What Is Inventory Maintenance?

The word “inventory” covers a lot of ground. Your inventory management systems are about a lot more than just a list of items packed away in your storage room. In the context of maintenance, inventory refers to all the spare parts, tools, supplies and materials required to keep your physical assets and facilities running smoothly. Managing this inventory effectively is essential to preventing equipment failure, reducing unplanned downtime, meeting customer demand, optimizing the quality of finished products, and extending the lifespan of your physical assets. 

But what happens when you don’t have a well-structured approach to inventory control? What happens when your operations fall short of inventory maintenance best practices? 

The result may be anything between inefficiency and total disarray. In this scenario, when equipment breaks down, technicians waste precious time searching for the right parts and tools. In the absence of these critical resources, yet more precious time may be wasted ordering items and awaiting their arrival. Repairs are delayed, downtime is magnified, and your maintenance team is at the mercy of an unpredictable supply chain. Poorly managed inventory has become a bottleneck, negatively impacting every part of your operation. 

So how can you prevent the messy scenario described above? Are there inventory maintenance best practices that you should adopt for your operation? And what are the best software solutions for businesses looking to get a handle on their inventory counts and processes?

Read on to find out. 

The processes involved in effective inventory maintenance 

An effective inventory system offers a strikingly different picture than the one painted above. With effective inventory maintenance, your organization maintains accurate records of stock levels at all times. You’ve implemented systems to track inventory location, movement, usage, and replenishment needs. And you have established clear protocols in order to automate ordering and restocking

These features make it possible for your maintenance department to anticipate needs, streamline workflows, and quickly respond to maintenance work requests. In this regard, inventory maintenance best practices are an essential element of a proactive maintenance strategy

Below, we take a closer look at the processes and workflows that typify an effective inventory maintenance strategy:

  • Inventory planning: Forecasting demand, setting stock levels, and establishing reorder points
  • Procurement: Sourcing suppliers, negotiating pricing, and placing orders
  • Receiving: Reviewing deliveries against purchase orders for quantity, compliance, and condition 
  • Organization: Labeling, categorizing, and storing items with consideration of accessibility, shelf life, and special handling requirements 
  • Tracking: Implementing software-based tracking systems such as QR codes, barcodes scanning, or ticketing for real-time inventory tracking to ensure visibility into stock levels, location, movement, and usage patterns
  • Replenishment: Using demand forecasts and real-time inventory levels to trigger replenishment orders
  • Preventive maintenance: Incorporating scheduled maintenance tasks such as calibration, testing, or inspection into inventory replenishment schedule 
  • Disposal: Reviewing inventory items for excess or obsolescence, and implementing strategies such as liquidation, recycling, or disposal

Employed together, these processes constitute an effective inventory maintenance system.

Is there a difference between inventory maintenance and inventory management?

You may hear the phrases inventory management and inventory maintenance used interchangeably. While there is a great deal of conceptual overlap between these terms, they ultimately address slightly different aspects of inventory and warehouse management

  • Inventory maintenance refers to the processes and solutions in place for maintaining, tracking, and replenishing inventory items. The scope of inventory maintenance includes order management, monitoring for movement, and the incorporation of preventive maintenance activities to ensure the optimal function of physical assets. 
  • Inventory management encompasses a broader set of activities that includes inventory maintenance but also extends to the administration of inventory activities. In addition to the planning, ordering, tracking, and replenishment involved in inventory maintenance, inventory management includes strategic decision making about how to optimize inventory levels, minimize carrying costs, and maximize operational efficiency.

In short, while inventory maintenance focuses on the day-to-day activities and processes involved in the upkeep and availability of inventory items, inventory management also includes strategic long-term planning around these activities. 

Why is strategic inventory maintenance important?

Below, we take a closer look at some of the benefits of effective inventory maintenance and proper inventory management, as well as the drawbacks of an ineffective approach.

The benefits of effective inventory maintenance

Taking a strategic approach to inventory maintenance can provide your organization with some of the following benefits:

  • Optimized inventory levels: Keep on-hand inventory levels that match your maintenance needs without wasting capital on overstock and excess inventory.
  • Improved reliability: Engage in regularly scheduled maintenance such as spare part replacement, lubrication, and calibration, to enhance the reliability, performance, and overall productivity of your physical assets.
  • Minimized downtime: Use a proactive inventory maintenance strategy in support of your preventive maintenance goals by ensuring that your stock levels match your needs for regular replacement of spare parts, lubrication, calibration, and more.
  • Enhanced safety and compliance: Conduct routine inspections and audits, and make proactive repairs, replacements, or updates as needed to ensure compliance with safety standards and regulatory requirements.
  • Reduced inventory costs: Earn a greater ROI on your physical assets and improve your bottom line by facilitating proactive maintenance strategies, and consequently lowering repair costs, decreasing carrying costs, and reducing incidents of dead stock or spoilage.

