Facility leaders share their thoughts on what to expect this year and beyond
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Have you noticed that managing storeroom operations is like managing the dishwasher? When I load the dishwasher, I apparently don’t do it correctly. There is a reason dishwashers have utensil baskets for forks, spoons, knives and miscellaneous utensils. When I empty the dishwasher, I apparently put things back in the wrong place: I put items back where they logically belong.
When my wife loads the dishwasher, there is a certain randomness to it — no structure or organization. Everything is just thrown in the dishwasher until it’s full. When she unloads the dishwasher, she strategically puts items away so I can’t find them. This means that when I can’t find the right cookware, I have to use something else.
She also says that while the baskets are there to fill, the utensils fall. So forks, spoons, knives and miscellaneous items are mixed together, and it takes me hours to separate the silverware into the right slots in the silverware drawer. It’s all very frustrating.
Let’s apply the dishwasher scenario to managing maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) storerooms and warehouses in institutional and commercial facilities.
First, consider organization. According to the old saying, “A place for everything and everything a place,” In a dishwasher, dishes belong here, cups here, utensils there and miscellaneous there. The saying also applies to parts storerooms. These items belong here, here and there.
Consider this scenario: When I shop with my wife and she’s not looking, I’ll throw Cheez Whiz and BBQ pork rinds into the cart. After a while, she’ll see it in the cart. Does she walk back and return it to the right shelf? No. She puts it wherever she happens to be standing. Now when the next shopper comes along and sees there are no BBQ pork rinds, who’s to blame?
Second, establish the right inventory. We have way too much stuff in our kitchen pantry, and a lot of things don’t belong there. Over the years, the pantry had become a convenient place to store stuff.
When it comes to inventory management, too many organizations ask me to come in and conduct an assessment with the goal of getting my recommendation for adding space. I never recommend adding space.
On the contrary, I believe MRO storerooms have too much space because they often are storing stuff that doesn’t really belong there. If the part doesn’t address one element of MRO, it doesn’t belong in the storeroom. The items also must be in the right location, and the inventory and levels must be accurate.
If these conditions don’t exist, technicians lose confidence in the storeroom and the system. It is so important that the inventory is accurate that it can cause frustration and delayed repairs if it is not accurate. There are only two reasons the inventory is inaccurate. Either the process has failed or, as is the case most of the time, someone has failed to follow the process.
The MRO storeroom must be set up to be efficient and effective. When I unload the dishwasher and the utensils are mixed together, I have to take precious time away from other important activities.
The average facilities technician spends 18 percent of the day looking for parts and materials. How frustrating is it that a technician must go on a scavenger hunt to find the right tools or materials? Once technicians lose confidence in the storeroom and find the inventory is not accurate, secret stashes start creeping up everywhere.
That’s why having a robust cycle-count program in place assures the accuracy of inventory. I used to tell my staff that there are only three certainties in life: death, taxes and cycle counts.
The other activity all storeroom operations must have is a sound preventive maintenance program for the materials they contain. How many people know that bearings have a shelf life and should be stored horizontally? The average shelf life for belts is two years. Large motors shafts must be “exercised” to properly keep their bearings greased.
Standard operating procedure should be first-in-first-out management. I suggest date stamping all items as they are received to ensure technicians use the oldest items first.
Managers should consider the concept 5S methodology — sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain — that is central to lean management. They should infuse these practices into the culture of the organization.
Get rid of the junk because it only takes up space. Organize the storeroom to make it easy to locate parts. Set up the department up to be effective and efficient, and keep the area clean and organized.
Establish standardization in storeroom operation. Develop standard work processes, such as the way technicians receive, issue and return items to stock. Finally, instill an auditing process to guarantee that supervisors and technicians follow the process.
Look for ways to strategically manage inventory. Can the department implement vendor managed inventory or investigate supplier agreements where consignment is an option?
I like the concept of MRO vending machines stocked with the most used items, such as personal protection equipment, grease, lubes, tape and batteries. The average storeroom clerk activity involves issuing over 80 percent of the same items that account for only 11 percent of the stocked material. How much time can be saved by moving those items closer to the point-of-use?
A typical maintenance technician spends about one-quarter of their time walking to and from the job site. Include travel and search time — 18 percent — and it adds up to almost 50 percent of the day not doing what they are being paid to do.
Managers should take a serious look at their storeroom operations to see if they are stocking the right materials at the right inventory levels in the right location. Organize the department to be efficient and effective, establish processes, and validate the inventory accuracy regularly.
Managers and technicians need to make sure that when they’re loading the dishwasher (receiving parts), it’s organized, and when they unload it (issue parts), there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place.
Andrew Gager is CEO of AMG International Consulting. He is a professional consultant and facilitator with more than 20 years of partnering with organizations in achieving strategic objectives and goals.