Daily Demand Scenarios

In this Videoblog, we will explain how time series forecasting has emerged as a pivotal tool, particularly at the daily level, which Smart Software has been pioneering since its inception over forty years ago. The evolution of business practices from annual to more refined temporal increments like monthly and now daily data analysis illustrates a significant shift in operational strategies.

Initially, during the 1980s, the usual practice of using annual data for forecasting and the introduction of monthly data was considered innovative. This period marked the beginning of a trend toward increasing the resolution of data analysis, enabling businesses to capture and react to faster shifts in market dynamics. As we progressed into the 2000s, the norm of monthly data analysis was well-established, but the ‘cool kids’—innovators at the edge of business analytics—began experimenting with weekly data. This shift was driven by the need to synchronize business operations with increasingly volatile market conditions and consumer behaviors that demanded more rapid responses than monthly cycles could provide. Today, in the 2020s, while monthly data analysis remains common, the frontier has shifted again, this time towards daily data analysis, with some pioneers even venturing into hourly analytics.

The real power of daily data analysis lies in its ability to provide a detailed view of business operations, capturing daily fluctuations that might be overlooked by monthly or weekly data.  However, the complexities of daily data necessitate advanced analytical approaches to extract meaningful insights. At this level, understanding demand requires grappling with concepts like intermittency, seasonality, trend, and volatility. Intermittency, or the occurrence of zero-demand days, becomes more pronounced at a daily granularity and demands specialized forecasting techniques like Croston’s method for accurate predictions. Seasonality at a daily level can reveal multiple patterns—such as increased sales on weekends or holidays—that monthly data would mask. Trends can be observed as short-term increases or decreases in demand, demanding agile adjustment strategies. Finally, volatility at the daily level is accentuated, showing more significant swings in demand than seen in monthly or weekly analyses, which can affect inventory management strategies and the need for buffer stock. This level of complexity underscores the need for sophisticated analytical tools and expertise in daily data analysis.

In conclusion, the evolution from less frequent to daily time series forecasting marks a substantial shift in how businesses approach data analysis. This transition not only reflects the accelerating pace of business but also highlights the requirement for tools that can handle increased data granularity. Smart Software’s dedication to refining its analytical capabilities to manage daily data highlights the industry’s broader move towards more dynamic, responsive, and data-driven decision-making. This shift is not merely about keeping pace with time but about leveraging detailed insights to forge competitive advantages in an ever-changing business environment.

 

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.

 

    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.

     

      Top Differences Between Inventory Planning for Finished Goods and for MRO and Spare Parts

      What’s different about inventory planning for Maintenance, Repair, and Operations (MRO) compared to inventory planning in manufacturing and distribution environments? In short, it’s the nature of the demand patterns combined with the lack of actionable business knowledge.

      Demand Patterns

      Manufacturers and distributors tend to focus on the top sellers that generate the majority of their revenue. These items typically have high demand that is relatively easy to forecast with traditional time series models that capitalize on predictable trend and/or seasonality.  In contrast, MRO planners almost always deal with intermittent demand, which is more sparse, more random, and harder to forecast.  Furthermore, the fundamental quantities of interest are different. MRO planners ultimately care most about the “when” question:  When will something break? Whereas the others focus on the “how much” question of units sold.

       

      Business Knowledge

      Manufacturing and distribution planners can often count on gathering customer and sales feedback, which can be combined with statistical methods to improve forecast accuracy. On the other hand, bearings, gears, consumable parts, and repairable parts are rarely willing to share their opinions. With MRO, business knowledge about which parts will be needed and when just isn’t reliable (excepting planned maintenance when higher-volume consumable parts are replaced). So, MRO inventory planning success goes only as far as their probability models’ ability to predict future usage takes them. And since demand is so intermittent, they can’t get past Go with traditional approaches.

       

      Methods for MRO

      In practice, it is common for MRO and asset-intensive businesses to manage inventories by resorting to static Min/Max levels based on subjective multiples of average usage, supplemented by occasional manual overrides based on gut feel. The process becomes a bad mixture of static and reactive, with the result that a lot of time and money is wasted on expediting.

      There are alternative planning methods based more on math and data, though this style of planning is less common in MRO than in the other domains. There are two leading approaches to modeling part and machine breakdown: models based on reliability theory and “condition-based maintenance” models based on real-time monitoring.

