Best practices for managing your maintenance storeroom: The life-changing magic of organizing your parts

Best practices for organizing and managing your maintenance storeroom

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This article was written by Jason Afara, a solutions engineer at Fiix with over seven years of experience as a maintenance manager and planner

Production equipment is like a professional athlete. They are both worth millions of dollars and the key to delivering results.

But no baseball player could hit with a bat that was too short. No wide receiver could score a touchdown if their shoes were the wrong size. The small details make all the difference. It’s the same thing in maintenance.

Grabbing the wrong bearing from the maintenance storeroom could be the cause of a breakdown on a critical machine. A small part could cause a huge loss to productivity and the bottom line.

This article takes a closer look at inventory tracking and best practices for organizing your maintenance storeroom to make your maintenance team, and the entire operation, more efficient, cost-effective, and safe.

4 secrets to managing inventory

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Parts acquisition

The cost of spare parts can add up quickly. That’s why it’s important to understand what you’re spending on inventory and how you’re spending it.

Ordering parts

Here are some questions you can ask yourself and your team to get a better sense of your inventory purchasing process:

Who can request parts and how are requests submitted?
What is the approval process for the requests?
Who is allowed to order parts?
What system is used to track parts that have been ordered?
How much is each part purchaser approved to spend?

There are two end-goals of this activity. The first is to figure out how to accurately track your inventory spending so you always know how it compares to your budget. The second is to make the process as efficient as possible.

Grabbing the wrong bearing from the maintenance storeroom could be the cause of a breakdown on a critical machine. A small part could cause a huge loss for production and the bottom line.

Productivity suffers for everyone if one part of this process is broken. For example, if a parts purchaser needs to get approval for every little purchase, it takes up everyone’s time. It’s key to find an approval threshold that creates trust, autonomy, and efficiency while also reducing risk. You can always watch for red flags in spending and dig deeper if needed.

Working with vendors

There are some helpful questions to ask yourself and your team to ensure you’re getting the most out of the relationship you have with the vendors supplying your maintenance storeroom:

Do any discounts exist with vendors based on payment terms?
Are there vendors that you can outsource inventory management to for some consumables
Who from accounts payable will be paying the vendor and what system is accounts payable using?
When does the accounts payable team send their transfers out? How can you align vendor payments to that timeline?

Having a good relationship with vendors can make or break your inventory management program. The last position you want to be in is delaying production while you wait for a critical part to be delivered because the vendor is not paid on time. Understanding all elements of the payment process, and doing frequent reviews of outstanding invoices, is important for communicating expectations to vendors and ensuring parts are delivered on time.

Receiving parts

There are a lot of moving parts to think about when coordinating the delivery of inventory, and I’m not just talking about bearings or motors. Here are a few questions that will help you make this process go off without a hitch:

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Is the maintenance storeroom staffed 24/7? If not, where are the parts stored after hours and how can they be accessed?

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Is there a designated location in the building that vendors ship to?

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Does your team accept partial orders?

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Is it mandatory to check each part before entering it into your inventory system?

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How does the reception process look? Is it tracked in a single system or multiple systems? Are these systems synced with each other?

That last question is particularly important. If a line goes down and you’re rushing to fix it, you want to be sure that the inventory records are correct and the part is in working condition.

Spare parts and work orders

You deal with hundreds (or even thousands) of work orders, most of them having at least one spare part attached to it. That’s a lot to keep track of and it can easily become a headache for you and your team. Fortunately, there are some measures you can take to prevent that from happening.

Issuing parts to work orders

These two questions will help you as parts are being used on work orders:

  1. Who on your team is responsible for adding the part to a work order?
  2. How are you monitoring parts usage on work orders to prevent part changes as the only means of troubleshooting?

Issuing parts on a work order immediately adds a cost to the work order. Ensuring costs are tracked accurately allows the leadership team to monitor costs across all maintenance activities and make decisions (like if you should buy new equipment or hire another technician) using solid data.

The way you set up this process is up to you. Some sites allow technicians to add parts to work orders while others allow only the maintenance storeroom employee to do this.

Staging parts for PMs

Preventive maintenance work orders deserve their own section as they can be an entirely different beast than reactive work orders. There are a couple of questions that will help you when planning parts usage for scheduled maintenance:

  1. Is there a designated spot in the maintenance storeroom for preventative maintenance kits required for upcoming PMs?
  2. Who is responsible for putting these kits together?

Kitting is typically a practice used to ensure all parts are prepared for the maintenance team’s upcoming work. Setting aside these parts ensures you’re setting up the maintenance team to be successful.

Learn how to build a perfect preventive maintenance checklist

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Securing your maintenance storeroom

People steal things. Others have good intentions, but lack the know-how. Those are some unfortunate facts of life. Your maintenance storeroom isn’t immune to them. That’s why securing your inventory area should be a top priority.

Access to the stockroom

Odds are, the parts in your maintenance storeroom total thousands or millions of dollars. Limiting access to your inventory areas keeps the risk of theft and misuse down, which goes a long way to lowering the cost of parts.

Here are some things to think about when securing your stockroom:

  1. Who has access to the stockroom? Typically, the maintenance team and production supervisors have access, but as long as it is tracked and the responsibility is understood, you can expand access outside of those roles.
  2. What device are you using to limit access to the stockroom?
  3. Are there cameras in the stock room? How are those cameras located?

