Learning from Inventory Models

In this video blog, we explore the integral role that inventory models play in shaping the decision-making processes of professionals across various industries. These models, whether they are tangible computer simulations or intangible mental constructs, serve as critical tools in managing the complexities of modern business environments. The discussion begins with an overview of how these models are utilized to predict outcomes and streamline operations, emphasizing their relevance in a constantly evolving market landscape.

​The discussion further explores how various models distinctly influence strategic decision-making processes. For instance, the mental models professionals develop through experience often guide initial responses to operational challenges. These models are subjective, built from personal insights and past encounters with similar situations, allowing quick, intuitive decision-making. On the other hand, computer-based models provide a more objective framework. They use historical data and algorithmic calculations to forecast future scenarios, offering a quantitative basis for decisions that need to consider multiple variables and potential outcomes. This section highlights specific examples, such as the impact of adjusting order quantities on inventory costs and ordering frequency or the effects of fluctuating lead times on service levels and customer satisfaction.

In conclusion, while mental models provide a framework based on experience and intuition, computer models offer a more detailed and numbers-driven perspective. Combining both types of models allows for a more robust decision-making process, balancing theoretical knowledge with practical experience. This approach enhances the understanding of inventory dynamics and equips professionals with the tools to adapt to changes effectively, ensuring sustainability and competitiveness in their respective fields.

 

 

Looking for Trouble in Your Inventory Data

In this video blog, the spotlight is on a critical aspect of inventory management: the analysis and interpretation of inventory data. The focus is specifically on a dataset from a public transit agency detailing spare parts for buses. With over 13,700 parts recorded, the data presents a prime opportunity to delve into the intricacies of inventory operations and identify areas for improvement.

Understanding and addressing anomalies within inventory data is important for several reasons. It not only ensures the efficient operation of inventory systems but also minimizes costs and enhances service quality. This video blog explores four fundamental rules of inventory management and demonstrates, through real-world data, how deviations from these rules can signal underlying issues. By examining aspects such as item cost, lead times, on-hand and on-order units, and the parameters guiding replenishment policies, the video provides a comprehensive overview of the potential challenges and inefficiencies lurking within inventory data. 

We highlight the importance of regular inventory data analysis and how such an analysis can serve as a powerful tool for inventory managers, allowing them to detect and rectify problems before they escalate. Relying on antiquated approaches can lead to inaccuracies, resulting in either excess inventory or unfulfilled customer expectations, which in turn could cause considerable financial repercussions and inefficiencies in operations.

Through a detailed examination of the public transit agency’s dataset, the video blog conveys a clear message: proactive inventory data review is essential for maintaining optimal inventory operations, ensuring that parts are available when needed, and avoiding unnecessary expenditures.

Leveraging advanced predictive analytics tools like Smart Inventory Planning and Optimization will help you control your inventory data. Smart IP&O will show you decisive demand and inventory insights into evolving spare parts demand patterns at every moment, empowering your organization with the information needed for strategic decision-making.

 

 

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.

 

    Head to Head: Which Service Parts Inventory Policy is Best?

    Our customers have usually settled into one way to manage their service parts inventory. The professor in me would like to think that the chosen inventory policy was a reasoned choice among considered alternatives, but more likely it just sort of happened. Maybe the inventory honcho from long ago had a favorite and that choice stuck. Maybe somebody used an EAM or ERP system that offered only one choice. Perhaps there were some guesses made, based on the conditions at the time.

    The Competitors

    Too seldom, businesses make these choices in haphazard ways. But modern service parts planning software lets you be more systematic about your choices. This post demonstrates that proposition by making objective comparisons among three popular inventory policies:  Order Up To, Reorder Point/Order Quantity, and Min/Max.  I discussed each of these policies in this video blog.

    • Order Up To. This is a periodic review policy where every T days, on-hand inventory is tallied and an order of random size is placed to bring the stock level back up to S units.
    • Q, R or Reorder Point/Order Quantity. Q, R is a continuous review policy where every day, inventory is tallied. If there are Q or fewer units on hand, an order of fixed size is placed for R more units.
    • Min, Max is another continuous review policy where every day, inventory is tallied. If there are Min or fewer units on hand, an order is placed to bring the stock level back up to Max units.

