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Optimizing Inventory around Suppliers´ Minimum Order Quantities

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with an inventory manager and the VP Finance. We were discussing the benefits of being able to automatically optimize both reorder points and order quantities. The VP Finance was concerned that given their large supplier required minimum order quantities, they would not be able to benefit.  He said his suppliers held all the power, forcing him to accept massive minimum order quantities and tying his hands. While he felt bad about this, he saw a silver lining: He didn’t have to do any planning. He would accept a large inventory investment, but his customer service levels would be exceptional.  Perhaps the large inventory investment was assumed to be the cost of doing business.

I pushed back and pointed out that he was not as powerless as he felt. He still had control of the other half of the procurement process: while he couldn’t control how much to order, he could control when to order by adjusting the reorder point. In other words, there is always room for careful quantitative analysis in inventory management, even when you have one hand tied behind your back.

An Example

To put some numbers behind my argument, I created a scenario then analyzed it using our methodology to show how consequential it can be to use inventory optimization software even in constrained situations. In this scenario, item demand averages 2.2 units per day but varies significantly by day of week. Let’s say the imaginary supplier insists on a minimum order quantity of 500 units (way out of proportion to demand) and fills replenishment orders in either three days or ten days in equal proportions (quite inconsistent). To spread the blame around, let’s also suppose that the imaginary supplier’s imaginary customer uses a foolish rule that the reorder point should be 10% of the minimum order quantity. (Why this rule? Too many companies use simple/simplistic rules of thumb in lieu of proper analysis.)

So, we have a base case in which the order quantity is 500 units, and the reorder point is 50 units. In this case, the fill rate is 100%, but the average number of units on hand is a whopping 330. If the customer would simply lower the reorder point from 50 to 15, the fill rate would still be 99.5%, but the average stock on hand would drop by 11% to 295 units. Using the one hand not tied behind his back, the inventory manager could cut his inventory investment by more than 10%, which would be a noticeable win.

Incidentally, if the minimum order quantity were abolished, the customer would be free to arrive at a new and much better solution. Setting the order quantity to 45 and the reorder point to 25 would achieve a 99% fill rate at the cost of a daily on-hand level of only 35 units: nearly a 90% reduction in inventory investment: a major improvement over the status quo.

Postscript

These calculations are possible using our software, which can make visible the otherwise unknown relationships between inventory system design choices (e.g., order quantity and reorder point) and key performance indicators (e.g., average units on hand and fill rate).  Armed with this ability to conduct these calculations, alternative arrangements with the supplier may now be considered. For example, what if, in exchange for paying a higher price per unit, the supplier agreed to a lower MOQ. Using the software to conduct an analysis of the key performance indicators using the “what if” costs and MOQs would reveal the cost per unit and MOQ that would be needed to develop a more profitable deal.   Once identified, all parties stand to benefit.  The supplier now generates a better margin on sales of its products, and the buyer holds considerably less inventory yielding a holding cost reduction that dwarfs the added cost per unit.  Everyone wins.

Smart Software VP of Research to Present at Business Analytics Conference, INFORMS 2022

#### Dr. Tom Willemain to lead INFORMS session “Dominating The Inventory Battlefield: Fighting Randomness With Randomness.”

Belmont, Mass., March 2022 – Smart Software, Inc., provider of industry-leading demand forecasting, planning, and inventory optimization solutions, today announced that Tom Willemain, Vice President for Research, will present at the INFORMS Business Analytics Conference, April 3-5, 2022, in Houston, TX.

Dr. Willemain will present a session on how next-generation analytics arms supply chain leaders in manufacturing, distribution, and MRO with tools to fight against randomness in demand and supply. During his session he will detail the following technologies:

(1) Regime change filtering to maintain data relevance against sudden shifts in the operating environment.

(2) Bootstrapping methods to generate large numbers of realistic demand and lead time scenarios to fuel models.

(3) Discrete event simulations to process the input scenarios and expose the links between management actions and key performance indicators.

(4) Stochastic optimization based on simulation experiments to tune each item for best results.

