December On The Floor

For On The Floor: Spare Advice

EP Editorial Staff | December 19, 2013

rick carter

By Rick Carter, Executive Editor

Things have come a long way from the days when spare-parts hoarding and stashing was not only common practice, but often the only guarantee that items would be on hand when needed. This still happens, of course, but with less frequency and is frowned upon. Advances in electronic parts tracking and ordering have taken spare-parts management out of the dusty corners into the light. Now, most technicians appreciate that a well-managed spare-parts management “system” (whether handled in-house or by vendors) can keep costs low and inventory available for virtually all situations.

How do your spare-parts management practices stack up? If you’re like most MT Reader Panelists, they’ve improved significantly in recent years, though tweaking may still be needed. Here’s our group’s perspective on this key sector of maintenance support:

Q: How does your operation manage its spare-parts inventory? How efficient is it?

“We have a central location where the parts are stored. In that location, we have the purchaser and an attendant. The attendant helps everyone who enters the parts area to find and check out all parts. This ensures that part counts are correct. The Maintenance Manager manages the system [aided by] a Parts Review Committee that will look at parts in the system and make decisions on each part as needed. It works quite well.”

 …Production Support Manager, Midwest  

“We use an integrator to manage our storeroom. It is relatively efficient. We have been using this integrator for nearly eight years.”

…Reliability Maintenance Engineer, South

“Our system is a computerized inventory-control system managed by two people. We’ve used it for about eight years with very good success. It is attached to the equipment we are using and can inform us on what parts we buy most. This then relates back to the maintenance group for equipment-reliability evaluations. Parts are handed out as needed and logged in by the user. About 90% of the time we know what part was removed and where it was used.”

…Senior Maintenance Engineer, West


Q: How critical is good spare-parts management to your operation’s success?

“Very critical, because we need to maintain high uptime. Parts people work very closely with the maintenance people so there is no downtime due to lack of a part.”

…Senior Maintenance Engineer, West 

“With some of the turnarounds we have, it is quite important to have the emergency parts when we need them.”

…Senior Maintenance Mechanic, South

“Because we have mostly foreign-made equipment, spare parts inventory is hugely important.”

…Reliability Maintenance Engineer, South


Q: What, if anything, could be done to improve how your operation manages spare parts?

“We need a more efficient way to return unused parts as well as an improved method for streamlining our inventory of must-have parts.”

…Maintenance Coordinator, Mid-Atlantic 

“At times there will not be 24/7 coverage. This can open up the possibility of having empty bins when you need a part. There are also times when people will not check out parts if there is no storeroom attendant. It’s unfortunate, but a fact of life.”

…Production Support Manager, Midwest

“We do a good job managing our spare parts. The maintenance engineers are responsible for deciding which spares should be stocked.”

… Reliability Maintenance Engineer, South

“Our process needs to be moved back in-house. We used to have in-plant cribs, which worked great. The system we have now is controlled by a commodity company that couldn’t manage its way out of a paper bag. It is so flawed that when we actually have a part at the warehouse we tear up paper like confetti and throw it in the air. It is very frustrating. We are constantly trying to buy parts online because a lot of the parts houses don’t keep inventory on hand, and we have long lead times that are unacceptable.”

…PM Leader, Midwest


Q: What lessons have you learned about effective spare-parts management?

“I’ve learned that the most critical spare part in your facility is the one you need, but don’t have.”

…Reliability Maintenance Engineer, South

“Control is the key: how much; how fast can I get it; how many do I need to keep in stock; who has access to these parts; and keeping good relationships with suppliers. Also, do not allow maintenance staff to keep parts in their toolboxes. This can be OK only if you can control it without too much pressure. And keep the lowest inventory on hand as possible; do not over-stock and do not always buy the cheapest.”

…Senior Maintenance Engineer, West

“Do not put repaired electronics boards back in the storeroom without first verifying that they work. Multiple times, we were burned by a repaired board that didn’t work when it was installed during a breakdown. So, we created a process to verify and track all repaired parts in our system. Also, centralize all of your parts. This will help you to reduce inventory and ensure you have the part when you need it.”

…Production Support Manager, Midwest  

“Limit physical access to spare parts. Unlimited access leads to loss of inventory control and stock-outs. Do not separate the spare-parts management function from the maintenance function. They should both be under the same manager to ensure common direction and goals. Also, make the effort to create and maintain bills of material for all critical equipment.”

…Maintenance Engineer, West

“The best spares system I’ve seen is at a soft-drink plant with a top-class CMMS program. They use bar codes to identify and track every major item on the plant floor and in their efficiently organized stores. Each mechanic uses a PDA to scan and upload/download data while performing service tasks. In-house stock is catalogued with cross-references to alternate options and all other items required, including exploded views of assemblies. This is all done on their PDAs. The worst systems are those with racks of many different parts lacking labels, no evidence of tracking and with too many items of unknown parentage.”

…Consultant, Tester and Trainer, Canada 


About the MT Reader Panel 

The Maintenance Technology Reader Panel is comprised of working maintenance practitioners who have volunteered to answer bimonthly questions prepared by our editorial staff. Panelist identities are purposely not revealed, and their responses are not necessarily projectable. The Panel welcomes new members: Have your comments and observations included in this column by joining the Reader Panel at Click here, and follow the instructions. If accepted, you will automatically be entered into a drawing for a cash prize after one year of active participation.




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