    Inventory theory says these choices are listed in increasing order of effectiveness. The first option, Order Up To, is clearly the simplest and cheapest to implement, but it closes its eyes to what’s going on for long periods of time.  Imposing a specified passage of time in between orders makes it, in theory, less flexible. In contrast, the two continuous review options keep an eye on what’s happening all the time, so they can react to potential stockouts quicker. The Min/Max option is, in theory, more flexible than the option that uses a fixed reorder quantity because the size of the order dynamically changes to accommodate the demand.

    That’s the theory. This post examines evidence from head-to-head comparisons to check the theory and put concrete numbers on the relative performance of the three policies.

    The Meaning of “Best”

    How should we keep score in this tournament? If you are a regular reader of this Smart Forecaster blog, you know that the core of inventory planning is a tug-of-war between two opposing objectives: keeping inventory lean vs keeping item availability metrics such as service level high.

    To simplify things, we will compute “one number to rule them all”: the average operating cost. The winning policy will be the one with the lowest average.

    This average is the sum of three components: the cost of holding inventory (“holding cost”), the cost of ordering replenishment units (“ordering cost”) and the cost of losing a sale (“shortage cost”). To make things concrete, we used the following assumptions:

    • Each service part is valued at $1,000.
    • Annual holding cost is 10% of item value, or $100 per year per unit.
    • Processing each replenishment order costs $20 per order.
    • Each unit demanded but not provided costs the value of the part, $1,000.

    For simplicity, we will refer to the average operating cost as simply “the cost”.

    Of course, the lowest average cost can be achieved by getting out of the business. So the competition required a performance constraint on item availability: Each option had to achieve a fill rate of at least 99%.

    The Alternatives Duke it Out

    A key element of context is whether stockouts result in losses or backorders. Assuming that the service part in question is critical, we assumed that unfilled orders are lost, which means that a competitor fills the order. In an MRO environment, this will mean additional downtime due to stockout.

    To compare the alternatives, we used our predictive modeling engine to run a large number of Monte Carlo simulations.  Each simulation involved specifying the parameter values of each policy (e.g., Min and Max values), generating a demand scenario, feeding that into the logic of the policy, and measuring the resulting cost averaged over 365 days of operation. Repeating this process 1,000 times and averaging the 1,000 resulting costs gave the final result for each policy.  

    To make the comparison fair, each alternative had to be designed for its best performance. So we searched the “design space” of each policy to find the design with the lowest cost. This required repeating the process described in the previous paragraph for many pairs of parameter values and identifying the pair yielding the lost average annual operating cost.

    Using the algorithms in Smart Inventory Optimization (SIOTM) we made head-to-head-to-head comparisons under the following assumptions about demand and supply:

    • Item demand was assumed to be intermittent and highly variable but relatively simple in that there was neither trend nor seasonality, as is often true for service parts. Daily mean demand was 5 units with a large standard deviation of 13 units. Figure 1 shows a sample of one year’s demand. We have chosen a very challenging demand pattern, in which some days have 10 to even 20 times the average demand.

    Daily part demand was assumed to be intermittent and very spikey.

    Figure 1: Daily part demand was assumed to be intermittent and very spikey.

    ​​

    • Suppliers’ replenishment lead times were 14 days 75% of the time and 21 days otherwise. This reflects the fact that there is always uncertainty in the supply chain.

     

    And the Winner Is…

    Was the theory right? Kinda’ sorta’.

    Table 1 shows the results of the simulation experiments. For each of the three competing policies, it shows the average annual operating cost, the margin of error (technically, an approximate 95% confidence interval for the mean cost), and the apparent best choices for parameter values.

    Results of the simulated comparisons

    Table 1: Results of the simulated comparisons

    For example, the average cost for the (T,S) policy when T is fixed at 30 days was $41,680. But the Plus/Minus implies that the results are compatible with a “true” cost (i.e., the estimate from an infinite number of simulations) of anywhere between $39,890 and $43,650. The reason there is so much statistical uncertainty is the extremely spikey nature of demand in this example.

