Service Parts Planning: Planning for consumable parts vs. Repairable Parts

When deciding on the right stocking parameters for spare parts and service parts, it is important to distinguish between consumable and repairable service parts.  These differences are often overlooked by service parts planning software and can result in incorrect estimates of what to stock.  Different approaches are required when planning for consumables vs. repairable spare parts.

First, let’s define these two types of spare parts.

  • Consumable parts are spares contained within the equipment which are replaced rather than repaired when they fail. Examples of consumable parts include batteries, oil filters, screws, and brake pads.  Consumable spare parts tend to be lower-cost parts for which replacement is cheaper than repair or repair may not be possible.
  • Repairable parts are parts that are capable of being repaired and returned to service after failing due to causes like wear and tear, damage, or corrosion. Repairable service parts tend to be more expensive than consumable parts, so repair is usually preferable to replacement. Examples of repairable parts include traction motors in rail cars, jet engines, and copy machines.

Traditional spare parts planning software fail to do the job

Traditional parts planning software is not well-adapted to deal with the randomness in both the demand side and the supply side of MRO operations.

Demand-Side Randomness
Planning for consumable spare parts requires calculation of inventory control parameters (such as reorder points and order quantities, min and max levels, and safety stocks). Planning to manage repairable service parts requires calculation of the right number of spares. In both cases, the analysis must be based on probability models of the random usage of consumables or the random breakdown of repairable parts.  For over 90% of these parts, this random demand is “intermittent” (sometimes called “lumpy” or “anything but normally distributed”). Traditional spare parts forecasting methods were not developed to deal with intermittent demand. Relying on traditional methods leads to costly planning mistakes. For consumables, this means avoidable stockouts, excess carrying costs, and increased inventory obsolescence. For repairable parts, this means excessive equipment downtime and the attendant costs from unreliable performance and disruption of operations.

Supply-Side Randomness
Planning for consumable spare parts must take account of randomness in replenishment lead times from suppliers. Planning for repairable parts must account for randomness in repair and return processes, whether provided internally or contracted out. Planners managing these items often ignore exploitable company data. Instead, they may cross their fingers and hope everything works out, or they may call on gut instinct to “call audibles” and then hope everything works out.  Hoping and guessing cannot beat proper probability modeling. It wastes millions annually in unneeded capital investments and avoidable equipment downtime.

Spare Parts Planning Software solutions

Smart IP&O’s service parts forecasting software uses a unique empirical probabilistic forecasting approach that is engineered for intermittent demand. For consumable spare parts, our patented and APICS award winning method rapidly generates tens of thousands of demand scenarios without relying on the assumptions about the nature of demand distributions implicit in traditional forecasting methods. The result is highly accurate estimates of safety stock, reorder points, and service levels, which leads to higher service levels and lower inventory costs. For repairable spare parts, Smart’s Repair and Return Module accurately simulates the processes of part breakdown and repair. It predicts downtime, service levels, and inventory costs associated with the current rotating spare parts pool. Planners will know how many spares to stock to achieve short- and long-term service level requirements and, in operational settings, whether to wait for repairs to be completed and returned to service or to purchase additional service spares from suppliers, avoiding unnecessary buying and equipment downtime.

Contact us to learn more how this functionality has helped our customers in the MRO, Field Service, Utility, Mining, and Public Transportation sectors to optimize their inventory. You can also download the Whitepaper here.

 

 

White Paper: What you Need to know about Forecasting and Planning Service Parts

 

This paper describes Smart Software’s patented methodology for forecasting demand, safety stocks, and reorder points on items such as service parts and components with intermittent demand, and provides several examples of customer success.

 

    Four Common Mistakes when Planning Replenishment Targets

    Whether you are using ‘Min/Max’ or ‘reorder point’ and ‘order quantity’ to determine when and how much to restock, your approach might deliver or deny huge efficiencies. Key mistakes to avoid:

     

    1. Not recalibrating regularly
    2. Only reviewing Min/Max when there is a problem
    3. Using Forecasting methods not up to the task
    4. Assuming data is too slow moving or unpredictable for it to matter

     

    We have over 150,000 SKU x Location combinations. Our demand is intermittent. Since it’s slow moving, we don’t need to recalculate our reorder points often. We do so maybe once annually but review the reorder points whenever there is a problem.” – Materials Manager.

     

    This reactive approach will lead to millions in excess stock, stock outs, and lots of wasted time reviewing data when “something goes wrong.” Yet, I’ve heard this same refrain from so many inventory professionals over the years. Clearly, we need to do more to share why this thinking is so problematic.

