Do you never suffer from a shortage of spare parts?

 

Author: Jürgen Donders, Experience expert

Then you must have creative technicians, but also high costs

It seems as if machines and systems are never “down” due to a lack of spare parts. This has been keeping me busy for a while now. I have been in the world of maintenance and spare parts for more than 30 years now and I actually have never heard maintenance or asset managers complaining about the availability of parts. And that while in my years as a consultant I more often measure availability of spare parts that are lower than 80% than those that are higher than 95%. This means that at least one in five times technicians cannot take an item directly from the warehouse and sometimes even have to wait up to weeks or months. This does not apply to grab stock items such as screws and bolts, but regularly for items that are critical for the availability of machines and systems… and yet these are not “down”. What am I missing?

It is therefore not surprising that maintenance or asset managers do not seem to be concerned about the stock of spare parts in their warehouses. But is that justified? To provide more insight into the direct relationship between spare parts and system availability, I wrote an article about it earlier “Rotating assets with fewer spare parts – it is possible”. But maybe I should have asked this question first. Anyway, better late than never. By the way, does the latter also apply to spare parts?

Too proud to fail

In my earlier years I went out with technicians a number of times. I remember techies are too proud to fail fixing a machine or system. When they returned to their maintenance job after a visit to the warehouse, they had already figured out how they were going to skin the cat along the way. Nothing is too crazy for them: with duct tape you can really get very far.

Often enough, other options are also obvious, such as using ‘Next Higher Assemblies’ (subsystems at a higher level in the “Bill of Material”) or cannibalizing the required item from a machine or system that is under maintenance. These alternative options bring a quick solution but also entail considerable extra costs.

The result of this is that the machine, or the system, can be used again. Everyone happy at first glance.

Prevention is better than the cure

A consequence of such a quick solution is that existing, and possibly new problems and risks do not become visible. Think about:

  • Is stock management not in order?
  • Has a reservation for the required equipment not been made on time?
  • Do suppliers fail to fulfill their contractual obligations?
  • How reliable is the alternative fix?
  • How long will that fix remain reliable enough?
  • What risk do we run with this alternative fix?

These are all questions that, due to the chosen alternative solution, do not come to the attention of (higher) management. As a result, potential problems that management is not aware of can persist.

The “Just in Time (JIT) philosophy” can also be applied in maintenance

This reminds me of the famous picture about the JIT philosophy from “Guide to Make in Supply Chain Management”, by Colin Scott, Henriette Lundgren, Paul Thompson.

Do you allow problems to exist and do you ensure sufficient stock and alternative solutions? Or do you want to solve problems so that less stock is needed without going wrong at the right times? The latter option is also very profitable for maintenance and asset managers:

  • No waiting times for spare parts
  • No rework in which the duct tape has to be replaced by the correct spare
  • No cannibalizations
  • No risks due to an unreliable alternative fix
  • Lower costs due to better (lower) stock

Better late than never

Better stock management of spare parts leads to enough benefits and lower costs in the longer term that every maintenance or asset manager would (should) want to realize. And while duct tape may seem like a lucrative solution at first glance, it shouldn’t be the way to lower costs.

To get the right picture of what happens in your organization when spare parts turn out to be unavailable, you should therefore have a look under water, or lower the water level. And if it still turns out that no improvements are possible, then you should give me a call. That would be a unique situation about which we would have to publish something together. Then colleagues may be able to learn lessons from our work.

“Better late than never” is the time to get started with this so that the necessary spare parts are delivered “Just in Time” instead of “too late”.