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.

 

    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.