When you walk into a plant that has maintenance issues, one of the most apparent problems is the disorganization of the equipment spare parts area. It doesn’t take a seasoned maintenance eye to recognize poorly stored, sorted and identified parts. Because of the obvious nature of this problem, upgrading the maintenance parts storeroom is often an initial focus of improvement. However, while many storeroom upgrades are carried out, few have much effect on the bottom line because they look at the visual result instead of taking a holistic view of the issue.
A common misconception is that if you set up a barcode system to track parts, most of the problems will be solved. An analogy I like to use is taking a poorly functioning car, changing the oil, detailing it, painting it and then expecting it to run better. Sure, it will look great sitting in your driveway and will impress the neighbors, but it won’t perform better or be more reliable. The goal of any plant improvement effort is to increase financial performance. If that doesn’t happen, the initiative cannot be deemed a success.
A poorly organized storeroom is the visual cue to a host of problems. If you don’t address all the issues, your reorganization of the most visual step in the process – the storage of parts – may not be sustainable. More importantly, it likely won’t result in better financial performance.
Several processes are required to establish and maintain a healthy spare parts system. They include having adequate storage space; bills of material (BOMs) for equipment; control and accessibility of stocked parts; a healthy procurement system; equipment labeling; a well-designed inventory data system; and personnel to order, receive, stock and audit the process. Following is a brief description of each of these items.
It is important to note the differences between operations procurement and maintenance procurement. An entire group or department is often dedicated to the procurement of materials processed by operations. In support of this group, a warehouse department devotes at least half of its time to receiving, storing and delivering these materials to production. On the other hand, many maintenance departments have only one individual who is supposed to purchase, receive, store, stock and distribute all items, as well as perform regular audits. This person might also be asked to kit materials for the technicians.
In addition, a maintenance department must deal with thousands of different items on an irregular usage schedule, while the materials that go into the production process may be less than a hundred and are consumed at known rates. Also, the procurement of processed materials usually is overseen by a manager or director-level employee, but the procurement of maintenance materials typically is managed by a clerk. Which group do you think will be most successful?
Expecting one individual to order, receive, stock, audit and kit will only be successful in a small, well-established facility. In a medium to large facility, the person doing this work often is forced to cut corners and ignore certain job responsibilities to focus on the priorities of the moment, which normally involves ordering parts. Storeroom organization, stocking, auditing, control, evaluation and recordkeeping usually take a back seat. Parts must be handled and managed, and manpower is required to do this.
Even in a medium-sized facility, the storeroom requires a full-time attendant. It often is difficult for some to see the financial value of adding a person because only part of the benefit will be seen in the maintenance budget. The full cost reductions achieved by a well-managed storeroom process come from increased productivity of the maintenance technicians, improved machine availability and a reduction in equipment variability.
A well-designed and functioning computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) makes it easier to establish and maintain accurate equipment BOMs. The discussion of how to properly set up a CMMS system is a separate subject and won’t be discussed here, other than to say that in most plants it is done incorrectly and can create as many problems as it solves.
A BOM is the listing of the specific parts ordered or stocked for a particular piece of machinery. Accurate and complete BOMs enable you to quickly find the part you need and identify how many pieces of equipment on which that same part is used. Accurate BOMs also allow you to kit jobs for planned maintenance activities, reduce the number of different stocked items by standardizing on common components and enable technicians to quickly determine if the parts needed are available onsite. BOMs can even help reduce the disorganization of the storeroom by letting the technician go straight to the correct part instead of rummaging through shelves, drawers and boxes until the correct item, or something that looks like it, is found.
To create BOMs, you need a complete listing of your plant equipment. This list must be arranged in a way to avoid information overload. For example, a large piece of equipment with a BOM that has hundreds of parts is difficult for a technician to use. If that same piece of equipment can be broken down into subsets, and those subsets are well understood or marked in the field, the technician should be able to quickly identify the parts stocked for the area in which he or she is working.
Keep in mind that a listing of the plant equipment is only useful if you also have accurate identification of the equipment. This requires labeling the equipment in the field, which is matched by the same label or name in the CMMS.
Storeroom access and control are critical to a healthy storeroom, but they can be diametrically opposed. To keep control of the storeroom, you must limit access to only those who need it. However, for the storeroom to be effective, it cannot prevent people from getting the parts and supplies they need. There is no magic in solving this dichotomy. It is all effort, requiring a mixture of control, culture, enforcement and auditing. This is hard work, but the effort is well worth it if the result is an orderly storeroom with accurate inventory records. Remember, access must be given only to those who legitimately need it, regardless of the complaining by those who really don’t. Also, those individuals who use the storeroom should be policed and audited, and they must know that this is occurring.
Storeroom organization covers a variety of topics. First, you need adequate space to store the items you keep onsite. Because of the shortage of large spaces, this usually ends up being several areas in the plant. The better you can organize the space you have, the easier you will make it for both the technicians and stores personnel.
No single organization method will work in every situation. Some sites store parts by the equipment for which they are intended. This is great until you have the same item (such as a bearing or oil seal) stocked in several places. Some plants sort exclusively by component type, which can be challenging with parts that are difficult to name or describe and are machine specific. Most sites use a combination of strategies to fit the conditions at hand.
The more organization you have on the front end, the easier it will be to control and utilize the stocked parts. For example, it is a good idea to put all bearings in the same area, so if you need a bearing, you know where to go. It is a better idea to sort the bearings by type (ball, roller, needle, slide, etc.). It is best to sort your bearings by type and size, such as putting all your ball bearings together in order of inner diameter (ID) and outside diameter (OD). This way, anyone coming into the area can immediately see if you have the needed bearing, regardless of whether there is a BOM or the CMMS is functional. The better the idea, the more effort will be required on the front end.
Placing items on shelves in a sorted order is a start, but you must keep them there and maintain them. Designing your storage so it is easy to see and access parts with minimal effort is important. It also is necessary to have a setup that keeps parts segregated from each other. Storage areas should be well marked so people can quickly go from a parts printout to the storeroom location.
One widespread problem that is seldom addressed involves having the same part stored in several locations without anyone realizing it. This is most common when the manufacturer’s part number and description are used instead of the site or company establishing its own part number and description protocols. This leads to extra inventory and fake parts stockouts when the equivalent part is on hand.
Another common problem is the inability to identify and eliminate obsolete inventory because the parts have never been tied to equipment or the upgrades have never gone through a follow-up process to properly handle the obsolete parts.
For a well-functioning parts storeroom, remember that the storeroom is part of a larger process, and all the pieces of the process can have a positive or negative effect on the bottom line.
Bill Jacobyansky is the owner of Strategic Maintenance Consortium, a consulting firm that specializes in the improvement of maintenance in industrial facilities.