By Kevin Price
Managing the inventory of consumable supplies and replacement parts can be a tedious part of a facility manager’s job. The task is often delegated to junior team members, moved to the bottom of the priority list, or even forgotten until the next emergency demand arises. As facility budgets tighten and security issues escalate, this afterthought approach needs to change. Facility managers who are conscientious about cashflow, safety, security, and timely upkeep of structural assets, will take a closer look at smart inventory strategies and learn how technology can turn this tedious task into a strategic one.
What is the Big Deal?
Casual observers, who have not been entrenched in the complex demands of modern facility management, may be skeptical that inventory can be a significant issue. Misconceptions of supply room closets jammed with lightbulbs and paper towels may even pop into mind. For large facilities, though, the need for adequate inventory of the right materials becomes a major investment, and one that affects safe access to buildings and operation of assets.
Little Things Count
In the case of special-use facilities, like natatoriums and sports arenas, highly specialized components may dictate whether the facility can even be opened. Think of water filtrations systems in pools, refrigeration in restaurants, HVAC in hospitals, or elevators in high-rise buildings. Large systems often rely on a series of small parts and consumables — which easily become weak-links in the complex chain. One snapped belt, clogged air filter, or overloaded power grid can trigger alarms and launch mandatory response protocols that eat up time and patience of facility owners.
Big Things Count Even More
Several types of facilities fall under the “mission-critical” category and have large maintenance teams that reflect the essential nature of managing the facility. But, even large facilities can overlook the importance of adequate inventory of spare parts and replacements. Or, in effort to avoid risks, extra inventory is maintained, eating up cash flow. For example, airports in northern climates must be able to remove snow from runways. But having extra snow removal equipment in the fleet, as back up, is fiscally impractical. It makes more sense to have replacement parts for the existing equipment, based on likely repair needs. Understanding those repair trends will help to accurately project the parts that will be needed.
Facility managers can turn to modern Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) solutions and Augmented Analytics (AA) to help them optimize their inventory of spare parts, replaceable components, and consumables. Here are five ways technology can help:
1. Forecasting Trends. EAM solutions with built-in artificial intelligence (AI) help to project likely occurrences. Using data science to analyze cyclical trends and identify patterns, these solutions can anticipate what assets will require maintenance or repairs in the future. AI can find the correlations between influencing factors, like traffic or weather, and then apply that algorithm to create projections. This glimpse into the future helps facility managers understand likely needs for components that wear out based on usage, like filters, bearings, brakes, belts, ink, fluids, and light bulbs.
2. Interpreting Lifecycles. Monitoring conditions and performance of assets, layering in external context like weather or geography, helps create an accurate profile of the asset’s maintenance needs over its entire lifespan. Whether it is the chains on overhead doors or hydraulic fluid on material handling equipment, assets (and their components) all have measurable lifespans. AI-powered solutions help project next likely stages an asset will exhibit.
3. Understanding Risk. Facility managers must understand the criticality and impact of an asset failure. Risk can be in the form of stakeholder satisfaction, loss of revenue, safety breaches, or violation of regulation mandates. Risks can range from minor inconvenience to potential loss of life. This wide range of potential impact means facility managers need objective, data-driven insights to help them logically balance risk and back-up or preventive strategies. For example, for facilities that cannot experience a power outage, like hospitals and 911 emergency response centers, back-up generators are a logical investment. Software can help managers analyze risk versus costs of prevention.
4. Documenting Resolutions. Modern EAM solutions, which are easy for technicians to use in the field, contribute to improved recordkeeping, including inventory of parts. With outdated solutions that rely on paper-based records, technicians can easily forget to log parts or materials used while on dispatch. This leads to inaccurate inventory which can yield disastrous outcomes when needed parts are not in the warehouse as expected.
5. Establishing Prescriptive Maintenance Strategies. AI-driven analytics help facility managers take strategic, proactive actions to extend the lifecycle of assets and keep facilities operational and safe. Rather than focusing on “fighting fires” and responding to one failure after another, facility management can be forward-planning, using data to justify investments and allocate resources. This includes planning for replacements of machinery as needed and scheduling any major projects when they will least impact stakeholders.
Facility managers and their staffs are often stretched thin, and it is easy for inventory of parts and components necessary for maintenance to become low-priority. This can be risky and costly. Instead, turning to modern EAM solutions and AI-driven analytics enables facility management teams to leverage technology and turn what was once a challenge, into a strategic opportunity.
Price, technical product evangelist for Infor EAM, has more than 20 years of experience in the enterprise asset management (EAM) solution area. He is based out of the Infor EAM development hub in Greenville, SC. He is currently the senior product director for the Infor EAM portfolio, which includes EAM Enterprise, MP2, CloudSuite Facilities Management, and Spear Technologies. Price graduated with his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from College of Charleston.