One of the most common ways to secure your maintenance storeroom is by implementing a key pass system that allows only certain people to access the shop. If your parts room is big enough, you can separate it into sections, with each area having different levels of access. This prevents theft and means maintenance isn’t stuck paying for parts and supplies commonly used by people in other departments, like batteries.

Having a camera pointed at the entry points to the stock room allows you to investigate when a part was used if it goes missing or was not documented on a work order. This helps you track inventory spending, even if team members forget to log a part because of emergency situations.

Having a good relationship with vendors can make or break your inventory management program. The last position you want to be in is delaying production while you wait for a critical part to be delivered because the vendor is not paid on time.

Organizing your maintenance storeroom

Each facility is going to organize its maintenance storeroom differently. As long as you’re making your parts accessible, easy to find, and safe from wear and tear, it’s hard to go wrong. While there are dozens of ways to organize your space, we’ve outlined two common methods below.

Organizing parts by asset

This method arranges spare parts by the asset they’re used with. This strategy has a few key benefits, including:

  • Making it easy to get parts for planned maintenance
  • Assembling kits for major rebuilds
  • Finding the right part for an asset when emergency maintenance strikes

There is one major potential downside to storing parts by asset type: Duplication. If the same size bearing is used on more than one piece of equipment, it’s necessary to store it in multiple locations, creating extra costs and requiring more storage space.

Organizing parts by type

This method arranges inventory by the type of part. All your bearings would be together, all the pumps would be in the same place, and so on. This method has a few advantages, such as:

  • Being good for troubleshooting when you don’t have enough of one part and need a short-term solution
  • Allowing you to see how many motors, gearboxes, variable frequency drives, and other parts you have that carry a significant cost
  • Finding storage units built for the same part, like a bearing cabinet that will keep bearings free of dust and debris.

There are some limitations as well. If you’re in a rush and have to use a very specific type of bearing out of the dozens in your storeroom, it’s easy to grab the wrong one. This mistake can lead to increased repair times and downtime. Having a QR code or barcode on storage containers helps reduce this risk.

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Other things to consider when organizing your spare parts

There are a few more questions to ask yourself that will help you when organizing your maintenance storeroom:

  1. What is the weight capacity needed for racking in the parts room?
  2. Which parts are critical and will they be stored differently?
  3. Will parts be stored high up? If so, is there a safe process for retrieving them?
  4. Are certain parts sensitive to heat? How will those parts be stored?
  5. Is a vendor-managed system being used to track smaller parts (bolts, fuses, etc.)?
  6. What is the minimum amount of stock required? What is the maximum required?
  7. Is there a standard make and/or model for any parts (for example, all controls are from a certain vendor)?

Odds are, the parts in your maintenance storeroom total thousands or millions of dollars. Limiting access to your inventory areas keeps the risk of theft and misuse down, which goes a long way to lowering the cost of parts.

Optimizing your inventory tracking

Making data-driven decisions about inventory not only helps you squeeze every last bit of value from your maintenance storeroom, it also leads to healthier assets and fewer headaches for everyone. That’s a lot to promise, but it takes a lot of work to put the right processes in place to get there.

Critical spares

Figuring out your critical spares is just as crucial as doing a criticality analysis on your assets. It helps you purchase, organize, and maintain your inventory is a way that keeps equipment breakdowns from reaching nightmare proportions.

Determining your critical spare parts starts with understanding your facility’s critical assets. This gives you a sense of which parts are important for keeping that piece of equipment running as well and as long as possible. This is an exercise that requires input from maintenance personnel who are most familiar with these pieces of equipment to ensure all information is captured.

Cycle counts

Doing frequent inventory cycle counts gives you more control over your maintenance schedule and your maintenance budget. It ensures your records are accurate so you’re not running out of critical spares or overspending on expensive parts. Completing periodic cycle counts also mitigates the reactive behaviours that have significant costs associated with it.

Doing cycle counts is especially important if you’re using software to track parts. Ensuring the information in your system matches the actual number of parts you have helps the finance team and supports the maintenance team with their scheduled tasks.

When bolstering your cycle count program, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How often are cycle counts occurring?
  2. When a cycle count occurs how will you limit the usage of parts?
  3. Who will do the cycle count? Who will be spot-checking that the count is accurate?

Reporting

Reporting on the amount of inventory value on a quarterly or monthly basis will give you insight, as a maintenance leader, into what is happening in the maintenance storeroom.

Ask yourself these questions when you’re preparing inventory reports:

  1. How often will the report run?
  2. What information will the report look at?
  3. Will the report show all parts or only a selection of the most expensive parts (like the top 50)?
  4. Will the report show the change in inventory between two dates?

Inventory tracking: A pillar of exceptional maintenance

Managing and tracking inventory is a key pillar for any maintenance team. As you dive deeper into improving your maintenance storeroom, there are five takeaways that can guide you to success:

  1. Have a process for receiving and ordering parts
  2. Have people who can backfill for vacations, illnesses, and any other period of staff shortage
  3. Run reports frequently enough that you have a general idea of the value of parts in the stock room
  4. Carefully plan the way you’re organizing your maintenance storeroom and ask for ideas from multiple people on your team
  5. Always look for strengths and weaknesses in your inventory management and work to improve all areas

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