    It is true that for many parts, a recalculation of the reorder points with up-to-date historical data and lead times might not change much, especially if patterns such as trend or seasonality aren’t present. However, many parts will benefit from a recalculation, especially if lead times or recent demand has changed. Plus, the likelihood of significant change that necessitates a recalculation increases the longer you wait. Finally, those months with zero demands also influence the probabilities and shouldn’t be ignored outright. The key point though is that it is impossible to know what will change or won’t change in your forecast, so it’s better to recalibrate regularly.

     

      Planning Replenishment Targets Software calculate

    This standout case from real world data illustrates a scenario where regular and automated recalibration shines—the benefits from quick responses to changing demand patterns like these add up quickly. In the above example, the X axis represents days, and the Y axis represents demand. If you were to wait several months between recalibrating your reorder points, you’d undoubtedly order far too soon. By recalibrating your reorder point far more often, you’ll catch the change in demand enabling much more accurate orders.

     

    Rather than wait until you have a problem, recalibrate all parts every planning cycle at least once monthly. Doing so takes advantage of the latest data and proactively adjusts the stocking policy, thus avoiding problems that would cause manual reviews and inventory shortages or excess.

    The nature of your (potentially varied) data also needs to be matched with the right forecasting tools. If records for some parts show trend or seasonal patterns, using targeting forecasting methods to accommodate these patterns can make a big difference. Similarly, if the data show frequent zero values (intermittent demand), forecasting methods not built around this special case can easily deliver unreliable results.

    Automate, recalibrate and review exceptions. Purpose built software will do this automatically. Think of it another way: is it better to dump a bunch of money into your 401K once per year or “dollar cost average” by depositing smaller, equally sized amounts throughout the year. Recalibrating policies regularly will yield maximized returns over time, just as dollar cost averaging will do for your investment portfolio.

    How often do you recalibrate your stocking policies? Why?

     

     

    A Primer on Probabilistic Forecasting

    The Smart Forecaster

     Pursuing best practices in demand planning,

    forecasting and inventory optimization

    If you keep up with the news about supply chain analytics, you are more frequently encountering the phrase “probabilistic forecasting.” If this phrase is puzzling, read on.

    You probably already know what “forecasting” means. And you probably also know that there seem to be lots of different ways to do it. And you’ve probably heard pungent little phrases like “every forecast is wrong.” So you know that some kind of mathemagic might calculate that “the forecast is you will sell 100 units next month”, and then you might sell 110 units, in which case you have a 10% forecast error.

    You may not know that what I just described is a particular kind of forecast called a “point forecast.” A point forecast is so named because it consists of just a single number (i.e., one point on the number line, if you recall the number line from your youth).

    Point forecasts have one virtue: They are simple. They also have a flaw: They give rise to snarky statements like “every forecast is wrong.” That is, in most realistic cases, it is unlikely that the actual value will exactly equal the forecast. (Which isn’t such a big deal if the forecast is close enough.)

    This gets us to “probabilistic forecasting.” This approach is a step up, because instead of producing a single-number (point) forecast, it yields a probability distribution for the forecast. And unlike traditional extrapolative models that rely purely on the historical data, probabilistic forecasts have the ability to simulate future values that aren’t anchored to the past.

    “Probability distribution” is a forbidding phrase, evoking some arcane math that you may have heard of but never studied. Luckily, most adults have enough life experience to have an intuitive grasp of the concept.  When broken down, it’s quite straightforward to understand.

    Imagine the simple act of flipping two coins. You might call this harmless fun, but I call it a “probabilistic experiment.” The total number of heads that turn up on the two coins will be either zero, one or two. Flipping two coins is a “random experiment.” The resulting number of heads is a “random variable.” It has a “probability distribution”, which is nothing more than a table of how likely it is that the random variable will turn out to have any of its possible values. The probability of getting two heads when the coins are fair works out to be ¼, as is the probability of no heads. The chance of one head is ½.

    The same approach can describe a more interesting random variable, like the daily demand for a spare part.  Figure 2 shows such a probability distribution. It was computed by compiling three years of daily demand data on a certain part used in a scientific instrument sold to hospitals.

     

    Probabilistic demand forecast 1

    Figure 1: The probability distribution of daily demand for a certain spare part

     

    The distribution in Figure 1 can be thought of as a probabilistic forecast of demand in a single day. For this particular part, we see that the forecast is very likely to be zero (97% chance), but sometimes will be for a handful of units, and once in three years will be twenty units. Even though the most likely forecast is zero, you would want to keep a few on hand if this part were critical (“…for want of a nail…”)

    Now let’s use this information to make a more complicated probabilistic forecast. Suppose you have three units on hand. How many days will it take for you to have none? There are many possible answers, ranging from a single day (if you immediately get a demand for three or more) up to a very large number (since 97% of days see no demand).  The analysis of this question is a bit complicated because of all the many ways this situation can play out, but the final answer that is most informative will be a probability distribution. It turns out that the number of days until there are no units left in stock has the distribution shown in Figure 2.