The drawbacks of ineffective inventory maintenance

An ineffective approach to inventory maintenance can come with several drawbacks, including:

  • Higher repair costs: Ineffective inventory maintenance leads to reactive maintenance strategies. These strategies lead to repairs more urgent, extensive, and specialized repairs that are ultimately more costly.
  • Stockouts, shortages, and delays: Without data-driven replenishment triggers, your operation is more vulnerable to stockouts or shortages of critical spare parts and materials, which can result in longer repair lead times and extended equipment downtime, as well as delays in delivering finished goods and consequent revenue loss.
  • Reduced asset lifespan: Ineffective inventory maintenance can lead to improper or off-schedule maintenance, which may accelerate the deterioration of your physical assets and contribute to premature failure.
  • Reduced Cash Flow: Without effective inventory management, you risk carrying an excess amount of inventory, which can tie up valuable capital and reduce economic opportunity, especially for small businesses with limited resources.

Inventory maintenance best practices

In order to yield the benefits outlined above, it’s important to approach inventory maintenance with a strategic mindset. This includes the procedures you put into place, the technology you deploy, and the data you use to inform your decision making. 

Take the following industry best practices into account as you implement your inventory maintenance strategy and define your inventory management process.

  • Optimize Inventory Levels: Use historical usage data and cycle counting in order to forecast future demand, set optimal inventory levels, designate reorder points and, where possible, automate just-in-time replenishment. Implement inventory optimization techniques by prioritizing the procurement of certain spare parts, materials, and items in order to both ensure availability and minimize carrying costs.
  • Standardize processes: Establish standardized inventory maintenance procedures and clearly delineated protocols for processes such as receiving, storing, and disposing of different types of inventory including spare parts, raw materials, and tools. Create consistent and efficient workflows, and provide comprehensive, hands-on training to personnel. 
  • Utilize inventory management software: Implement a reliable inventory management software solution that includes features like automated replenishment processes, inventory alerts, real-time visibility into stock levels and customizable reporting on inventory maintenance performance. These features are often available as part of a larger suite of solutions such as a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) platform.
  • Make data-driven decisions: A CMMS platform will also provide you with powerful data analytics and reporting tools, which can provide deeper insights into inventory performance, usage trends, and anticipated demand. You may be able to monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) such as stock turnover rate, fill rate, and inventory accuracy, all of which can make it easier to measure and improve your outcomes.
  • Implement asset tracking: Your inventory maintenance software should include an advanced asset tracking system using barcodes, QR codes, or RFID tags. This allows you to monitor the location and track the movement of inventory items within your system and across your facilities.

Inventory maintenance in action

The best practices outlined above can be applied in a variety of settings. Below, we offer a few working examples of how good inventory management techniques can improve maintenance outcomes and overall operational efficiency in several different industries. 

Manufacturing Industry 

Maintenance teams in the manufacturing industry use inventory maintenance solutions to manage inventories of spare parts and equipment in direct coordination with regularly scheduled repairs, replacements, and inspections. Maintenance teams also use inventory maintenance solutions to track inventory usage in real-time, analyze the performance of equipment and other physical assets, and set reorder triggers accordingly. Manufacturing operations that leverage these insights to optimize inventory levels can reduce the occurrences of stockout, equipment downtime, and production delays.

Healthcare Facilities

Hospitals, clinics and outpatient facilities rely on inventory maintenance strategies to ensure the safe, effective, and compliant functionality of medical equipment as well as the availability of critical supplies. Maintenance teams may rely on inventory maintenance systems to engage in  preventive maintenance tasks for healthcare equipment such as MRI machines, surgical robotics, and patient monitors. By integrating inventory management with maintenance workflows, healthcare facilities can improve equipment safety and availability, consequently enhancing patient care outcomes.

Hospitality Sector

Hotels and resorts depend on inventory maintenance systems to ensure continuous functionality of essential systems including HVAC, plumbing, electrical fixtures, kitchen equipment, and more. Optimal inventory management can prevent disruptions to these essential systems while lowering the cost of ongoing repairs and ultimately helping to preserve a positive experience for guests and personnel alike. 

CMMS solutions and inventory maintenance

The industries above, though vastly differently from one another, do have one thing in common. Operators in each of these industries can benefit from the implementation of a modern CMMS platform. Your CMMS technology will play a vital role in supporting effective inventory maintenance and supply chain management by providing the following capabilities:

  • Centralized data management, collecting and organizing item details, stock levels, usage history, and maintenance schedules in a single, accessible database
  • Automated workflows such as reordering, low stock alerts, and preventive maintenance scheduling 
  • Real-time tracking of inventory location, movements, usage, and performance metrics, as well as customizable reports on inventory trends and potential areas for improvement
  • Integration with management tools, allowing organizations to integrate inventory data with Point of Sale (POS) or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platforms for seamless interoperability.

Limble’s powerful CMMS platform includes a suite of advanced inventory software solutions, built on a combination of industry best practices and leading edge innovations. Check out our comprehensive Guide to CMMS Solutions and find out how Limble’s CMMS platform can help you optimize your inventory maintenance strategy.

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