The standardization of product identification that is underway in the industrial PVF market via the Common Industry Material Identification System is expanding into plumbing products such as PVC, CPVC, brass and copper fittings and flanges. Common codes for stud bolts and gaskets are also in development.

"We're taking care of the products that go under the counter and into the wall," said Joe Hitchman of Hitchman Consulting, who oversees the CIMIS database. "We expect to have this completed by the end of the first quarter."

It is impossible to say at this time how many plumbing-related items will be in the database, he said, adding that decorative plumbing products are not included in the system now but could be in the future.

"By definition CIMIS is a commodity code," Hitchman said, "but with decorative plumbing there may be a generic way to describe the product so the system would in essence create a search key. This would enable a person searching on the Internet to locate a decorative fixture by using standardized terminology."

The CIMIS code is meant to define a commodity object regardless of manufacturing source. Also, it is configured in a manner that allows bar-code scanners to read the number.

At this time, there is no collaboration between CIMIS and Source ASA+ or other organizations involved in cataloging or coding, Hitchman said.

Source ASA+ is a 100,000-item database that provides UPC codes, product catalog information and images. It offers Internet access and database management capabilities.

Hitchman said he met with officials of the American Supply Association and also with several catalogers in September in San Antonio during ASA's annual convention to see if there was any interest in collaboration. He said that some of the catalogers are building the same data, but each considers the data proprietary and there is no standard at this time.

"They decided they each want to have their own system," Hitchman said. "Each cataloger has its own standard, and the data is not interchangeable from one offering to the next."

Kevin Price, director of the ASA Center for Advancing Technology, said that a relationship between CIMIS and Source ASA+ is not out of the question.

"We are open to some type of partnership with CIMIS," Price said. "We're interested to see how the CIMIS project moves forward."

The CIMIS work is being funded by yearly subscriptions, which were recently changed. Now companies with annual sales of $1 billion or more pay $6,000; those with sales between $20 million and $1 billion pay $1,200; and companies with sales of less than $20 million pay $600. Subscribers to CIMIS are entitled to unlimited access to its data, Hitchman said.

Moe Desmarais, ASA executive director, said that Hitchman has discussed the possibility of reducing fees for an average-sized distributor. Such a reduction could make CIMIS more marketable to ASA members, Desmarais said.

Kevin McBride, program manager for EDI and bar coding at Supply Sales Co., said he was optimistic. "CIMIS is a great idea and a great concept. I hope it happens. The more numbers in the plumbing and heating industry that get generated, the more likely wholesalers are going to get involved."