematics, and other specifications about how the part will be constructed. You provide this information to a machine shop and they build the part to your specifications.

To best fit the Aligni relationships model, we’ll create a manufacturer called Generic Machined and we may have multiple vendors (machine shops) associated with this manufacturer. With the relationships defined this way, RFQs and POs entered in Aligni can be routed correctly to your machine shop vendors when you have parts for this Generic Machined manufacturer.

When setup this way, there really is no need to use Aligni’s Part Alternates feature. In fact, it cannot be used since there is only one part in consideration.

Inventory, SKUs, and Nuance

The astute reader will recognize an important nuance in the results achieved by the two approaches above. Notably, in the first approach, we end up with two Aligni parts (SKUs) that will be inventoried separately whereas, in the second approach, we have two vendors for the same Aligni part and therefore only one SKU.

In the first case, we decided that it was important to keep the items separated. This is open to debate, but we feel that it is not good practice to use generics in this situation. Here are some reasons to consider:

  • Buyers should not be making engineering decisions. While the specifications may be identical to a buyer’s eye, an engineer may think differently. The results of an incorrect application can range from benign to havoc in the final product: loss of performance, field failures, reduced lifetime, expensive rework, or scrapped material.
  • Separate parts should be lifecycle managed separately. Two manufacturers operate differently and likely have very different schedules for obsolescence or other lifecycle events such as engineering change notifications. As separate parts, these can be monitored more easily and reliably.
  • Partner communication is more precise. When generics are used, there can be some ambiguity when communicating a BOM to manufacturing partners. Since parts and packaging is typically marked with the manufacturer’s information it makes sense to have BOMs reflect these markings.
  • Traceability. With two separate part records, everything from RFQ to purchasing to builds and inventory is tracked more accurately. If you ever need to review or audit for usage, you’ll know exactly which parts were used for which assemblies.

The second case is a good example of a legitimate and unambiguous use of generics. In this case, the generic manufacturer is an abstract concept used to fit operational behaviors to the Aligni relationship model but without compromising efficiency or clarity. If the two machine shops can genuinely create parts that are form, fit, and function compatible, then their outputs can be mixed in inventory and they should fall under the same SKU.

Fall 2017 Update

As the leaves fall from the trees and the Aligni team gets excited about binging on Halloween candy and season two of Stranger Things, we reflect on the past several months and some of the features we’ve released and haven’t yet shared.

Partner View

Partner View allows our Enterprise customers to define part classes and provides partner accounts gated, read-only access to only the part class they are allowed.

Thanks to Formlabs for sponsoring the development of this feature through our Bespoke Support!

Bulk Inventory Import

Create multiple inventory units at once using our bulk inventory import tool. While very convenient for initial migration from other software, this importer can come in handy to long-time Aligni users as well.

Buyer Notes on PO

When working with purchases, you can now keep item-specific notes that aren’t intended for vendor consumption. Buyer notes are handy for internal communication when multiple buyers author POs or for other general reminders and placeholder notes.

New Part Display Style – Popovers

With the new %{popover} part display style tag, you can add quick popup information to part indices and part lists.

Equipment Comparisons

Compare equipment configurations the same way you can compare assembly part lists. Our handy drill-down interface makes it easy to drill down through the changes in the equipment hierarchy.

Thanks to Ventana Medical Systems for sponsoring the continued development of Aligni’s configuration management features through our Bespoke Support!

Allocation Shortage Report

Earlier this year we rolled out a design update to the allocation shortage report. Since then, we’ve made a number of additional improvements to make navigation better and provide more information on the same page.

  • Purchase indicators for arriving inventory (blue indicators) show you when purchased inventory is due to arrive before the build date.
  • Purchase indicators for future arrivals (red indicators) show you that purchased inventory is due to arrive after the build date. You should then try to expedite the order or reschedule the build.
  • Export items as CSV because, well, we just can’t seem to kill this format or the countless spreadsheet addictions they enable.
  • Build status indicators at the top of the page change as you hover over the build columns and you can stick specific builds to the header as desired.
  • Continued Performance Improvements

Build Updates
Also earlier this year, we gave builds a refresh with incremental reserve capability. A number of follow-on improvements include:
Auto Allocate reduces page load time by not rendering all the parts on a build unless you need to see them. For users with hundreds of items on a build, this gets a bit old.
Auto Reserve greatly reduces data entry time by automatically reserving items on a build according to your chosen strategy.
Export items as CSV because, for some people, if they could use Facebook inside Excel, they probably would.

