Make AI-Driven Inventory Optimization an Ally for Your Organization
In this blog, we will explore how organizations can achieve exceptional efficiency and accuracy with AI-driven inventory optimization. Traditional inventory management methods often fall short due to their reactive nature and reliance on manual processes. Maintaining optimal inventory levels is fundamental for meeting customer demand while minimizing costs. The introduction of AI-driven inventory optimization can significantly reduce the burden of manual processes, providing relief to supply chain managers from tedious tasks. With AI, we can predict demand more accurately, reduce excess stock, avoid stockouts, and ultimately improve our organization’s bottom line. Let’s explore how this approach not only boosts sales and operational efficiency but also elevates customer satisfaction by ensuring products are always available when needed.

 

Insights for Improved Decision-Making in Inventory Management

  1. Enhanced Forecast Accuracy Advanced Machine Learning algorithms analyze historical data to identify patterns that humans might miss. Techniques like clustering, regime change detection, anomaly detection, and regression analysis provide deep insights into data. Measuring forecast error is essential for refining forecast models; for example, techniques like Mean Absolute Error (MAE) and Root Mean Squared Error (RMSE) help quantify the accuracy of forecasts. Businesses can improve accuracy by continuously monitoring and adjusting forecasts based on these error metrics. As the Demand Planner at a Hardware Retailer stated, “With the improvements to our forecasts and inventory planning that Smart Software enabled, we have been able to reduce safety stock by 20% while also reducing stock-outs by 35%.”
  1. Real-Time Data Analysis State-of-the-art systems can process vast amounts of data in real time, allowing businesses to adjust their inventory levels dynamically based on current demand trends and market conditions. Anomaly detection algorithms can automatically identify and correct sudden spikes or drops in demand, ensuring that the forecasts remain accurate. A notable success story comes from Smart IP&O, which enabled one company to reduce inventory by 20% while maintaining service levels by continuously analyzing real-time data and adjusting forecasts accordingly. FedEx Tech’s Manager of Materials highlighted, “Whatever the request, we need to meet our next-day service commitment – Smart enables us to risk adjust our inventory to be sure we have the products and parts on hand to achieve the service levels our customers require.”
  1. Improved Supply Chain Efficiency Intelligent technology platforms can optimize the entire supply chain, from procurement to distribution, by predicting lead times and optimizing order quantities. This reduces the risk of overstocking and understocking. For instance, using forecast-based inventory management, Smart Software helped a manufacturer streamline its supply chain, reducing lead times by 15% and enhancing overall efficiency. The VP of Operations at Procon Pump stated, “One of the things I like about this new tool… is that I can evaluate the consequences of inventory stocking decisions before I implement them.”
  1. Enhanced Decision-Making AI provides actionable insights and recommendations, enabling managers to make informed decisions. This includes identifying slow-moving items, forecasting future demand, and optimizing stock levels. Regression analysis, for example, can relate sales to external variables like seasonality or economic indicators, providing a deeper understanding of demand drivers. One of Smart Software’s clients reported a significant improvement in decision-making processes, resulting in a 30% increase in service levels while reducing excess inventory by 15%. “Smart IP&O enabled us to model demand at each stocking location and, using service level-driven planning, determine how much to stock to achieve the service level we require,” noted the Purchasing Manager at Seneca Companies.
  1. Cost Reduction By optimizing inventory levels, businesses can reduce holding costs and minimize losses from obsolete or expired products. AI-driven systems also reduce the need for manual inventory checks, saving time and labor costs. A recent case study shows how implementing Inventory Planning & Optimization (IP&O) was accomplished within 90 days of project start. Over the ensuing six months, IP&O enabled the adjustment of stocking parameters for several thousand items, resulting in inventory reductions of $9.0 million while sustaining target service levels.

 

By leveraging advanced algorithms and real-time data analysis, businesses can maintain optimal inventory levels and enhance their overall supply chain performance. Inventory Planning & Optimization (IP&O) is a powerful tool that can help your organization achieve these goals. Incorporating state-of-the-art inventory optimization into your organization can lead to significant improvements in efficiency, cost reduction, and customer satisfaction.

 

 

Weathering a Demand Forecast

For some of our customers, weather has a significant influence on demand. Extreme short-term weather events like fires, droughts, hot spells, and so forth can have a significant near-term influence on demand.

