Digital Spare Parts Management in lieu of Excel Lists
This is how machine manufacturers optimize their service operations
S for spare parts and E for Excel? No, say technology providers Bosch Cognitive Services and Syncron, both of whom specialize in the service business. Manual processes are no longer best practice in spare parts management.
Daniel Klumpp and Julian Weiss of Bosch Cognitive Services and Dr. Markus Malinen, Regional Manager of Syncron, all agree on this point. They explain how machine manufacturers can prepare their businesses for the digital future with just a few steps that will allow them to improve their master data quality and avoid downtimes.
Often, manual processes are still a part of inventory planning in the mechanical engineering industry. Which areas show the greatest potential for optimization, in their opinion?
Julian Weiss: In particular, we often observe that insufficient data quality becomes a challenge. Master data is often insufficiently maintained in Excel lists and parts are sold via a free dealer network and relabeled several times. This makes tracking and, ultimately, inventory optimization difficult, as manufacturers do not know where the parts actually are.
Dr. Markus Malinen: We also see great potential for optimization in the area of responsiveness. For a machine manufacturer to be able to react quickly to failures, you either have to stock up very high inventories or have a good forecast so that the parts you need are in the right place at the right time. This minimizes downtime and makes it possible to make better use of the availability of parts in the supply chain.
In that case, is the plant technician the one who suffers at the customer’s expense by either not having the required part or not being able to identify it in the event of a malfunction?
Daniel Klumpp: Yes, and in addition to that, there are fewer and fewer specialist technicians who are familiar with spare parts. Instead, non-professionals are often hired or employees from a non-specialist field are trained. The challenge is: How do you make up for this loss of knowledge? In this context, technologies for identifying parts are on the rise.
Which technologies are these? Many companies have already been working with supporting apps on mobile devices, among other things.
Daniel Klumpp: That is true; however, these systems are usually poorly integrated into the company’s overall IT infrastructure, if at all. Often there are even several apps available: One for determining the spare part, another for displaying the storage location. An overall solution looks different. Even QR codes or barcodes, which wear out over time, do not offer a real alternative. That is why we are considering so-called object recognition, which recognizes parts photographically in the least possible time and thus also identifies duplicates, for example.
Dr. Markus Malinen: The technology mentioned by Bosch Cognitive Services can be used to consolidate inventories and, above all, save an immense amount of time. Particularly in the case of small, soiled, or damaged parts – item identification can be difficult and, accordingly, time-consuming. Since every hour of operation in the factory costs a great deal of money, any downtime means great loss.
Thanks to the increasing networking of machines, it is now possible to also plan service and the respective need for spare parts in advance. With the aid of artificial intelligence, the sensor data of the machines can be analyzed on a platform, thus allowing the optimization of stocks. This increases both availability and the initial fix rate, while simultaneously reducing overstocking.
The digitization of spare parts management requires appropriate investment. What advice do you have for companies that are reluctant to do this, especially given the current economic situation?
Julian Weiss: Ultimately, all companies want to save money. That is why they should not shy away from investments that eliminate manual and thus expensive processes in spare parts management. After all, modern technologies are designed to generate savings: Remote solutions for maintenance and repair can do away with a considerable number of service technician visits. We have already been seeing smart solutions that network with neighboring plants on a common service portal, enabling them to exchange parts with one another as needed. The increase in efficiency through digital solutions quickly leads to amortization.
Dr. Markus Malinen: This is precisely the trend of networking and the positive impact on service processes that we also see at the dealer level. It’s a real win-win situation: One partner in the distribution network needs a part and the other has it lying about unused in stock anyway. Through the exchange, the latter earns money and optimizes his inventory.
Daniel Klumpp and Julian Weiss of Bosch Cognitive Services and Dr. Markus Malmen, Regional Manager of Syncron (from left to right)
This article was originally published in the German manufacturing publication Betriebstechnik und Instandhaltung’s June 2021 issue (page 9). Read the original article, here.