Plant Design/Management
Spare Parts Know-How

High-tech tools or low-tech solutions?

August 10, 2014
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No matter what problem you face in business today, someone will have a high-tech solution. The Internet is ubiquitous and “digital solutions” is the buzz phrase of the moment. (You may even be reading this article online or in an electronic edition.) But does this necessarily mean high-tech solutions are better, or even that high-tech is appropriate? I think not.

There are many high-tech tools to help with spare parts inventory management. These include bar coding, radio frequency identifiers (RFID) and the power of your ERP software system. Note, however, that I refer to these as “high-tech tools” not “high-tech solutions.” This is because in my experience, these tools are not solutions; they are aids mostly designed to help improve labor efficiency.

If you think that is a controversial statement, consider the following: The No. 1 attribute of good spare parts management that enables your inventory to fulfill its function is availability. If your spare parts management falls short in the areas that drive availability, then you cannot reliably supply your customer (typically maintenance and operations) with the items they need.

There are five aspects of spare parts management that drive availability:

  1. Accuracy: ensuring the physical quantity on hand and the system values match.
  2. Accessibility: making it easy to locate and remove inventory items.
  3. Accountability: ensuring processes are followed, systems improved and changes monitored.
  4. Activity: consistently executing actions to established standards.
  5. Training: Ensuring your team knows what to do and how to use any high-tech tools.

Fall down in any of these areas and your spare parts inventory management system will fail.

Of course, there are high-tech tools to help you in some of these areas. Bar coding, for example, is often cited as the key requirement for achieving accuracy. But what if your team doesn’t know how to use the system properly?

Maybe team members miscount the number of items or don’t care sufficiently to actually use the system and they just take the part.

What if, when people are picking or placing items in the storeroom or warehouse, they put them in the wrong place?

What if there is a long delay between items being removed and replacement items being ordered?

Or what if replacement items arriving at the storeroom are not accurately entered into the system?

What if, when adjustments are made following a cycle count, the costs are allocated to the wrong account?

What if your storeroom is set up for maximum space efficiency and this is a mismatch with your operational approach, making it harder for users to find items?

What if that means that they then order directly from the supplier and need to wait for that delivery?

What if you have an excellent set of policies and procedures and nobody follows them?

Certainly high-tech tools can help with the efficient processing of transaction data but they will not and cannot ensure your spare parts inventory fulfills its real function.

That can only be achieved through the somewhat out-of-fashion, low-tech approach of ensuring appropriate training and skills execution — in effect, your team doing the right thing at the right time.  

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