There are two ways to factor weather into a demand forecast: indirectly and directly. The indirect route is easier using the scenario-based approach of Smart Demand Planner. The direct approach requires a tailored special project requiring additional data and hand-crafted modeling.

Indirect Accounting for Weather

The standard model built into Smart Demand Planner (SDP) accommodates weather effects in four ways:

  1. If the world is steadily getting warmer/colder/drier/wetter in ways that impact your sales, SDP detects these trends automatically and incorporates them into the demand scenarios it generates.
  2. If your business has a regular rhythm in which certain days of the week or certain months of the year have consistently higher or lower-than-average demand, SDP also automatically detects this seasonality and incorporates it into its demand scenarios.
  3. Often it is the cussed randomness of weather that interferes with forecast accuracy. We often refer to this effect as “noise”. Noise is a catch-all term that incorporates all kinds of random trouble. Besides weather, a geopolitical flareup, the surprise failure of a regional bank, or a ship getting stuck in the Suez Canal can and have added surprises to product demand. SDP assesses the volatility of demand and reproduces it in its demand scenarios.
  4. Management overrides. Most of the time, customers let SDP churn away to automatically generate tens of thousands of demand scenarios. But if users feel the need to touch up specific forecasts using their insider knowledge, SDP can make that happen through management overrides.

Direct Accounting for Weather

Sometimes a user will be able to articulate subject matter expertise linking factors outside their company (such as interest rates or raw materials costs or technology trends) to their own aggregate sales. In these situations, Smart Software can arrange for one-off special projects that provide alternative (“causal”) models to supplement our standard statistical forecasting models. Contact your Smart Software representative to discuss a possible causal modeling project.

Meanwhile, don’t forget your umbrella.

 

 

 

Why MRO Businesses Need Add-on Service Parts Planning & Inventory Software

MRO organizations exist in a wide range of  industries, including public transit, electrical utilities, wastewater, hydro power, aviation, and mining. To get their work done, MRO professionals use Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. These systems are designed to do a lot of jobs. Given their features, cost, and extensive implementation requirements, there is an assumption that EAM and ERP systems can do it all.

For example, at a recent Maximo Utilities Working Group event, several prospects stated that “Our EAM will do that” when asked about requirements for forecasting usage, netting out supply plans, and optimizing inventory policies. They were surprised to learn it did not and wanted to know more.

In this post, we summarize the need for add-on software that addresses specialized analytics for inventory optimization, forecasting, and service parts planning.   

EAM Systems

EAM systems can’t ingest forecasts of future usage – these systems simply aren’t designed to conduct supply planning and many don’t even have a place to hold forecasts. So, when an MRO business needs to net out known requirements for planned production or capital projects, an add-on application like Smart IP&O is needed.

Inventory Optimization software with features that support planning known future demand will take project-based data not maintained in the EAM system (including project start dates, duration, and when each part is expected to be needed) and compute a period-by-period forecast over any planning horizon. That “planned” forecast can be projected alongside statistical forecasts of “unplanned” demand arising from normal wear and tear. At that point, parts planning software can net out the supply and identify gaps between supply and demand. This ensures that these gaps won’t go unnoticed and result in shortages that would otherwise delay the completion of the projects. It also minimizes excess stock that would otherwise be ordered too soon and needlessly consumes cash and warehouse space. Again, MRO businesses sometimes mistakenly assume that these capabilities are addressed by their EAM package.

ERP Systems

ERP systems, on the other hand, typically do include an MRP module that is designed to ingest a forecast and net out material requirements. Processing will consider current on hand inventory, open sales orders, scheduled jobs, incoming purchase orders, any bill of materials, and items in transit while transferring between sites. It will compare those current state values to the replenishment policy fields plus any monthly or weekly forecasts to determine when to suggest replenishment (a date) and how much to replenish (a quantity).

So, why not use the ERP system alone to net out the supply plan to prevent shortages and excess? First, while ERP systems have a placeholder for a forecast and some systems can net out supply using their MRP modules, they don’t make it easy to reconcile planned demand requirements associated with capital projects. Most of the time, the data on when planned projects will occur is maintained outside of the ERP, especially the project’s bill of materials detailing what parts will be needed to support the project. Second, many ERP systems don’t offer anything effective when it comes to predictive capabilities, relying instead on simple math that just won’t work for service parts due to the high prevalence of intermittent demand. Finally, ERP systems don’t have flexible user-friendly interfaces that support interacting with the forecasts and supply plan.

