What is Critical Spare Parts Management?

Spare parts inventory management is a vital component of both asset management and facilities maintenance. Inventory management plays a central role in protecting operational continuity, optimizing asset performance, minimizing equipment failures, and preventing prolonged downtime

In the simplest terms, spare parts inventory management refers to the systems you use to oversee, track, and replenish maintenance components for your organization’s machinery, equipment, and facilities. Effective spare parts inventory management ensures that your maintenance team always has access to the right parts at the right time. In other words, effective inventory management is what makes preventive and predictive maintenance strategies possible. 

Effective spare parts management and inventory management are especially important in industries like manufacturing, energy production, transportation, and healthcare. In each of these contexts, unforeseen equipment failure and prolonged, costly downtime can carry significant consequences, including production delays, safety risks, and financial losses. And in each of these contexts, businesses depend on the availability of certain critical spare parts for operational continuity.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at spare parts inventory management as well as the important role that critical spares play in sustaining productivity, facilitating preventive maintenance, and ensuring operational resilience.

What are critical spare parts

Critical spare parts are items that are essential for the continued daily operation of your organization’s most important physical assets. These parts are identified as critical because their failure or unavailability may contribute to major operational disruptions, prolonged downtime, heightened safety risks, and costly production delays. 

Organizations will typically use a combination of factors to determine which spare parts qualify as critical including: 

  • Importance of the equipment to core operations and production process
  • Impact of failure on the overall functionality of your equipment 
  • Lead time for procuring required spare parts
  • Cost of downtime, with a focus on disruptions that can cause significant loss of productivity and revenue
  • Safety and compliance risks related to the malfunction or failure of specific physical assets

How to adopt a critical spare parts inventory strategy

Components that qualify as critical spare parts may demand special attention in the scope of both your inventory management and maintenance strategies. Adopting a strategic approach to critical spare parts management might require your business to take some of the following steps: 

  • Maintain higher stock levels for items identified as critical spares.
  • Prioritize procurement, maintenance planning, and budget allocation for critical spares with long lead times for delivery.
  • Monitor the performance of equipment and maintenance teams by tracking metrics such as Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) and Mean Time to Repair (MTTR).
  • Implement specialized maintenance strategies such as predictive maintenance or condition-based monitoring in order to better forecast the need for certain critical spare parts and avoid ordering inaccuracies or excess inventory costs.

Criticality assessments for spare parts

The factors outlined above are part of a larger calculation designed to measure the actual “criticality” of spare parts. Methods for identifying critical parts may vary from one organization or industry to the next. In most contexts, however, the process will include some variation on the following steps:

  • Collecting data on factors like cost, usage history, procurement lead time, failure rates, and the impact of failure on operations.
  • Identifying critical equipment with a focus on assets that are vital to operational continuity.
  • Defining criticality by establishing criteria such as the likelihood of failure, lead time for procurement, cost of planned or unplanned downtime, safety implications, and regulatory requirements.
  • Assigning ratings to each spare part using the criteria defined above.
  • Prioritizing critical spare parts in your inventory management strategy based on their criticality ratings.
  • Continuously monitoring factors such as equipment usage patterns, technology advancements, and business priorities, to set accurate criticality ratings.

The benefits of conducting criticality assessments 

When you prioritize inventory items based on their criticality, you are essentially applying a data-driven approach to your spare parts replacement strategy. This approach to spare parts inventory management comes with a number of distinct benefits, including:

  • Optimized stocking levels based on the criticality of certain parts and components
  • Prioritized procurement of critical spares as a way of offsetting longer replenishment lead times
  • Improved maintenance planning with an emphasis on preventive maintenance strategies for managing your organization’s most essential physical assets 
  • Cost savings through reductions in repair expenses, shipping fees, and inventory overstock 
  • Enhanced operational resilience as a result of minimized equipment failure, shortened repair times, and reduced overall downtime

Additional spare parts categories

Critical spares” are just one category of spare parts. Organizations may use a variety of other categories to prioritize spare parts in their inventory management strategies. For instance, some organizations may place certain maintenance components in a category called “strategic spares.”

