Inventory Management and Warehouse Operations.


 What is the Item Master?

  By Dave Piasecki  

The Item Master is the repository for crucial item data for your inventory system. While not all inventory systems call it an Item Master, they all have a similar place for this information. The information in the Item Master represents critical item data that the programs will use in Sales Order Processing, Purchase Order Processing, Inventory Management, Accounting, etc.

Here are some examples of data elements you may find in an Item Master. I have provided some notes on the typical usage of these.

Item Identifier. This would be your item number, product ID, or whatever you call the unique identifier you use to track each of your inventory items. Though it's often referred to as an "item number," it doesn't have to be a number. It is typically an alpha-numeric field and can accept any combination of letters and numbers as long as it is unique. Try to refrain from including special characters in your item identifiers; they can be problematic.

Item Type. A classification that controls how the inventory system handles this item. See article on Item Types.

Description. Most systems will have space for multiple descriptions. It's typical for businesses to want a different description for different uses.

Sales Description. This is the description you want to display/print on documents used to communicate with your customers. This would print on sale orders, invoices, etc.

Purchase Description. This is the description you want to display/print on documents used to communicate with your suppliers. This would print on purchase orders.

Primary Vendor. Here, you would enter the primary vendor for the item.

Vendor Item number. This would be the item identifier used by your primary vendor for the item. It would typically print on purchase orders.

Vendor Lead Time. This would be the lead time for your primary vendor.

Safety Lead Time. If available, this would allow you to enter a value (in time) to add to the lead time for planning decisions.

Secondary Vendor. Some systems allow you to list a secondary vendor; some will have the ability to list many vendors and related information for an item.

Default Unit of Measure. This would be for the base unit of measure you use to sell the item. This would typically be the smallest unit of measure for this item. So, if the item is stored in eaches, cases, and pallets, the default unit of measure would be eaches. Many systems will allow you to set up the other units of measure and the relationships somewhere else.

UPC. This would be where you put the UPC number (the number in the UPC Barcode). Since some manufacturers tend to change their UPC numbers occasionally, some systems will have a separate table that allows you to store multiple UPCs. This is just a cross reference, so when you scan a UPC barcode, it knows to associate this item with the transaction you are doing.

Item Weight. This is where you enter the weight of one unit of the item. It is usually in pounds, but you should check your software documentation to be sure.

Item Cube. This would be where you enter the cube for your item. It may be cubic feet or cubic inches, so check your software documentation to be sure. There may also be a company master or a preferences table where you tell the system what you use for cube.

Item Dimensions. This would be for the Length, Width, and Height of your item. Similar to what I mentioned with Cube, check your documentation to see what this is.

Your system probably doesn't require you to enter cube, dimensions, or weight information, but I strongly suggest you do, even if you don't have current plans to use it. As an operations consultant, I often use this in storage and process-related calculations.

Costing Method. If available by item, this would be where you set the costing method. See article on inventory costing methods.

Cost. This would contain the current product cost. This may be editable when you first set up an item, but it would probably not be editable after incoming transactions have occurred and it has been recalculated.

Pricing Policy. This would be used to identify the policy or price group for the item. Another program would use this to actually calculate prices.

Various Accounts. There would be multiple fields to assign specific accounts used for the item. For example, COGS account, Inventory Account, and Income Account.

Taxable. This may be a Yes/No filed or may allow you to select a specific tax category.

Country of Origin.

Harmonized System (HS) Code. Standardized codes are used when exporting items.

Default Bin Location. If using bin locations, this would be the default location for this particular item. Systems will typically have an option to receive into the default bin location and to ship out of the default bin locations. Some systems may have multiple default locations, such as the default receiving location, default shipping locations, etc.

First Received Date. This may be entered manually or automatically by the system the first time the item is received.

Planner. This would be to identify the inventory planner assigned to the item.

Buyer. This would be to identify the inventory buyer assigned to the item.

Product Manager. This would be to identify the person responsible for managing the item.

Order Policy. This would control how you plan the item. Check your documentation to see appropriate values.

Various quantity information. Depending on the system, this could include values for Reorder Point, Safety Stock, Order Quantity/Lot Size, Min, Max, Multiples, etc.

Item Category Codes. Depending on the system, you may have many of these available to you. The categories are typically user-controlled, meaning you get to decide what categories to use for your inventory.

ABC Classification. Here, you would assign an ABC classification for the item. Some systems have multiple ABA classifications.

Hazard Classification. You can put a code for a hazard classification here. For example, Flammable items can be classified here.

Special Handling Code. This could be used for physical characteristics that require special handling, for example, heavy items or fragile items.

Serialized. This would be a Yes/No field to designate if you want to require serial numbers for the item.

Lot Controlled. This would also be a Yes/No field to designate the item for lot tracking.

Cycle Count Category. This would be a category that controls how the item is cycle counted.

Last Count Date. This would be maintained by the system and would represent the last date this was counted in a cycle count program.

Item Notes. If available, this would be a space where you can enter additional information about the item. Not a lot of systems have this, but it can be very useful for things like engineering specifications. It would be a freeform text field, so you can basically enter anything in it; however, if you are using it for specifications, plan ahead and make sure you have consistency so you can extract specific information later if needed. For example, if you want to include the gauge of sheet metal, you should use a tag such as (Gauge) 22, including the parentheses, because you can then later use text tools to find the specific string (Gauge) and extract the 3 characters after that. You would also want to designate codes for the different types of metal you use so they are consistent and can be extracted later if needed. Don't use Aluminum, and ALUM, and AL.

Custom Fields. Most systems provide several fields that you can use for your own specific needs.

So, what is a Facility Item Master?

In multi-plant operations, you will typically have another item master for each facility. The reason for this is that some values will be different in another facility. In a system like this, it's important to understand how the system uses these values. Typically, if there is not a Facility Item Master record, it will just use the Item Master. OR, if there is not a value in the field in the Facility Item Master, it will go back to the Item Master for the data in that field. OR, when you create a Facility Item Master record, it automatically pulls in all the information from the Item Master and populates the Facility Item Master. You can then change any specific values. It's important to understand how your system does this, because you need to know how to maintain this. A change to the Item Master may not change the Facility Item Master records.

Note that every system seems to call the Facility Item Master something different. But if it is a multi-facility software product, it almost certainly has something that represents the item master at the facility level.


 More Articles by Dave Piasecki.

Dave Piasecki, is owner/operator of Inventory Operations Consulting LLC, a consulting firm providing services related to inventory management, material handling, and warehouse operations. He has over 25 years experience in operations management and can be reached through his website (, where he maintains additional relevant information. 





BookBook Banner02