Reorder Point Logic

Both ERP and EAM have placeholders for reorder point replenishment methods such as Min/Max levels. You can use inventory optimization software to populate these fields with the risk-adjusted reorder point policies. Then within the ERP or EAM systems, orders are triggered whenever actual (not forecasted) demand drives on-hand stock below the Min. This type of policy doesn’t use a traditional forecast that projects demand week-over-week or month-over-month and is often referred to as “demand driven replenishment” (since orders only occur when actual demand drives stock below a user defined threshold).

But just because it isn’t using a period-over-period forecast doesn’t mean it isn’t being predictive. Reorder point policies should be based on a prediction of demand over a replenishment lead time plus a buffer to protect against demand and supply variability. MRO businesses need to know the stockout risk they are incurring with any given stocking policy. After all, inventory management is risk management – especially in MRO businesses when the cost of stockout is so high. Yet, ERP and EAM do not offer any capabilities to risk-adjust stocking policies. They force users to manually generate these policies externally or to use basic rule of thumb math that doesn’t detail the risks associated with the choice of policy.

Summary

Supply chain planning functionality such as inventory optimization isn’t the core focus of EAM  and ERP. You should leverage add-on planning platforms, like Smart IP&O, that support statistical forecasting, planned project management, and inventory optimization. Smart IP&O will develop forecasts and stocking policies that can be input to an EAM or ERP system to drive daily ordering.

 

 

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.

 

    Why MRO Businesses Should Care About Excess Inventory

    Do MRO companies genuinely prioritize reducing excess spare parts inventory? From an organizational standpoint, our experience suggests not necessarily. Boardroom discussions typically revolve around expanding fleets, acquiring new customers, meeting service level agreements (SLAs), modernizing infrastructure, and maximizing uptime. In industries where assets supported by spare parts cost hundreds of millions or generate significant revenue (e.g., mining or oil & gas), the value of the inventory just doesn’t raise any eyebrows, and organizations tend to overlook massive amounts of excessive inventory.

    Consider a public transit agency.  In most major cities, the annual operating budgets will exceed $3 billion.  Capital expenses for trains, subway cars, and infrastructure may reach hundreds of millions annually. Consequently, a spare parts inventory valued at $150 million might not grab the attention of the CFO or general manager, as it represents a small percentage of the balance sheet.  Moreover, in MRO-based industries, many parts need to support equipment fleets for a decade or more, making additional stock a necessary asset. In some sectors like utilities, holding extra stock can even be incentivized to ensure that equipment is kept in a state of good repair.

    We have seen concerns about excess stock arise when warehouse space is limited. I recall, early in my career, witnessing a public transit agency’s rail yard filled with rusted axles valued at over $100,000 each.  I was told the axles were forced to be exposed to the elements due to insufficient warehouse space. The opportunity cost associated with the space consumed by extra stock becomes a consideration when warehouse capacity is exhausted. The primary consideration that trumps all other decisions is how the stock ensures high service levels for internal and external customers.  Inventory planners worry far more about blowback from stockouts than they do from overbuying.  When a missing part leads to an SLA breach or downed production line, resulting in millions in penalties and unrecoverable production output, it is understandable.

    Asset-intensive companies are missing one giant point. That is, the extra stock doesn’t insulate against stockouts; it contributes to them. The more excess you have, the lower your overall service level because the cash needed to purchase parts is finite, and cash spent on excess stock means there isn’t cash available for the parts that need it.  Even publicly funded MRO businesses, like utilities and transit agencies, acknowledge the need to optimize spending, now more than ever.  As one materials manager shared, “We can no longer fix problems with bags of cash from Washington.”  So, they must do more with less, ensuring optimal allocation across the tens of thousands of parts they manage.

    This is where state-of-the-art inventory optimization software comes in, predicting the required inventory for targeted service levels, identifying when stock levels yield negative returns, and recommending reallocations for improved overall service levels.  Smart Software has helped asset intensive MRO based businesses optimize reorder levels across each part for decades. Give us a call to learn more. 

     

     

    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.

     

      Are You Playing the Inventory Guessing Game?

