Manage Supply Chains To Cut Downtime
EP Editorial Staff | September 1, 2021
When parts delivery is inconsistent, stay on top of your inventory needs and understand supplier capabilities.
By Paul Lachance, Dude Solutions
Since the pandemic ricocheted across the global economy, supply chains have confronted unprecedented disruption. While American manufacturers have certainly become accustomed to supply-chain crises over the years, the current situation is a new level. There is no denying that this era-defining public health crisis has introduced supply-chain challenges that have crippled certain industries, halting production in countries worldwide.
Maintenance and operations specialists are familiar with unplanned downtime. It’s an unfortunate reality for professionals who manage shop-floor assets. The goal is to mitigate preventable risks so that products can come off the line efficiently, safely, and with superior quality. Downtime, exasperated by a “stock-out” (missing a critical spare-part), is particularly painful.
While supply-chain issues are always top of mind for maintenance teams, few have had to worry about the health of their suppliers at these unprecedented levels. Now, more than ever, manufacturers need to establish a robust asset-management plan that is bolstered by Industry 4.0 technology and cloud-based computerized maintenance management software (CMMS), to ensure business continuity.
Adjusting for Delays
When it comes to maintenance operations, proactivity is the only real countermeasure to shop-floor interruptions. Organizations have always needed to project future asset needs in line with current hardware lifecycles to avoid a lack of capacity. There is nothing worse than having certain production assets go end-of-life prematurely before a manufacturer can implement its replacement. This profit-killing gap becomes exacerbated when there are supply-chain issues.
Just-in-time (JIT) inventory management is the process of having parts arrive just before they’re needed. If done properly, JIT reduces overall stock quantities and controls costs. This model became impractical once the pandemic hit, as suppliers could not keep up with the sheer demand, turning “just in time” into “the shop floor is seriously behind.” The solution does not necessarily involve abandoning JIT inventory management altogether. With the help of CMMS software, JIT methods can be adjusted to account for supply-chain issues and delays.
At a rudimentary level, maintenance teams need to know their entire catalog of parts, where those parts are stored, which company provided them, and when orders are expected to be delivered. During times of supply- chain uncertainty, manufacturers must understand the status of every part—especially those that are low in inventory. Ideally, a job planner or maintenance technician should have excellent visibility into the parts they will need for preventive and corrective maintenance work orders—aided by barcode-scanning technology.
Automation is playing a larger role in this regard. The latest CMMS platforms email automatic reminders to maintenance operations when parts are low or out of stock. This alone will not prevent interruptions.
Performing routine maintenance is key. CMMS can record equipment repair histories and infer trends based on that information. Big data and analytics, combined with predictive analysis, provide some needed color to the health of a shop floor, optimizing maintenance at the asset and facility levels. It can even extend the time horizon of assets, yielding much-needed cushion when there is a disruption. By keeping an eye on every part, manufacturers can insulate themselves from supply-chain vulnerabilities, avoiding profit-killing stockouts..
Manufacturers must also engage with vendors to understand a supplier’s ability to meet demand. By instilling visibility with trading partners, organizations can anticipate supplier inventory flow, providing maintenance operations with a better sense of where parts stand. This kind of intelligence is possible with the digital transformation taking place across the supply chain. It alone, however, will not necessarily foster the resilience needed to overcome unplanned events, such as the Suez Canal becoming a massive logjam for global trade. There are certain supply-chain strategies that become useful in an uncertain environment and can help prevent the repercussions of a supply shortage.
Diversifying sources of supply, for example, will help mitigate supply-chain risks. If a major vendor is unable to fill an order, organizations cannot be afraid to approach local suppliers. If manufacturers do get desperate, they can always buy parts secondhand, or even look at previous generations, on new digital marketplaces.
When delivery is delayed, manufacturers must make sure they are protected. To make a vendor relationship more fruitful, organizations should strive to have airtight service-level agreements that provide a fully fledged escalation process when issues arise.
In 2021, maintenance and operations specialists have an opportunity to help their organizations reinterpret how they view infrastructure. Developing a comprehensive asset-management plan will mitigate shop-floor risk.
To accomplish this, organizations need reliable data from all their industrial systems. CMMS, aided by historical trends, analytics, and predictive capabilities, will improve the quality of data and analysis. In an environment where the unpredictable can shut down operations, it makes sense to gain control of the predictable. EP
Paul Lachance is Senior Manufacturing Adviser for Dude Solutions Inc., Cary, NC (dudesolutions.com). He has devoted his career to optimizing maintenance teams by enabling data-driven decisions and actionable insights. He wrote his first CMMS system in 2004 and continues to design and direct CMMS and EAM system development.