       

      Reliability Models

      Reliability models are the simpler of the two and require less data. They assume that all items of the same type, say a certain spare part, are statistically equivalent. Their key component is a “hazard function”, which describes the risk of failure in the next little interval of time. The hazard function can be translated into something better suited for decision making: the “survival function”, which is the probability that the item is still working after X amount of use (where X might be expressed in days, months, miles, uses, etc.). Figure 1 shows a constant hazard function and its corresponding survival function.

       

      MRO and Spare Parts function and its survival function

      Figure 1: Constant hazard function and its survival function

       

      A hazard function that doesn’t change implies that only random accidents will cause a failure. In contrast, a hazard function that increases over time implies that the item is wearing out. And a decreasing hazard function implies that an item is settling in. Figure 2 shows an increasing hazard function and its corresponding survival function.

       

      MRO and Spare Parts Increasing hazard function and survival function

      Figure 2: Increasing hazard function and its survival function

       

      Reliability models are often used for inexpensive parts, such as mechanical fasteners, whose replacement may be neither difficult nor expensive (but still might be essential).

       

      Condition-Based Maintenance

      Models based on real-time monitoring are used to support condition-based maintenance (CBM) for expensive items like jet engines. These models use data from sensors embedded in the items themselves. Such data are usually complex and proprietary, as are the probability models supported by the data. The payoff from real-time monitoring is that you can see trouble coming, i.e., the deterioration is made visible, and forecasts can predict when the item will hit its red line and therefore need to be taken off the field of play. This allows individualized, pro-active maintenance or replacement of the item.

      Figure 3 illustrates the kind of data used in CBM. Each time the system is used, there is a contribution to its cumulative wear and tear. (However, note that sometimes use can improve the condition of the unit, as when rain helps keep a piece of machinery cool). You can see the general trend upward toward a red line after which the unit will require maintenance. You can extrapolate the cumulative wear to estimate when it will hit the red line and plan accordingly.

       

      MRO and Spare Parts real-time monitoring for condition-based maintenance

      Figure 3: Illustrating real-time monitoring for condition-based maintenance

       

      To my knowledge, nobody makes such models of their finished goods customers to predict when and how much they will next order, perhaps because the customers would object to wearing brain monitors all the time. But CBM, with its complex monitoring and modeling, is gaining in popularity for can’t-fail systems like jet engines. Meanwhile, classical reliability models still have a lot of value for managing large fleets of cheaper but still essential items.

       

      Smart’s approach
      The above condition-based maintenance and reliability approaches require an excessive data collection and cleansing burden that many MRO companies are unable to manage. For those companies, Smart offers an approach that does not require development of reliability models. Instead, it exploits usage data in a different way. It leverages probability-based models of both usage and supplier lead times to simulate thousands of possible scenarios for replenishment lead times and demand.  The result is an accurate distribution of demand and lead times for each consumable part that can be exploited to determine optimal stocking parameters.   Figure 4 shows a simulation that begins with a scenario for spare part demand (upper plot) then produces a scenario of on-hand supply for particular choices of Min/Max values (lower line). Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can be estimated by averaging the results of many such simulations.

      MRO and Spare Parts simulation of demand and on-hand inventory

      Figure 4: An example of a simulation of spare part demand and on-hand inventory

      You can read about Smart’s approach to forecasting spare parts here: https://smartcorp.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Probabilistic-Forecasting-for-Intermittent-Demand.pdf

       

       

      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.

       

        Centering Act: Spare Parts Timing, Pricing, and Reliability

        Just as the renowned astronomer Copernicus transformed our understanding of astronomy by placing the sun at the center of our universe, today, we invite you to re-center your approach to inventory management. And while not quite as enlightening, this advice will help your company avoid being caught in the gravitational pull of inventory woes—constantly orbiting between stockouts, surplus gravity, and the unexpected cosmic expenses of expediting?

        In this article, we’ll walk you through the process of crafting a spare parts inventory plan that prioritizes availability metrics such as service levels and fill rates while ensuring cost efficiency. We’ll focus on an approach to inventory planning called Service Level-Driven Inventory Optimization. Next, we’ll discuss how to determine what parts you should include in your inventory and those that might not be necessary. Lastly, we’ll explore ways to enhance your service-level-driven inventory plan consistently.

        In service-oriented businesses, the consequences of stockouts are often very significant.  Achieving high service levels depends on having the right parts at the right time. However, having the right parts isn’t the only factor. Your Supply Chain Team must develop a consensus inventory plan for every part, then continuously update it to reflect real-time changes in demand, supply, and financial priorities.