Without the analytics, inventory owners have two choices: sticking with rigid operating policies usually based on outdated and invalid rules of thumb or resorting to subjective, gut-feel guesswork that may not help and does not scale.

As the leading Business Analytics Conference, INFORMS provides the opportunity to interact with the world’s top forecasting researchers and practitioners. The attendance is large enough so that the best in the field are attracted, yet small enough that you can meet and discuss one-on-one. In addition, the conference features content from leading analytics professionals who share and showcase top analytics applications that save lives, save money, and solve problems.

Dr. Thomas Reed Willemain served as an Expert Statistical Consultant to the National Security Agency (NSA) at Ft. Meade, MD, and as a member of the Adjunct Research Staff at an affiliated think-tank, the Institute for Defense Analyses Center for Computing Sciences (IDA/CCS). He is Professor Emeritus of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, having previously held faculty positions at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is also co-founder and Senior Vice President/Research at Smart Software, Inc. He is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, the Military Operations Research Society, the American Statistical Association, and several other professional organizations. Willemain received the BSE degree (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) from Princeton University and the MS and Ph.D. degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His other books include: Statistical Methods for Planners, Emergency Medical Systems Analysis (with R. C. Larson), and 80 articles in peer-reviewed journals on statistics, operations research, health care, and other topics. For more information, email: TomW@SmartCorp.com or visit www.TomWillemain.com.

Founded in 1981, Smart Software, Inc. is a leader in providing businesses with enterprise-wide demand forecasting, planning, and inventory optimization solutions.  Smart Software’s demand forecasting and inventory optimization solutions have helped thousands of users worldwide, including customers at mid-market enterprises and Fortune 500 companies, such as Disney, Otis Elevator, Hitachi, Siemens, Metro Transit, APS, and The American Red Cross.  Smart Inventory Planning & Optimization gives demand planners the tools to handle sales seasonality, promotions, new and aging products, multi-dimensional hierarchies, and intermittently demanded service parts and capital goods items.  It also provides inventory managers with accurate estimates of the optimal inventory and safety stock required to meet future orders and achieve desired service levels.  Smart Software is headquartered in Belmont, Massachusetts, and can be found on the World Wide Web at www.smartcorp.com.

SmartForecasts and Smart IP&O have registered trademarks of Smart Software, Inc.  All other trademarks are their respective owners’ property.

Phone: 1-800-SMART-99 (800-762-7899); FAX: 1-617-489-2748; E-mail: info@smartcorp.com

Thoughts on Spare Busses and Spare Parts

The Covid19 pandemic has placed unusual stress on public transit agencies. This stress forces agencies to look again at their processes and equipment.

This blog focuses on bus systems and their practices for spare parts management. However, there are lessons here for other types of public transit, including rail and light rail.

Back in 1995, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Research Council published a report that still has relevance. System-Specific Spare Bus Ratios: A Synthesis of Transit Practice stated

The purpose of this study was to document and examine the critical site-specific variables that affect the number of spare vehicles that bus systems need to maintain maximum service requirements. … Although transit managers generally acknowledged that right-sizing the fleet actually improves operations and lowers cost, many reported difficulties in achieving and consistently maintaining a 20 percent spare ratio as recommended by FTA… The respondents to the survey advocated that more emphasis be placed on developing improved and innovative bus maintenance techniques, which would assist them in minimizing downtime and improving vehicle availability, ultimately leading to reduced spare vehicles and labor and material costs.

Grossly simplified guidelines like “keep 20% spare buses” are easy to understand and measure but mask more detailed tactics that can provide more tailored policies. If operational reliability can be improved for each bus, then fewer spares are needed.

One way to keep each bus up and running more often is to improve the management of inventories of spare parts. Here is where modern supply chain management can make a significant contribution. The TRB noted this in their report:

Many agencies have been successful in limiting reliance on excess spare vehicles. Those transit officials agree that several factors and initiatives have led to their success and are critical to the success of any program [including] … Effective use of advanced technology to manage critical maintenance functions, including the orderly and timely replacement of parts… Failure to have available parts and other components when they are needed will adversely affect any maintenance program. As long as managers are cognizant of the issues and vigilant about what tools are available to them, the probability of buses [being] ‘out for no stock’ will greatly diminish.”