Tell a Story with Aligni ECM

The essence of product lifecycle management (PLM) is to engage with the life of your product throughout its entire lifecycle – from conceptualization to development, from prototype to production, through maintenance, and ultimately obsolescence. Engineering change management (ECM) is the documentation process that tells this story. It’s hard enough for one person to build one product and remember all the twists and turns that brought them through today.

This month, we’re rolling out Aligni’s new ECM feature. Aligni’s ECM has been developed to provide a simple, easy-to-use workflow, a clean interface, and the integration you’d expect to other Aligni pages making ECM documentation easy to find for your parts and assemblies. ECM at the enterprise service level includes approval workflow for role-based management of the change process.

With ECM, you can create engineering change requests (ECR), link them to engineering change orders (ECO), then link the ECO to a part revision to fully track the proposal, discussion, evaluation, and implementation of requested changes.

Every organization handles changes a bit differently – priorities vary from company to company and your approach to change documentation needs to reflect your company’s values and purpose. Configurable ECM parameters allow you to customize your site’s ECM to work perfectly with your workflow and internal process terminology.

Discussions and attachments are a vital part of the change process. ECM discussions include a feature where participants can register their position on a proposed change or implementation as undecided, thumbs up, or thumbs down. This is separate from the approval process so even sites without approval workflow gain some documentation benefit from ECM participation.

Aligni ECM records allow you to list related items and affected items. These links include specific revisions of parts so you can quickly see which ECO were rolled into a revision update. We mentioned previously that ECM can help tell the story of a part’s evolution. This story becomes clear in the part revision history where links to all contributing ECO and ECR are connected to their corresponding revision. All of your change documentation is just a click away!


For more information, please visit our Change Management documentation.

Aligni ECM Pricing and Availability

Aligni ECM is immediately available as part of all Large and Enterprise plans. Existing Medium plans are able to try out Aligni ECM for 60 days by emailing support. After the trial period, you will need to be on a Large or Enterprise plan to continue using ECM.

Minor API Update

An error in the API for subparts was recently brought to our attention. We will be deploying an update to the API over the weekend of June 24 / 25 but wanted to make you aware of the change. While we don’t believe anyone will be affected by this change, it is possible that some users quietly used the incorrect API data.

Before the change, the subpart tags in a part’s part listing used part_revision_id to incorrectly reference the PARENT’S part revision ID. You’ll note that this was already referenced in the revision tag.

The API update changes this so that the part_revision_id now correctly references the CHILD part revision.

Builds and Partial Reservations

We’re excited to deploy a new feature that will allow builds to have reservations specified on a per-item basis as opposed to the full-build reservations that are presently enforced.

Aligni’s builds help you manage the conversion of components into finished goods, reducing inventory of components as they are consumed into final assemblies. Currently, a build progresses through the stages as a whole. That is, every item on the build moves along with every other item through planning, allocation, reservation, and completion.

Historically, this meant that if you were waiting on one part to arrive, the whole build had to remain in allocation until that part could be reserved along with the other parts. Alternatively, some customers would reserve the partial build, but then cancel the reservation to re-reserve when the part arrived. Neither solution is ideal.

With partial reservations, you can now reserve (and unreserve) single items at a time while the build is active. Aligni will allow you to finalize the build at any time, but will alert you if the build is not yet “fully reserved” — that is, when reservations satisfy or exceed the allocated quantities.

We’ve deployed this new functionality to our Demo Site. Please try things out and become accustomed to the operation. This will go live on production sites starting February 6.

Reserving and Un-reserving Items

Builds-ProgressStatus@2xThe Parts tab for an allocated build is now a live-entry page (AJAX for you savvy web users). This means that when you enter a value in an entry and move to the next, Aligni will update the reserve quantity in real time. It will also update the progress bar at the top of the page to indicate how many items are allocated and how many are fully reserved. An item is considered fully reserved when the total reserved quantity is equal to or greater than the quantity originally allocated for the build. Since the entries are updated in real-time, there is no longer a Save button.

Progress Bar

A progress bar at the top of the build page and on the build manager provides a quick glimpse of the reservation status of the build. The green portion of the progress bar indicates the portion of the build that are allocated. The red portion of the progress bar indicates the portion of the build that has been reserved.


Notice of New TLS 1.2 Requirement

TLS 1.2 Requirement

Starting 30 November 2016, TLS 1.2 will be required for all browser and API connections to Aligni. While many of you may not know what this means, the good news is that you probably don’t have to. TLS 1.2 is a protocol standard for secure internet connections. TLS 1.2 is supported by all recent major browsers. You can find a support matrix by visiting this page. The older your browser (or the more Microsofty it is), the less likely it is to support TLS 1.2 so make sure you’re using something up to date!