Whereas critical spares are essential to the continuity of everyday operations, strategic spares are those that are essential to the long-term performance of your physical assets. In other words, malfunctions or performance issues related to strategic spare parts might not derail your daily operations or constitute an immediate safety risk. Left unchecked, however, these issues may compromise the long-term efficiency, functionality, and lifespan of your physical assets. 

Critical spares and strategic spares are just two categories used in inventory management. Organizations may also identify spare parts categories based on criteria such as usage frequency, lifecycle stage, or sourcing strategy. Other common spare parts categories include:

  • Fast-moving spares, which refers to parts that must be replaced frequently due to wear and tear
  • Slow-moving spares, which refers to parts with longer shelf lives and/or lower usage rates
  • Seasonal spares, which refers to parts that are only needed during specific times of the year or under certain operating conditions

Critical spare parts management best practices

An inventory management strategy with a critical spare parts management component must incorporate practices such proactive procurement, preventive maintenance, and advanced supply chain logistics. 

Below, we detail some of the some best practices for managing critical spare parts throughout the life cycle of your physical assets and across the supply chain:

  • Conduct a criticality assessment, using data-driven criteria to identify the spare parts that are truly essential to your organization’s daily operations.
  • Use advanced inventory management techniques such as ABC analysis, economic order quantity (EOQ), and just-in-time (JIT) inventory to optimize critical spare parts stock levels
  • Evaluate your suppliers using factors like reliability, quality, lead times, and pricing, and focus on building partnerships with suppliers you can count on. You may also consider diversifying suppliers of spares with the highest criticality ratings in order to mitigate the risk of operational disruption.
  • Develop a lifecycle management strategy for critical spare parts, including procurement, storage, usage, and disposal or liquidation. 
  • Incorporate preventive and predictive maintenance strategies into your inventory management plan, using real-time performance data to drive critical spare parts inventory management transactions.
  • Develop emergency response protocols to address unexpected shortages or disruptions in critical spare parts supply including the establishment of alternative sourcing options for items with the highest criticality rating.

Critical spare parts management and preventive maintenance

As noted above, your spare parts inventory management strategy will play a crucial role in making both preventive and predictive maintenance strategies possible. At its most basic, inventory management is essential to ensuring the availability of critical spare parts for the performance of scheduled maintenance activities

Below, we take a deeper look at the important relationship between spare parts inventory management and proactive maintenance strategies:

  • Timely availability: Spare parts inventory management ensures that the required parts are on hand when scheduled maintenance activities are due, consequently minimizing downtime and preventing costly operational disruptions.
  • Optimized stocking: Analysis of historical maintenance data and equipment reliability metrics makes it possible to identify the spare parts that are most commonly used in preventive maintenance tasks. 
  • Preventive maintenance kits: Organizations can streamline maintenance activities by creating preventive maintenance kits containing the critical spare parts, tools, and supplies required for completing specific maintenance tasks. 
  • Data-driven decision making: Organizations can leverage data analytics and predictive maintenance technologies to forecast maintenance needs, identify likely equipment failures, and optimize replacement parts management strategies accordingly.
  • Improved equipment reliability: Replacing worn-out or degraded components before they fail enhances equipment reliability, reduces the risk of unexpected breakdowns, and maximizes uptime, in addition to lengthening the lifespan of your physical assets.

CMMS platforms and critical spare parts

So how can you ensure coordination between your critical spare parts inventory management strategy and your broader organizational maintenance model? A Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) platform can provide this high level of integration, using a set of tools that streamline and automate the inventory management process

Leading CMMS vendors like Limble offer advanced inventory management capabilities designed to optimize critical spare parts inventory management and integrate seamlessly with your existing maintenance operations including:

  • Intuitive inventory dashboard with comprehensive overview of spare parts stock levels, usage trends, reorder points, and criticality ratings 
  • Barcode scanning functionality, allowing maintenance technicians to easily input data, track movement, and view real-time stock levels of critical spares
  • Automated replenishment feature, generating purchase requisitions or reorder alerts when inventory levels fall below predefined thresholds 
  • Advanced reporting and analytics tools for tracking spare parts inventory performance, analyzing usage patterns, and optimizing inventory management strategies.

For a deeper look at Limble’s inventory management capabilities, request your personalized demo today!

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