Effective inventory management requires a balance between “having enough” and “having too much.” What modern software can do is make visible the tradeoff between these two goals so that transit managers can make fact-based decisions about spare parts inventories.

There are enough complications in finding the right balance to require moving beyond simple rules of thumb such as “keep ten days’ worth of demand on hand” or “reorder when you are down to five units in stock.” Factors that drive these decisions include both the average demand for a part, the volatility of that demand, the average replenishment lead time (which can be a problem when the part arrives by slow boat from Germany), the variability in lead time, and several cost factors: holding costs, ordering costs, and shortage costs (e.g., lost fares).

Innovative supply chain analytics uses advanced probabilistic forecasting and stochastic optimization methods to manage these complexities and provide greater parts availability at lower cost. For instance, Minnesota’s Metro Transit documented a 4x increase in return on investment in the first six months of implementing a new system. To read more about how public transit agencies are exploiting innovative supply chain analytics, see:

Related Posts

## Goldilocks Inventory Levels

You may remember the story of Goldilocks from your long-ago youth. Sometimes the porridge was too hot, sometimes it was too cold, but just once it was just right. Now that we are adults, we can translate that fairy tale into a professional principle for inventory planning: There can be too little or too much inventory, and there is some Goldilocks level that is “just right.” This blog is about finding that sweet spot.

## Call an Audible to Proactively Counter Supply Chain Noise

You know the situation: You work out the best way to manage each inventory item by computing the proper reorder points and replenishment targets, then average demand increases or decreases, or demand volatility changes, or suppliers’ lead times change, or your own costs change.

## An Example of Simulation-Based Multiechelon Inventory Optimization

Managing the inventory across multiple facilities arrayed in multiple echelons can be a huge challenge for any company. The complexity arises from the interactions among the echelons, with demands at the lower levels bubbling up and any shortages at the higher levels cascading down.

Stay the course

I’ve stood in front of thousands of students. They’ve been more or less young, more or less technical, more or less experienced – and more or less interested.  I’ve done this as a university faculty member since 1972, first at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then at Harvard University, finally in the School of Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Between Harvard and RPI I dropped out of academia temporarily to co-found Smart Software with Charlie Smart and Nelson Hartunian. So since then, I’ve also been busy training business users to exploit the power of advanced analytics for forecasting and inventory optimization.

As I write this, I’ve just returned to my office at RPI after introducing first-year Industrial Engineering students to the basic concepts of inventory management. If they stick with the program, they will go on to take required courses in supply chain, system simulation, statistical analysis, and optimization. I told them stories about how useful they will be to their companies should they decide to make a career in the world of supply chain. If I’d had more time, I would have mentioned how capable they will be when they graduate relative to many of their corporate peers. These freshmen and ready and willing to stay the course, soaking up all the techniques and theories we can throw at them, and honing their practical skills in summer jobs or coop assignments.

What I didn’t tell them is that many of them will have to work to keep their intensity when they are on the job. It’s a sad truth that, for whatever reason, many inventory practitioners settle into a kind of stasis that impedes their companies’ ability to exploit the latest technologies, such as cloud-based advanced demand forecasting and inventory optimization. Gather enough of such people in one place and agility and improved efficiency go out the window.

I think one of the factors that dulls people is that the process of implementation frequently feels painfully incremental and prolonged. It often begins with a sobering inventory of relevant data, its correctness, and its currency. Then it moves to an often-awkward discovery that there really is no systematic process in place and the subsequent need to design a good one going forward. Next is the need to learn to use a new software suite. That step involves learning new vocabulary, some level of probabilistic thought, an ability to interpret new graphs and tables, not to mention a new software interface.  All this takes time and effort.