         

        Managing inventory with Service-level-driven planning combines the ability to plan thousands of items with high-level strategic modeling. This requires addressing core issues facing inventory executives:

        • Lack of control over supply and associated lead times.
        • Unpredictable intermittent demand.
        • Conflicting priorities between maintenance/mechanical teams and Materials Management.
        • Reactive “wait and see” approach to planning.
        • Misallocated inventory, causing stockouts and excess.
        • Lack of trust in systems and processes.

        The key to optimal service parts management is to grasp the balance between providing excellent service and controlling costs. To do this, we must compare the costs of stockout with the cost of carrying additional spare parts inventory. The costs of a stockout will be higher for critical or emergency spares, when there is a service level agreement with external customers, for parts used in multiple assets, for parts with longer supplier lead times, and for parts with a single supplier. The cost of inventory may be assessed by considering the unit costs, interest rates, warehouse space that will be consumed, and potential for obsolescence (parts used on a soon-to-be-retired fleet have a higher obsolescence risk, for example).

        To arbitrate how much stock should be put on the shelf for each part, it is critical to establish consensus on the desired key metrics that expose the tradeoffs the business must make to achieve the desired KPIs. These KPIs will include Service Levels that tell you how often you meet usage needs without falling short on stock, Fill Rates that tell you what percentage of demand is filled, and Ordering costs detail the expenses incurred when you place and receive replenishment orders. You also have Holding costs, which encompass expenses like obsolescence, taxes, and warehousing, and Shortage costs that pertain to expenses incurred when stockouts happen.

        An MRO business or Aftermarket Parts Planning team might desire a 99% service level across all parts – i.e., the minimum stockout risk that they are willing to accept is 1%. But what if the amount of inventory needed to support that service level is too expensive? To make an informed decision on whether there is going to be a return on that additional inventory investment, you’ll need to know the stockout costs and compare that to the inventory costs. To get stockout costs, multiply two key elements: the cost per stockout and the projected number of stockouts. To get inventory value, multiply the units required by the unit cost of each part. Then determine the annual holding costs (typically 25-35% of the unit cost). Choose the option that yields a total lower cost. In other words, if the benefit associated with adding more stock (reduced shortage costs) outweighs the cost (higher inventory holding costs), then go for it. A thorough understanding of these metrics and the associated tradeoffs serves as the compass for decision-making.

        Modern software aids in this process by allowing you to simulate a multitude of future scenarios. By doing so, you can assess how well your current inventory stocking strategies are likely to perform in the face of different demand and supply patterns. If anything falls short or goes awry, it’s time to recalibrate your approach, factoring in current data on usage history, supplier lead times, and costs to prevent both stockouts and overstock situations.

         

        Enhance your service-level-driven inventory plan consistently.

        In conclusion, it’s crucial to assess your service-level-driven plan continuously. By systematically constructing and refining performance scenarios, you can define key metrics and goals, benchmark expected performance, and automate the calculation of stocking policies for all items. This iterative process involves monitoring, revising, and repeating each planning cycle.

        The depth of your analysis within these stocking policies relies on the data at your disposal and the configuration capabilities of your planning system. To achieve optimal outcomes, it’s imperative to maintain ongoing data analysis. This implies that a manual approach to data examination is typically insufficient for the needs of most organizations.

        For information on how Smart Software can help you meet your service supply chain goals with service-driven planning and more, visit the following blogs.

        –   “Explaining What  Service-Level Means in Your Inventory Optimization Software”  Stocking recommendations can be puzzling, especially when they clash with real-world needs.  In this post, we’ll break down what that 99% service level means and why it’s crucial for managing inventory effectively and keeping customers satisfied in today’s competitive landscape.

        –  “Service-Level-Driven Planning for Service Parts Businesses” Service-Level-Driven Service Parts Planning is a four-step process that extends beyond simplified forecasting and rule-of-thumb safety stocks. It provides service parts planners with data-driven, risk-adjusted decision support.

        –   “How to Choose a Target Service Level.” This is a strategic decision about inventory risk management, considering current service levels and fill rates, replenishment lead times, and trade-offs between capital, stocking and opportunity costs.  Learn approaches that can help.

        –   “The Right Forecast Accuracy Metric for Inventory Planning.”  Just because you set a service level target doesn’t mean you’ll actually achieve it. If you are interested in optimizing stock levels, focus on the accuracy of the service level projection. Learn how.

         

        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.