5 Tips for Managing Your Spare Parts Inventory

Inventory and spare parts management are among the biggest thorns in the side of operations managers in manufacturing.

Often seen as a “necessary evil,” spare parts inventory management is a task that largely flies under the radar when accomplished correctly, but creates major headaches when it is not. For that reason, the importance of maintaining spare parts in a sensible, efficient and practical way shouldn’t be overlooked — in spite of the thankless nature of the job.

A good parts management plan can increase the productivity of your facility, reduce unplanned downtime and, most importantly, make a positive impact on your bottom line. Use these tips to develop or update your parts management plan — and make those “thankless” tasks a bit easier.

Prioritize spare part needs.

You know better than anyone that not every spare part has the same level of criticality for your operations, so you’re also the best judge of how to prioritize potential spare part needs. Creating a priority list can very quickly make your spare parts inventory management tasks much more efficient, as well as more effective.

Many factors can go into this list, beyond the obvious consideration of which equipment is most critical to your operation. Lead times, downtime implications and other concerns also play a role as you work out which spares are most critical to keep on hand, and in what quantities. Having a reference list makes ordering and stocking decisions much easier, as it will become clear which parts you’ll want to stock in quantity and which can be stocked in lower numbers, or ordered as needed (depending on your specific needs).

Create and reference a comprehensive lead time resource.

Lead time for spare part fulfillment is one of the biggest reasons for extended downtime when a machine or component fails. Even a few hours of downtime can wreak havoc on your production schedule.

A lead time reference can go hand in hand with your priority list and can play a role in how you assign that priority. Access to a local supplier who can reliably get you spare parts on demand, for instance, can change your consideration as to how much inventory you need to keep on hand for those parts. Longer lead times for more critical components mean that you’ll want to be more proactive about planning ahead, should those parts be needed.

Make use of data to be more proactive.

Unplanned downtime and reactive maintenance are productivity destroyers for your facility. Predictive maintenance practices can make things easier for you to be proactive and make more informed decisions about what inventory to keep on hand.

Data sensors and monitors can help you understand which equipment is more likely to need maintenance or replacement parts in the near future, making ordering decisions less of a guessing game and more of a data-backed methodology.

Include new equipment as well as older machinery.

New equipment is just as subject to the need for replacement parts as older equipment is — and new equipment downtime is likely to be even more damaging to your production schedule, since you were likely planning to put that new machine to work right away. Don’t omit spares for new equipment as you prioritize your inventory management and plan your ordering; be prepared to address the “growing pains” that can occur.

Consider the overall value of spare parts management.

It’s worth repeating: Spare parts management is often a thankless task – but when you consider the lost revenue and logistical nightmares extended downtime can present, it’s much easier to get motivated to implement this “necessary evil.” A few hundred dollars’ worth of inventory can prevent thousands — or more — in lost or delayed revenue that can come as the result of unplanned downtime. If you need to justify the resource expenditure for a comprehensive management plan to the organization — or to yourself — you probably won’t need to look much further than using any recent downtime event as an illustration.

With these five tips in mind, it is our hope that inventory management will become a bit less of a burden for you, and much more of a value driver.