We’ve found that a few things help new customers stay the course. One is having a champion among management, an executive sponsor, who can vouch for the commercial importance of a successful implementation while ensuring the users are supported with continuing education.  A second is identifying and training a super-user or two having unusual combinations of technical and communication skills.  A third is breaking the training into bite-sized chunks and testing for comprehension after each chunk and repeating this process until it is clear that the new concepts, vocabulary, and process are fully absorbed. But all those maneuvers will come to naught without management being all-in and ready to stay the course.  Inventory planning practices in place for many years are not going to be replaced entirely over a three-month implementation process.  You’ve got to want it to get it.

Related Posts

## Goldilocks Inventory Levels

You may remember the story of Goldilocks from your long-ago youth. Sometimes the porridge was too hot, sometimes it was too cold, but just once it was just right. Now that we are adults, we can translate that fairy tale into a professional principle for inventory planning: There can be too little or too much inventory, and there is some Goldilocks level that is “just right.” This blog is about finding that sweet spot.

## Call an Audible to Proactively Counter Supply Chain Noise

You know the situation: You work out the best way to manage each inventory item by computing the proper reorder points and replenishment targets, then average demand increases or decreases, or demand volatility changes, or suppliers’ lead times change, or your own costs change.

## An Example of Simulation-Based Multiechelon Inventory Optimization

Managing the inventory across multiple facilities arrayed in multiple echelons can be a huge challenge for any company. The complexity arises from the interactions among the echelons, with demands at the lower levels bubbling up and any shortages at the higher levels cascading down.

Goldilocks Inventory Levels

You may remember the story of Goldilocks from your long-ago youth. Sometimes the porridge was too hot, sometimes it was too cold, but just once it was just right. Now that we are adults, we can translate that fairy tale into a professional principle for inventory planning: There can be too little or too much inventory, and there is some Goldilocks level that is “just right.” This blog is about finding that sweet spot.

To illustrate our supply chain fable, consider this example. Imagine that you sell service parts to keep your customers systems up and running. You offer a particular service part that costs you \$100 to make but sells for a 20% markup. You can make \$20 on each unit you sell, but you don’t get to keep the whole \$20 because of the inventory operating costs you bear to be able to sell the part. There are holding costs to keep the part in good repair while in stock and ordering costs to replenish units you sell. Finally, sometimes you lose revenue from lost sales due to stockouts.

These operating costs can be directly related to the way you manage the part in inventory. For our example, assume you use a (Q,R) inventory policy, where Q is the replenishment order quantity and R is the reorder point. Assume further that the reason you are not making \$30 per unit is that you have competitors, and customers will get the part from them if they can’t get it from you.

Both your revenue and your costs depend in complex ways on your choices for Q and R. These will determine how much you order, when and therefore how often you order, how often you stock out and therefore how many sales you lose, and how much cash you tie up in inventory. It is impossible to cost out these relationships by guesswork, but modern software can make the relationships visible and calculate the dollar figures you need to guide your choice of values for Q and R. It does this by running detailed, fact-based, probabilistic simulations that predict costs and performance by averaging over a large number of realistic demand scenarios.

With these results in hand, you can work out the margin associated with (Q,R) values using the simple formula

Margin = (Demand – Lost Sales) x Profit per unit sold – Ordering Costs – Holding Costs.

In this formula, Lost Sales, Ordering Costs and Holding Costs are dependent on reorder point R and order quantity Q.

Figure 1 shows the result of simulations that fixed Q at 25 units and varied R from 10 to 30 in steps of 5. While the curve is rather flat on top, you would make the most money by keeping on-hand inventory around 25 units (which corresponds to setting R = 20). More inventory, despite a higher service level and fewer lost sales, would make a little less money (and ties up a lot more cash), and less inventory would make a lot less.

Figure 1: Showing that there can be too little or too much inventory on hand

Without relying on the inventory simulation software, we would not be able to discover

• a) that it is possible to carry too little and too much inventory
• b) what the best level of inventory is
• c) how to get there by proper choices of reorder point R and order quantity Q.

Without an explicit understanding of the above, companies will make daily inventory decisions relying on gut feel and averaging based rule of thumb methods. The tradeoffs described here are not exposed and the resulting mix of inventory yields a far lower return forfeiting hundreds of thousands to millions per year in lost profits.  So be like Goldilocks.  With the right systems and software tools, you too can get it just right!