By: Mary Cranfill
“NEW mobile functionality for maintenance technicians in the field!”
“Updated key performance indicators to measure asset reliability!”
“Real-time monitoring of asset performance!”
Sound familiar? Enterprise asset management (EAM) applications race to provide the latest and greatest around to help organizations get the most out of their assets. And why not? Organizations are pressed to take on more assets with less staff, to coax more value from aging assets, and to reduce downtime. However, there’s another aspect which is often overlooked.
As maintenance is reducing downtime, there is more pressure on the supply chain to keep up with the demand with less employees. Since early 2020 with the shutdown for Covid-19, the supply chain has experienced one of the most disruptive periods in history. Strikes, inflation, and conflicts around the world continue to disrupt the supply chain. Managing the supply chain for parts becomes more problematic at the same time it becomes more critical.
“Where are my parts??” When talking with maintenance professionals, one of the complaints always rising to the top is the timeliness of part availability even while many organizations are reducing supply chain staff. Gone are the days of simple storerooms or warehouses. Today’s maintenance stores need to balance carrying a variety of parts for many asset models while dealing with fluc
tuating lead times, supplier manufacturing delays, and distributed storerooms to meet quickly meet demand. This often leads to the dichotomy of space constraints while needing to store more items.
Yet, this is one area seemingly taken for granted by EAM applications. Many of these applications use functionality developed in the early 2000’s for procuring, receiving, and picking parts or updating EOQ (economic order quantity). Even mobile functionality has lagged that of maintenance with simply transferring old desktop functionality to a mobile device. Retail has known for years a good warehouse management system is critical to success and WMS applications have catered to meet the demand. As a result, retail organizations have been able to reduce staff significantly yet get more product out the door.
So why don’t more maintenance organizations go get WMS applications?
- First, although needs for maintenance can be similar to retail in some areas, in other areas they are very different. For example, consolidated picking (picking multiple orders at once) works better in retail as these orders will have the same items for different orders whereas maintenance orders generally don’t share the same items for different work orders.
- Second, WMS applications – especially the good ones – can be pricey. It can be hard to build a business case to justify the expense in comparison to other demands.
- Third, these would need to be integrated with their existing EAM application and many IT organizations do not prioritize maintenance, much less supply chain for maintenance.
What should EAM applications focus on to meet MRO operational supply chain needs?
- Directed Put Away of Parts – When receiving or returning items to the store, take into consideration the bin locations and sizing of the bins and items to be put away and order the items to be put away in the most efficient manner. This functionality should be mobile. Bins must have dimensions and functionality available to design optimal paths, items must have dimensions, and items can be in more than one bin. Although most retailers have moved to a model of storing items anywhere and having a pick face for replenishment from storage locations, this is generally not necessary for MRO stores which tend to have one primary location and secondary or overflow locations for when items do not fit in the primary location. This goes hand in hand with the next item on the list.
- Pick paths – When picking items, directing the stores person through the warehouse in the most efficient method. Like number 1 above, the functionality to set optimal paths and items having more than one bin location must be available. Again, this must be mobile. Unlike retail which will often pick more than one order at a time using wave functionality to combine items and operating with a pick face, MRO stores will usually pick one order and pick directly from storage locations. However, MRO is more likely to have serialized parts (parts which are also tracked as assets) and condition-based parts (ex. Used or rebuilt parts) to consider.
- Packing functionality – For a distributed warehouse model which uses a parent warehouse to supply smaller warehouses, the parent warehouse needs the ability to pack items in containers for distribution. Additionally, stores need to pack items to return items for repair, returns, or warranty claims.
- Shipping functionality – Closely related to number 3, shipping parts from a parent warehouse may require hazardous labeling or other regulatory transport even if using an organization’s own vehicles. If organizations are using couriers, more in-depth shipping documents such as bill of lading may be required. When shipping items to vendors for repair, returns, or warranty claims, regulatory documentation, RMA’s, and bill of lading are generally required.
- Mobile functionality which does not require (or holds to a bare minimum) manual entry, tapping or clicking on fields. It’s all about scan and go. Scanning functionality should work with barcodes, QR codes, NFC, and RFID, seamlessly. If a tag includes information for multiple field entries – such as a barcode encompassing Item ID, serial number or asset ID, and bin location – these should fill in without any additional scanning or manual intervention. Stores personnel need to have mobile devices which for the most part leave hands free to pick and put away items.
Does this mean EAM applications should rush out and do development? Not necessarily. Partnering with companies who have already built this functionality is certainly an option. It should be affordable and have a seamless integration which requires minimal configuration. There is certainly precedence for this kind of partnership. HxGN EAM, for example, has done this with ESRI’s ArcGIS for GIS functionality and Cad Service’s OpenCAD for space management and building information modelling. These partnerships have greatly enhanced asset and work functionality, including work mobile functionality, and dovetails nicely with HxGN EAM’s core strengths.
There is another highly critical operational functionality I deliberately left off the list above – cycle counting. EAM applications still tend to view cycle counting in terms of physical inventory and as a very manual process. Very rarely does any maintenance organization do a full physical inventory anymore. It takes too long and too many employees. Instead, cycle counting small segments of inventory has become the norm. Higher moving parts need to be counted more often and randomized counts are preferred. Not to mention, configurable options like excluding low value items, auto generation of cycle counts, and an automatic recount of parts exceeding a discrepancy tolerance.
So why did I exclude this? Because we have solved this particular issue here at 21Tech. Using HxGN EAM, we have built an accelerator which handles the cycle counting issues and this is one area where HxGN EAM’s Digital Work mobile app works well with a couple of exceptions – the ability to account for more than one bin location and an optimized cycle count path. However, once the above issues are addressed, the cycle count accelerator can be easily modified to accommodate.
One more area to touch on is the strategic side of the supply chain equation – inventory optimization. How do you account for fluctuations in lead times or manufacturing? What is the risk to the service level if stock is reduced for cost or space purposes? How much quantity on hand does the parent storeroom need to keep the distributed stores supplied to meet demand? These are but a few of the questions facing MRO supply chain personnel.
Thankfully, some companies have stepped up in the strategic arena. One of those companies is Smart Software who has made MRO and manufacturing inventory optimization a focus. They have several integrations to ERP solutions and have expanded to EAM applications, including HxGN EAM.
What say you, EAM companies? How about providing some love to the supply chain professionals supporting maintenance? After all, without an efficient supply chain, maintenance cannot achieve their efficiency goals.