    Probabilistic demand forecast 2

    Figure 2: Distribution of the number of days until all three units are gone

     

    The average number of days is 74, which would be a point forecast, but there is a lot of variation around the average. From the perspective of inventory management, it is notable that there is a 25% chance that all the units will be gone after 32 days. So if you decided to order more when you were down to only three on the shelf, it would be good to have the supplier get them to you before a month has passed. If they couldn’t, you’d have a 75% chance of stocking out – not good for a critical part.

    The analysis behind Figure 2 involved making some assumptions that were convenient but not necessary if they were not true. The results came from a method called “Monte Carlo simulation”, in which we start with three units, pick a random demand from the distribution in Figure 1, subtract it from the current stock, and continue until the stock is gone, recording how many days went by before you ran out. Repeating this process 100,000 times produced Figure 2.

    Applications of Monte Carlo simulation extend to problems of even larger scope than the “when do we run out” example above. Especially important are Monte Carlo forecasts of future demand. While the usual forecasting result is a set of point forecasts (e.g., expected unit demand over the next twelve months), we know that there are any number of ways that the actual demand could play out. Simulation could be used to produce, say, one thousand possible sets of 365 daily demand demands.

    This set of demand scenarios would more fully expose the range of possible situations with which an inventory system would have to cope. This use of simulation is called “stress testing”, because it exposes a system to a range of varied but realistic scenarios, including some nasty ones. Those scenarios are then input to mathematical models of the system to see how well it will cope, as reflected in key performance indicators (KPI’s). For instance, in those thousand simulated years of operation, how many stockouts are there in the worst year? the average year? the best year? In fact, what is the full probability distribution of the number of stockouts in a year, and what is the distribution of their size?

    Figures 3 and 4 illustrate probabilistic modeling of an inventory control system that converts stockouts to backorders. The system simulated uses a Min/Max control policy with Min = 10 units and Max = 20 units.

    Figure 3 shows one simulated year of daily operations in four plots. The first plot shows a particular pattern of random daily demand in which average demand increases steadily from Monday to Friday but disappears on weekends. The second plot shows the number of units on hand each day. Note that there are a dozen times during this simulated year when inventory goes negative, indicating stockouts. The third plot shows the size and timing of replenishment orders. The fourth plot shows the size and timing of backorders.  The information in these plots can be translated into estimates of inventory investment, average units on hand, holding costs, ordering costs and shortage costs.

    Probabilistic demand forecast 3

    Figure 3: One simulated year of inventory system operation

     

    Figure 3 shows one of one thousand simulated years. Each year will have different daily demands, resulting in different values of metrics like units on hand and the various components of operating cost. Figure 4 plots the distribution of 1,000 simulated values of four KPI’s. Simulating 1,000 years of imagined operation exposes the range of possible results so that planners can account not just for average results but also see best-case and worst-case values.

    Probabilistic demand forecast 4

    Figure 4: Distributions of four KPI’s based on 1,000 simulations

     

    Monte Carlo simulation is a low-math/high-results approach to probabilistic forecasting: very practical and easy to explain. Advanced probabilistic forecasting methods employed by Smart Software expand upon standard Monte Carlo simulation, yielding extremely accurate estimates of required inventory levels.

     

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          Inventory Planning Becomes More Interesting

          The Smart Forecaster

           Pursuing best practices in demand planning,

          forecasting and inventory optimization

          Taiichi Ohno of Toyota is credited with inventing Just-In-Time (JIT) manufacturing in the 1950s. JIT ensures that a manufacturer produces only what is needed, only when required, and only in the necessary amount. That innovation has since had major impacts, some good, some less so.

          A recent New York Times article “How the World Ran out of Everything” describes some of the “less so” impacts.  For example, JIT has kept inventory costs very low improving return on assets.  This in turn is rewarded by Wall Street, so many companies have spent the last few decades reducing their inventories dramatically. Focused as they were on financials, many companies ignored the risks inherent in reducing inventories to the point that “lean” began to border on “emaciated.” Combined with increased globalization and new risks of supply interruption, stock-outs have abounded.