Aligni Replicator

The TLS 1.2 requirement also affects all API access. You will need to make sure that your API development environment supports TLS 1.2. Aligni Replicator 1.1.4 supports this and can be downloaded here. If you’re not using Replicator 1.1.4 by 30 November 2016, you will not be able to synchronize your local database.

Fall 2016 Newsletter


This update comes a bit later than we were hoping, but here are a few of the things we’ve been working on recently. We’ve got some great things coming in our next update, too!

GoogleAuthenticatorTwo-Factor Authentication

Aligni now supports optional Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) through use of the Google Authenticator smartphone app. By enabling 2FA for your account, a unique code is required in addition to your login credentials each time you login to Aligni.

Draft Revisions View

We’ve added Draft Revisions to the Engineering perspective of home screen so you now have a quick view of all draft parts as well as any draft revisions on existing released parts.

URL Parameters

With the new URL custom parameter type, you can now add links to datasheets, web pages, or even intranet (internal) document storage. Links can have an optional text override in addition to the URL.

Part Import and Bulk Part Update (beta)

The Part Import tool now has a fresh new look and some usability improvements. Additionally, the tool now supports importing custom parameters from the CSV source.

Sometimes it becomes necessary to make broad changes to the items in your part database. This may be required after adding new custom parameters or other large scale updates. The new Bulk Part Update tool is intended to make this process easier. Just upload a CSV file with the changes you’d like to make and configure the tool to process those changes. Aligni will match to your part numbers and update the requested information. You have the option of making changes “in place” or creating new revisions.

This tool is considered BETA. If you use it, we would appreciate any feedback.

Equipment (Configuration Management)

Thanks to a recent sponsored development project, we’re happy to announce the availability of Equipment (documentation coming soon!). With the Equipment component, you can track the lifecycle of products throughout their operational life.


Aligni already allows you to manage the product lifecycle from design, prototype, redesign, and production build. Now, you can manage the parts on these products after the build. Most commonly, this is used to manage parts, systems, and software of larger capital pieces of equipment such as aircraft or machine installations.

Approval Workflow (beta)

Approved@2xA new approval workflow is available to our Enterprise customers. It is currently supported for Purchasing and will be made available for ActiveQuote soon. It is also supported for the new Equipment / Configuration Management.

Miscellaneous Updates

We’ve made lots of other tweaks, adjustments, and improvements. Here’s an abbreviated list…

  • Attachments table in the Purchase email to vendors
  • API extensions to purchases
  • New “by vendor” part search filter
  • New “drafts” and “draft revisions” part search filters
  • …lots of other stuff and bug fixes…

Service Pricing Update

As of June 2015, new Aligni customers pay a monthly base fee and a monthly per-user fee. We will soon begin a transition plan for legacy customers to this new pricing. Please review our pricing matrix to see how this will affect your organization. All service upgrades from today forward will be done to the new pricing matrix.

Spring 2016 Newsletter

Vendor Part Number Improvements

VendorPartNumberPO@2xWe’ve updated the Part Display styles to include a new tag. Use this tag to include the vendor part number on RFQs and purchases. We’ve also added a new super-easy vendor part number selection on RFQs and POs. Customers submitting POs to Digi-Key will find this particularly helpful since Digi-Key often has multiple vendor P/N for the same part!


Build Finalization Ledger

A new “ledger style” table is displayed during the finalization stage of a build. This ledger clarifies how material and non-material costs factor in to the total unit cost of finished goods.


Purchase and RFQ Attachments

Attach files to RFQs and Purchases for record keeping and optional vendor view. If you enable vendor view for an attachment, your vendors will be able to download the attachment when they click on the Purchase / RFQ ticket to view it on Aligni. Since the actual attachments are not transmitted via email, you are not limited to email attachment size limitations.

Purchase History

We’ve added a History tab to purchases so you can see when items have been received against the PO. This is great for tracking vendor performance and keeping the timeline of a PO straight!


Slack Integration (beta)

slackLogo1Teams using Slack for messaging can now get Aligni notifications sent in real time. Right now, build updates and some part updates have been added. We’ll be adding more events to the notification list as time goes on so create your #aligni channel today and get started!

Build Location Specification

You may now specify the location of a build. When set to a specific inventory location, the allocation shortage list will consider only inventory available at the build location. The new allocation shortage list page is now multi-tabbed so you can look at shortages by location.

Favorites Popup

Hover over a favorite and click on the ? icon on a favorite to see a part summary popup.


