Guest Editorial: Inventory Management Systems

Due to the increase in the number of fluids, including increasing needs for synthetics, more demands are being placed on lubrication systems in fleet shops. A lubrication system encompasses handling new products and collecting used fluid products. From the storage tank or container to the dispense point in the shop, a properly designed lubrication system provides the proper amount of pressure and volume to efficiently service vehicles. One of the challenges has been accounting for fluids used.

The accounting component of the lubrication system is receiving a significant amount of discussion these days—inventory control systems. Due to the increasing cost of lubricants and the increasing size of today’s shops, a new generation of control systems is available. The parts department is normally responsible for the proper accounting of the fluids inventory; the service department is responsible for efficiently and profitably performing services.

In the past, fluid control systems were generally operated by the parts department and allowed product to be preset to a specific dispense point. These systems had some primary weaknesses. They required an already busy parts department to authorize each dispense and the data they collected had to be manually entered into the fleet maintenance software. Also, since the parts department had to authorize each dispense, these systems tended to slow down productivity in the shop.

With the advances in micro-processed electronic systems, a new generation of systems—Inventory Management Systems (IMS)—are available to provide maintenance managers with more flexibility in managing the fluids in a shop. By examining how these systems differ from the old style, the reader can get a perspective on how their operation could be impacted.

The old systems required service to contact parts and wait for authorization. Today’s systems are activated by the technician instead of the parts department. This activation can be accomplished in a wide variety of ways: personal technician PIN, bar code scanner, magnetic card reader, or a key fob. The system allows entry of a work order number or vehicle number, type of fluid to be dispensed, volume of fluid dispensed, and several other customizable fields for the shop’s individual needs. This greatly improves shop operating efficiency while retaining the data for the inventory management needs of the parts department.

In most shops, either fluid data is entered into fleet maintenance software manually or fluid usage is estimated. IMS systems, after a dispense is completed, use a data stream of ASCII text or a batch file that can be transmitted to a variety of devices.

The simplest use of this data is a transaction printer which prints a ticket that can be attached to the work order. This data can be transmitted to a spreadsheet such as Excel for auditing and/or report purposes. Or, your IT department can input this data directly into your fleet management software.

Lubrication usage data is a key component of fleet management software and can be instrumental in properly managing your vehicles; having this data automatically transmitted into your system is a valuable addition to the system capability. The new style system greatly increases the ability to integrate fluid usage into more efficient fleet management reports since the fluid usage of each vehicle is now accurate.

Most IMS systems also have tank monitoring modules. These modules allow accurate inventory of your new and used fluids including accepting and validating deliveries and/or pick-up of used fluids. When accompanied with the tank modules, IMS systems will E-mail your new oil vendor and used fluid hauler when it is time for them to deliver or evacuate product. This is an excellent feature of these systems allowing you to better manage your fluid inventory.

Most of the major manufacturer’s of lubrication equipment have a state-of-the-art IMS. Contact your local equipment distributor to arrange a shop survey of your current system and how this new style system can be integrated into your existing pumps and reels. These systems are micro processed based computers that increase your shop’s efficiency; do not expect your lubricant supplier to “loan” these systems.

The IMS should be part of your overall IT solution to shop efficiency, inventory management and accurate lubricant data flow into your fleet maintenance software program.