          Some industries have gone too far, leaving them exposed to disruption. In a competition to get to the lowest cost, companies have inadvertently concentrated their risk, been interrupted by shortages of raw materials or components, and sometimes forced to halt assembly lines. Wall Street does not look kindly on production halts.

          We all know that random events have added to the problem. First among them has been the Covid pandemic. As the pandemic has hindered factory operations and spread disarray in global shipping, many economies worldwide have been tormented by shortages of an immense range of goods — from computer chips to lumber to clothing.

          The damage is compounded when more unexpected things go wrong. The Suez Canal Blockage is a prime example, obstructing the main trade route between Europe and Asia. Recently, cyberattacks have added another layer of disruption.

          The reaction creates its own problems, just as the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline created gas shortages through panic buying. Suppliers start filling orders more slowly than usual. Manufacturers and distributors reverse course and increase inventories and diversify their suppliers to avoid future stockouts. Simply expanding warehouses may not deliver the solution, and the need to determine how much inventory to keep is more urgent every day.Manager In Warehouse With Inventory Management Software

          So how can you execute a real-world plan for JIT inventory amidst all this risk and uncertainty? The foundation of your response is your corporate data. Uncertainty has two sources: supply and demand. You need the facts for both.

          On the supply side, exploit the data you have on recent supplier lead times, which reflect the current turbulence. Don’t use average values when you can use probability distributions that reflect the full range of contingencies. Consider this comparison. Supplier A is now reliably filling orders in exactly 10 days. Supplier B also averages 10 days but does with a 78%/22% mix of 7 and 21 days. Both A and B have an average replenishment delay of 10 days, but the operational results they provide will be very different. You can only recognize this if you use probability models of inventory performance.

          On the demand side, similar considerations apply. First, recognize that there may have been a major shift in the character of item demand (statisticians call this a “regime change”), so purge from your analysis any data that represent the “good old days.” Then, again, stop thinking in terms of averages. While the average demand is important, it is not a sufficient descriptor of the problem you face. Equally important is the volatility of demand. Volatility is the reason you keep inventory in the first place. If demand were completely predictable, you would have neither stockouts nor excess inventory. Just as you need to estimate the full probability distribution of replenishment lead times, you need the full distribution of demand values.

          Once you understand the range of variability in both supply and demand, probabilistic forecasting will allow you to account for disruptions and unusual events. Software will convert your data on demand and lead times into huge numbers of scenarios representing how your next planning period might play out. Given those scenarios, the software can determine how best to meet your goals for such metrics as inventory costs and stockout rates. Using solutions such as Smart Inventory Optimization , you will confidently plan based on your targeted stockout risk with minimal inventory carrying cost. You may also consider letting the solution prescribe optimal service level targets by assessing the costs of additional inventory vs. stockout cost.

          In inventory planning, as in science, we cannot escape the reality of uncertainty and the impact of unusual events. We must plan accordingly: using inventory optimization software helps you identify the least-cost service level. This creates a coherent, company-wide effort that combines visibility into current operations with mathematically correct assessments of future risks and conditions.

          Inventory planning has become more “interesting” and requires a greater degree of risk awareness and agility. The right software can help.

           

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                Probabilistic vs. Deterministic Order Planning

                The Smart Forecaster

                Man with a computer in a warehouse best practices in demand planning, forecasting and inventory optimization

                Consider the problem of replenishing inventory. To be specific, suppose the inventory item in question is a spare part. Both you and your supplier will want some sense of how much you will be ordering and when. And your ERP system may be insisting that you let it in on the secret too.

                Deterministic Model of Replenishment

                The simplest way to get a decent answer to this question is to assume the world is, well, simple. In this case, simple means “not random” or, in geek speak, “deterministic.” In particular, you pretend that the random size and timing of demand is really a continuous drip-drip-drip of a fixed size coming at a fixed interval, e.g., 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2… If this seems unrealistic, it is. Real demand might look more like this: 0, 1, 10, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0 with lots of zeros, occasional but random spikes.

                But simplicity has its virtues. If you pretend that the average demand occurs every day like clockwork, it is easy to work out when you will need to place your next order, and how many units you will need.  For instance, suppose your inventory policy is of the (Q,R) type, where Q is a fixed order quantity and R is a fixed reorder point. When stock drops to or below the reorder point R, you order Q units more. To round out the fantasy, assume that the replenishment lead time is also fixed: after L days, those Q new units will be on the shelf ready to satisfy demand.