Other Updates

We’ve made lots of other tweaks, adjustments, and improvements. Here’s an abbreviated list…

  • Reorder quantity now has a min / max target range.
  • Part Type and Part Revision may not be added to printed labels.
  • Vendor account numbers show on POs.
  • Purchase order emails now include a CSV line item list attachment.
  • Currency selection has been added for a part’s Estimated Cost.
  • Multi-level drill-down cost sheet option when exporting CSV.

Fall 2015 Newsletter

Over the past few months, we’ve seen a number of enhancements to Aligni and have more in progress. A number of these updates have been sponsored by customers through our Bespoke Support. Thank you for your continued interest in making Aligni awesome for all our customers!

Manual Inventory Adjustment Ledger

Parts-Inventory-AdjustRelative-B@2xSometimes there’s a lot going on with inventory: transfers, build reservations, and adjustment batches. Now, when making a manual inventory adjustment to an item, a new ledge is shown to help clarify exactly what changes will be effected.

Inventory Adjustment Batches

Bulk inventory adjustment batches are created from the Inventory Perspective on the home screen by clicking on “Adjust Inventory”. You can use these for all sorts of inventory reconciliation and cycle counting. Even though we just deployed this year, we decided to make some sweeping changes to improve the interface and make way for some additional features later. Now, inventory adjustment batches are done in a manner very similar to inventory transfers so you can store your progress on any pending batch and come back to it later.


Builds Redesign and Performance Improvements

The build interfaces have gotten a major update and are now consistent with most of the Aligni user experience. Along the way, we’ve made some pretty dramatic improvements to performance. With large builds, you should see load and processing times reduced by up to 80%.

Build Deviations

Build-Deviations-Dropdown@2xHot out of development, Build Deviations will greatly improve the way you and your manufacturing manage and track deviations during the build cycle. You can add, remove, and substitute parts of a build during the planning stages and document those changes easily and clearly. Now that deviations can more precisely be handled at build time, we will soon be removing the part alternates management at the BOM level.



Inventory Transfers

The inventory transfers interface has gotten its facelift and now has a “Pull Ticket” feature. Oh, we also added this to builds.

Performance Improvements and Bugs Squashed

As usual, our developers continue to improve performance and close defects. We maintain our stand that bugs need to be first priority for any development and our low defect rate and fast response times are an indicator that we’re doing well in that regard. For all of you that have reported issues, thank you for doing so and helping us get to the bottom of things.

Help Us!

Please share your experience with Aligni with your colleagues and on social media! And if you have time, please drop by Capterra and offer up a review.

Spring 2015 Newsletter

Part Type Categories (Hierarchy)

PartTypeCategories@2xPart Types may now have parent categories, allowing you to define multi-level hierarchies of part types. Optionally, set the “Category Only” option to prevent parts from being added to a mid-level category.

Purchases Activity Tab

The Purchase View now has an additional “Activity” tab. When you submit a purchase order to vendors, Aligni now stores a copy of the email and purchase order PDF you sent so you can review it later. This is particularly helpful if you make changes to a purchase and submit those revisions to your vendor. You can now review previous submittals.


Bulk Inventory Adjustments



Performing inventory cycle counts and other bulk inventory adjustments just got a lot easier with Aligni! To get started, click on “Adjust Inventory” from the home page inventory perspective.

Select a part collection or inventory location and Aligni will populate the form with parts within your selection criteria. As you enter line-by-line adjustments, the adjustments are queued for review.

When you’re ready to commit the adjustments, click on the yellow inventory icon at the top of the navigation bar to see a list of the queued adjustments, remove individual adjustments, or commit them all with a common log message.

For more information, see the Bulk Inventory Adjustments documentation.

Partlist Export Templates

Part-ExportTemplates@2xStandardize your part list (and soon, kit list) CSV exports using Partlist Export Templates, available on the settings pages. You can select which columns to export and even specify their relative order in the CSV file. With export templates, your users will produce reliably-consistent CSV files every time.

Custom Parameter Search

We’ve cleaned up the part search filter and added new filter capabilities for finding parts by custom parameters. Check this out on the home page engineer perspective.


Minor Updates

We’re constantly adding new features and adjusting existing ones for the ultimate user experience. Overall, we’ve made several (too many to mention!) performance and design improvements. We hope that these smaller tweaks improve your Aligni experience! For example…

Purchases and Quotes

We’ve added a new vendor selection interface and a new “Add a Part” link to add a single part to an RFQ or purchase.

Line item BOM details on the Where-Used

Click on the new “info” icon in the Part Usage area on a Part Details page to see the partlist entry for that part on the BOM including the quantity, reference designators, and comment.