Devising a comprehensive system for efficiently managing parts and shop inventory is an important element to asset management. It is also a struggle. While maintenance managers are experts in vehicle service, they usually aren't as proficient in inventory management.
Too much or too little inventory is never good, and finding that middle ground seems next to impossible. If the right parts are not on hand when needed for vehicle maintenance or repairs, downtime is prolonged and that adds costs.
Maintenance facilities have invested in equipment, tools and highly qualified technicians with the sole purpose of ensuring vehicles remain on the road, says Michael Mallory, president of AutoPower Corporation, a company that provides tailored-to-fit integrated warehouse distribution business systems. Planned or unexpected downtime interrupts anticipated fleet performance. So do shop activities, scheduling, available resources and lack of adequate inventory, because these all have a way of causing unacceptable downtime.
When it comes to managing parts, there are several key objectives, Mallory says. One is to have the right inventory mix for the vehicles in the fleet. That helps ensure less time in the shop and more time on the road.
Another objective is to have a profile of parts required for the scheduled maintenance events. This will provide quicker turn around of vehicles, he says. Knowing planned upcoming PM schedules gives adequate time for having the required parts in stock.
Parts management has evolved over time. Now, there are numerous ways and methods to cost-effectively and efficiently manage inventories, predominately by embracing technology through computer and inventory software. Without technology, inventory control is done through manual means or by experience and guesswork, and those are not good methods for operating a shop, especially in today's demanding and competitive environment.
Typically, maintenance shops devote too little time to proper stock planning, observes Mallory. "Computerized inventory procedures can go a long way with maintaining proper inventory levels." Beyond that, "shops utilizing specially designed software for managing shop operations are better able to limit the unexpected."
There are multiple benefits and advantages of using computer programs for managing parts, and they vary widely by application, says Troy Wruck of PMXpert Software, a leader in providing CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management Systems). Overall, he says, these programs ultimately add to a company's bottom line by increasing shop and vehicle productivity. By ensuring the appropriate parts are available when needed, day-to-day costs and equipment downtime are reduced.
"The number one benefit of automated parts inventory systems is that its ROI is normally less than six months and the savings thereafter go directly to the bottom line at no expense, adds Charles Arsenault, CEO of Arsenault Associates, an innovator in the field of fleet asset maintenance management software and technologies. Moreover, the systems significantly increase inventory accountability and help with development of annual parts spending budgets.
There is also increased parts accuracy from elimination of duplicate part numbers, says Dave Walters, technical sales manager, TMW Systems, a developer of enterprise management software for the surface transportation services industry, including logistics, trucking and heavy duty repair and maintenance. Some systems have ability to track usage history and recommend correct stock levels, as well as handle inventory replenishment based upon usage. There are also systems that can track vendor charges and provide cost controls, and track aftermarket parts warranty, he says.
Furthermore, with computer and inventory management software, "entering and looking up data takes less time than doing it manually on paper and using file cabinets," notes Bill Ashburn, vice president, Prophesy Transportation Solutions, a provider of software solutions for the trucking industry and an Accellos Company. Adding barcoding can speed accurate data entry and locating parts and, "electronic data storage uses less paper."