                All you need now to answer your questions is the average demand per day D for the item. The logic goes like this:

                1. You start each replenishment cycle with Q units on hand.
                2. You deplete that stock by D units per day.
                3. So, you hit the reorder point R after (Q-R)/D days.
                4. So, you order every (Q-R)/D days.
                5. Each replenishment cycle lasts (Q-R)/D + L days, so you make a total of 365D/(Q-R+LD) orders per year.
                6. As long as lead time L < R/D, you will never stock out and your inventory will be as small as possible.

                Figure 1 shows the plot of on-hand inventory vs time for the deterministic model. Around Smart Software, we refer to this plot as the “Deterministic Sawtooth.” The stock starts at the level of the last order quantity Q. After steadily decreasing over the drop time (Q-R)/D, the level hits the reorder point R and triggers an order for another Q units. Over the lead time L, the stock drops to exactly zero, then the reorder magically arrives and the next cycle begins.

                Figure 1 Deterministic model of on-hand inventory

                Figure 1: Deterministic model of on-hand inventory

                 

                This model has two things going for it. It requires no more than high school algebra, and it combines (almost) all the relevant factors to answer the two related questions: When will we have to place the next order? How many orders will we place in a year?

                Probabilistic Model of Replenishment

                Not surprisingly, if we strip away some of the fantasy from the deterministic model, we get more useful information. The probabilistic model incorporates all the messy randomness in the real-world problem: the uncertainty in both the timing and size of demand, the variation in replenishment lead time, and the consequences of those two factors: the chance of stock on hand undershooting the reorder point, the chance that there will be a stockout, the variability in the time until the next order, and the variable number of orders executed in a year.

                The probabilistic model works by simulating the consequences of uncertain demand and variable lead time. By analyzing the item’s historical demand patterns (and excluding any observations that were recorded during a time when demand may have been fundamentally different), advanced statistical methods create an unlimited number of realistic demand scenarios. Similar analysis is applied to records of supplier lead times. Combining these supply and demand scenarios with the operational rules of any given inventory control policy produces scenarios of the number of parts on hand. From these scenarios, we can extract summaries of the varying intervals between orders.

                Figure 2 shows an example of a probabilistic scenario; demand is random, and the item is managed using reorder point R = 10 and order quantity Q=20. Gone is the Deterministic Sawtooth; in its place is something more complex and realistic (the Probabilistic Staircase). During the 90 simulated days of operation, there were 9 orders placed, and the time between orders clearly varied.

                Using the probabilistic model, the answers to the two questions (how long between orders and how many in a year) get expressed as probability distributions reflecting the relative likelihoods of various scenarios. Figure 3 shows the distribution of the number of days between orders after ten years of simulated operation. While the average is about 8 days, the actual number varies widely, from 2 to 17.

                Instead of telling your supplier that you will place X orders next year, you can now project X ± Y orders, and your supplier knows better their upside and downside risks. Better yet, you could provide the entire distribution as the richest possible answer.

                Figure 2 A probabilistic scenario of on-hand inventory

                Figure 2 A probabilistic scenario of on-hand inventory

                 

                Figure 3 Distribution of days between orders

                Figure 3: Distribution of days between orders

                 

                Climbing the Random Staircase to Greater Efficiency

                Moving beyond the deterministic model of  inventory opens up new possibilities for optimizing operations. First, the probabilistic model allows realistic assessment of stockout risk. The simple model in Figure 1 implies there is never a stockout, whereas probabilistic scenarios allow for the possibility (though in Figure 2 there was only one close call around day 70). Once the risk is known, software can optimize by searching  the “design space” (i.e., all possible values of R and Q) to find a design that meets a target level of stockout risk at minimal cost. The value of the deterministic model in this more realistic analysis is that it provides a good starting point for the search through design space.

                Summary

                Modern software provides answers to operational questions with various degrees of detail. Using the example of the time between replenishment orders, we’ve shown that the answer can be calculated approximately but quickly by a simple deterministic model. But it can also be provided in much richer detail with all the variability exposed by a probabilistic model. We think of these alternatives as complementary. The deterministic model bundles all the key variables into an easy-to-understand form. The probabilistic model provides additional realism that professionals expect and supports effective search for optimal choices of reorder point and order quantity.

                 

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                The Supply Chain Blame Game:  Top 3 Excuses for Inventory Shortage and Excess

                The Supply Chain Blame Game: Top 3 Excuses for Inventory Shortage and Excess

                The supply chain has become the blame game for almost any industrial or retail problem. Shortages on lead time variability, bad forecasts, and problems with bad data are facts of life, yet inventory-carrying organizations are often caught by surprise when any of these difficulties arise. So, again, who is to blame for the supply chain chaos? Keep reading this blog and we will try to show you how to prevent product shortages and overstocking.