    Table 1 says that, in this example, the three policies fall in line with expectations. However, more useful conclusions would be:

    1. The three policies are remarkably similar in average cost. By clever choice of parameter values, one can get good results out of any of the three policies.
    2. Not shown in Table 1, but clear from the detailed simulation results, is that poor choices for parameter values can be disastrous for any policy.
    3. It is worth noting that the periodic review (T,S) policy was not allowed to optimize over possible values of T. We fixed T at 30 to mimic what is common in practice, but those who use the periodic review policy should consider other review periods. An additional experiment fixed the review period at T = 7 days. The average cost in this scenario was minimized at $36,551 ± $1,668 with S = 343. This result is better than that using T = 30 days.
    4. We should be careful about over-generalizing these results. They depend on the assumed values of the three cost parameters (holding, ordering and shortage) and the character of the demand process.
    5. It is possible to run experiments like those shown here automatically in Smart Inventory Optimization. This means that you too would be able to explore design choices in a rigorous way.

     

     

     

    The Forecast Matters, but Maybe Not the Way You Think

    True or false: The forecast doesn’t matter to spare parts inventory management.

    At first glance, this statement seems obviously false. After all, forecasts are crucial for planning stock levels, right?

    It depends on what you mean by a “forecast”. If you mean an old-school single-number forecast (“demand for item CX218b will be 3 units next week and 6 units the week after”), then no. If you broaden the meaning of forecast to include a probability distribution taking account of uncertainties in both demand and supply, then yes.

    The key reality is that many items, especially spare and service parts, have unpredictable, intermittent demand. (Supplier lead times can also be erratic, especially when parts are sourced from a backlogged OEM.)  We have observed that while manufacturers and distributors typically experience intermittent demand on just 20% or more of their items the percentage grows to 80%+ for MRO based businesses.  This means historical data often show periods of zero demand interspersed with random periods of non-zero demand. Sometimes, these non-zero demands are as low as 1 or 2 units, while at other times, they unexpectedly spike to quantities several times larger than their average.

    This isn’t like the kind of data usually faced by your peer “demand planners” in retail, consumer products, and food and beverage. Those folks usually deal with larger quantities having proportionately less randomness. And they can surf on prediction-enhancing features like trends and stable seasonal patterns. Instead, spare parts usage is much more random, throwing a monkey wrench into the planning process, even in the minority of cases in which there are detectable seasonal variations.

    In the realm of intermittent demand, the best forecast available will significantly deviate from the actual demand. Unlike consumer products with medium to high volume and frequency, a service part’s forecast can miss the mark by hundreds of percentage points. A forecast of one or two units, on average, will always miss when the actual demand is zero. Even with advanced business intelligence or machine learning algorithms, the error in forecasting the non-zero demands will still be substantial.

    Perhaps because of the difficulty of statistical forecasting in the inventory domain, inventory planning in practice often relies on intuition and planner knowledge. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t scale across tens of thousands of parts. Intuition just cannot cope with the full range of demand and lead time possibilities, let alone accurately estimate the  probability of each possible scenario. Even if your company has one or two exceptional intuitive forecasters, personnel retirements and product line reorganizations mean that intuitive forecasting can’t be relied on going forward.

    The solution lies in shifting focus from traditional forecasts to predicting probabilities for each potential demand and lead time scenario. This shift transforms the conversation from an unrealistic “one number plan” to a range of numbers with associated probabilities. By predicting probabilities for each demand and lead time possibility, you can better align stock levels with the risk tolerance for each group of parts.

    Software that generates demand and lead time scenarios, repeating this process tens of thousands of times, can accurately simulate how current stocking policies will perform against these policies. If the performance in the simulation falls short and you are predicted to stock out more often than you are comfortable with or you are left with excess inventory, conducting what-if scenarios allows adjustments to policies. You can then predict how these revised policies will fare against random demands and lead times. You can conduct this process iteratively and refine it with each new what-if scenario or lean on system prescribed policies that optimally strike a balance between risk and costs.

    So, if you are planning service and spare parts inventories, stop worrying about predicting demand the way traditional retail and CPG demand planners do it. Focus instead on how your stocking policies will withstand the randomness of the future, adjusting them based on your risk tolerance. To do this, you’ll need the right set of decision support software, and this is how Smart Software can help.

     

     

    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.