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MRO Materials – Making the Invisible Visible

InventoryWhat’s on your shelves? 

Continuing our series on “Making the Invisible Visible.”  Let’s try to answer some fundamental questions about the state of maintenance and reliability practices from MRO material’s data contained in any number of ERP, EAM, PDM, MES, CAD systems.  If we can?

Hint:  Begin with configuration management core principles.  Know all component and physical asset by brand and sources of supply.  Then look for fundamental relationships between the component part and the physical asset; equipment working in combination with other equipment (production sets); and the production set working at a particular site(s) or geographic location.   Will this data help us understand maintenance and reliability practices?  Without question the answer is yes, even if all this information is disconnected or unavailable.  Let’s get started.

Bigger View—”Industry” Knows the State of “Your” Maintenance and Reliability Practices

Imagine that you are an industrial spy. Not an evil one, but one hired to answer relatively straightforward questions.  What industries exist in a certain geographic region? Do those industries require significant investment in physical assets? What are the condition of those assets? Are those assets leading-edge or from days gone by? Is that industry successful in mitigating failure?  What if you knew the answers to these questions impacted your competitive advantage on the marketplace?  Would having the answer be us importance to you, how would you go about getting answers

Hint: You are what you eat and do! We, my “military buddies and I” used to assert that someone could tell all about us by simply studying our mail, our garbage, where we lived, our mode of transportation, how we dressed and so on.  So as one who has worked in industrial MRO distribution, I never thought twice that our warehouses were comprised the parts and pieces of our customer’s operations.  And this told me a lot!

So I ask you… if the MRO distributor’s shelves are lined with casing, drill string, pit liners, shut-off valves… what industry am I?  If the next set of shelves are lined with motors, pumps, drives, filters, belts, gaskets… what industry am I?  And the next set shelves lined with high-purity stainless steel pipe and fittings, control valves, and FDA grade conveyor belts… what industry am I?

Now industrial spy, tell me the condition of the assets based on what the distributor is stocking or buying out?  What components are likely to fail based on distributor stocking levels? How often is failure going to occur based on distributor sales?  Who has this information an end-user industrial operation?  Try the purchasing department.   Have you looked there lately?

Smaller View – Looking inside the Operation’s Data

Riddle me this… Do you really need to walk into the operations to answer questions about the state of maintenance and reliability practices of a particular operations?  Let’s get real… real local… real personal.  What if you used an operation’s MRO material investments as a proxy for the state of overall and specific asset condition, risk mitigation, maintenance and reliability practices, and improvement efforts? What additional insight might we gain if knew where the MRO item is consumed, intended to be consumed, what consumes it (where used),  what labor, special equipment and tools are required to install it, and whether the equipment or physical asset needs to be down, AKA not available for use to make the repair or replacement a reality?  Let me ask you again… do you really need to walk into the operations to answer questions about the state maintenance and reliability practices of a particular operations?  Think with me on this.

Time to Kick the BOX:  Practical Insight is Useful… so use it!

Give yourself permission to have and use common sense.  For example.  Answer these questions?  Can you tell what the sport is by the number of players, their roles, etc.? This is the same as answering the “what industry am I question.”

Imagine a football team that had no bench players at the ready, what chances would the team have of winning the championship let alone surviving a rigorous season?  Can you imagine an operations dependent on physical assets not having spare parts?  Spares are simply a practical reality… where demand lead time for an item is often far less than that of supply lead time to produce it… “just the way life is” as my daughter has taught me.  Let’s continue.

Can you tell the condition of the team’s starting players by how often the coaches go to the bench to find replacements? Consider the use Mean Time Between Issue (MTBI) as a useful proxy for Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF)—a proxy for asset availability and reliability.

Can you tell which the team’s positions have the highest injury by the number of back-ups they have on the bench?  If the storeroom shelves are stuffed full of parts what does it imply about real or imagined future failure?

Can you tell which team’s positions are more important by their role? What if the MRO item is not associated to a piece of equipment, can you tell the parts importance by description only, i.e. if it is important to the up-time and throughput of the operations?  Some would argue that power transmission components are by default “important” even if you don’t know where they are used.  We will discuss the role of “criticality” classifications in a future blog… another Kick the Box session you won’t want to miss!

Lastly, should you always have a back-up center or quarterback even if they haven’t seen playing time in the last three years?  Using likelihood of failure logic, how long an item has sat on the shelf doesn’t matter, it’s whether it will be needed in a defined period going forward that matters.  I can’t tell you how many operations dispose of MRO items after not having been used in 36 to 48 months.  So long-lived inventory items also contain certain insight about aging equipment, about past investment decisions, and so on.

Sage Advice

My “sage” advice is simple… begin by Making the Invisible Visible – Data Matters by studying MRO materials data, its existence, its structure, its use, and its implication for future equipment performance.  Complete your analysis and then you tell me what the MRO material’s data is telling you about the state of maintenance and reliability practices?

Let me know your thoughts!

Future Blogs – Making the Invisible Visible series:  “Criticality Matters,” “Front Log Trumps Backlog,”  “How Many Electricians Do I You Need?”


Useful Links:

MRO Inventory The Experts Monument to Failure

MRO Connection



I can be reach me at [email protected]