      Some companies invest in software to help them manage their inventory, whether it’s spare parts or finished goods. But a surprising number of others play the Inventory Guessing Game every day, trusting to an imagined “Golden Gut” or to plain luck to set their inventory control parameters. But what kind of results do you expect with that approach?

      How good are you at intuiting the right values? This blog post challenges you to guess the best Min and Max values for a notional inventory item. We’ll show you its demand history, give you a few relevant facts, then you can pick Min and Max values and see how well they would work. Ready?

      The Challenge

      Figure 1 shows the daily demand history of the item. The average demand is 2 units per day. Replenishment lead time is a constant 10 days (which is unrealistic but works in your favor). Orders that cannot be filled immediately from stock cannot be backordered and are lost. You want to achieve at least an 80% fill rate, but not at any cost. You also want to minimize the average number of units on hand while still achieving at least an 80% fill rate. What Min and Max values would produce an 80% fill rate with the lowest average number of units on hand? [Record your answers for checking later. The solution appears below at the end of the article.]

      Are You Playing the Inventory Guessing Game-1

      Computing the Best Min and Max Values

      The way to determine the best values is to use a digital twin, also known as a Monte Carlo simulation. The analysis creates a multitude of demand scenarios and passes them through the mathematical logic of the inventory control system to see what values will be taken on by key performance indicators (KPI’s).

      We built a digital twin for this problem and systematically exercised it with 1,085 pairs of Min and Max values. For each pair, we simulated 365 days of operation a total of 100 times. Then we averaged the results to assess the performance of the Min/Max pair in terms of two KPI’s: fill rate and average on hand inventory.

      Figure 2 shows the results. The inherent tradeoff between inventory size and fill rate is clear in the figure: if you want a higher fill rate, you have to accept a larger inventory. However, at each level of inventory there is a range of fill rates, so the game is to find the Min/Max pair that yields the highest fill rate for any given size inventory.

      A different way to interpret Figure 2 is to focus on the dashed green line marking the target 80% fill rate. There are many Min/Max pairs that can hit near the 80% target, but they differ in inventory size from about 6 to about 8 units. Figure 3 zooms in on that region of Figure 2 to show  quite a number of Min/Max pairs that are competitive.

      We sorted the results of all 1,085 simulations to identify what economists call the efficient frontier. The efficient frontier is the set of most efficient Min/Max pairs to exploit the tradeoff between fill rate and units on hand. That is, it is a list of Min/Max pairs that provide the least cost way to achieve any desired fill rate, not just 80%. Figure 4 shows the efficient frontier for this problem. Moving from left to right, you can read off the lowest price you would have to pay (as measured by average inventory size) to achieve any target fill rate. For example, to achieve a 90% fill rate, you would have to carry an average inventory of about 10 units.

      Figures 2, 3, and 4 show results for various Min/Max pairs but do not display the values of Min and Max behind each point. Table 1 displays all the simulation data: the values of Min, Max, average units on hand and fill rate. The answer to the guessing game is highlighted in the first line of the table: Min=7 and Max=131. Did you get the right answer, or something close2? Did you maybe get onto the efficient frontier?

      Conclusions

      Maybe you got lucky, or maybe you do indeed have a Golden Gut, but it’s more likely you didn’t get the right answer, and it’s even more likely you didn’t even try. Figuring out the right answer is extremely difficult without using the digital twin. Guessing is unprofessional.

      One step up from guessing is “guess and see”, in which you implement your guess and then wait a while (months?) to see if you like the results. That tactic is at least “scientific”, but it is inefficient.

      Now consider the effort to work out the best (Min,Max) pairs for thousands of items. At that scale, there is even less justification for playing the Inventory Guessing Game. The right answer is to play it… Smart3.

      1 This answer has a bonus, in that it achieves a bit more than 80% fill rate at a lower average inventory size than the Min/Max combination that hit exactly 80%. In other words, (7,13) is on the efficient frontier.

      2 Because these results come from a simulation instead of an exact mathematical equation, there is a certain margin of error associated with each estimated fill rate and inventory level. However, because the average results were based on 100 simulations each 365 days long, the margins of error are small. Across all experiments, the average standard errors in fill rate and mean inventory were, respectively, only 0.009% and 0.129 units.

      3 In case you didn’t know this, one of the founders of Smart Software was … Charlie Smart.

      Are You Playing the Inventory Guessing Game-111

      Are You Playing the Inventory Guessing Game-Table 1