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MRO Stores: A Contraint or a Catalyst?

In addition, although those that voted it a constraint, many responding really did not know how MRO affected reliability. They chose constraint because they knew MRO stores was not a catalyst. If there had been a category called “I don’t know,” many would have voted for that option. Whether an “I don’t know” or “constraint” response, the fact is that only a quarter percent thought their MRO operation helped them. It is interesting to note that the words “constraint” and “catalyst” gave the respondents cause to consider what was meant regarding MRO; meaning it was provocative and revealed MRO is overlooked when considering a reliable plant strategy.


Any function within a plant that loses money or causes inefficiencies for other initiatives should be a target for change. What other plant discipline would be sustained when only a small percent of the people affected thought the function had merit. If a given lean initiative was considered to be ineffective by those involved, that program would be adjusted to perform to the benefit - the catalyst - for all concerned, or it would be eliminated.

Why does this condition continue to exist in the MRO area of operations? Major reasons are:

  • Little recognition of the MRO effect on plant reliability and drain on profit.
  • Erroneous assumption of no time/dollars to invest in change without building business case.
  • Acceptance of status quo; “It is what it is; put up with it.”
  • Ability to circumvent MRO stores to obtain parts (i.e., buy around stores operations).
  • Opportunity to establish sub-stocks for critical spares.
  • Unsure of how to affect change; who will do it?
  • Inertia; this is how we have always done it.
  • Entrenched suppliers; we can always rely on ABC Supply.
  • Low priority in cost recovery agendas.
  • Lack of recognition regarding negative effects on reliability programs.
  • Those assigned the management of MRO may not be those who rely on MRO performance.

So here is a situation where 76 percent show dissatisfaction or at least disinterest with MRO, yet there is little to no effort placed on improvement. This situation continues to exist while companies invest large sums in lean and reliability programs to achieve a reliable plant. The gaping hole in these programs stores operations unconnected with plant reliability strategy and execution – MTTR, MTBF, etc. is just not recognized. Of those surveyed who expressed dissatisfaction, only two asked for follow-up information to improve. It seemed that most felt that an effort to change MRO was too complex and would involve too many people who have other (more important?) functions.

So what is the answer?

Companies that have attempted to solve the problem have done so by investing substantial sums of money into systems and capital to achieve a balance of cost reduction and reliable supply. The problem is measurement, sustainability and conformance. Company-operated stores remain at various levels of efficiency based on who is reporting. In addition, MRO stores are rarely connected to the needs of maintenance and its mission to deliver a reliable plant. In one real-life situation, an on-site provider had improved fill rates from 60 percent to 98 percent. However, the two percent represented 12 people who did not get parts (when needed), which were critical spares. These 12 people, albeit two percent, criticized the storeroom as inefficient and unreliable which, to them, it was. The problem here is an example of an unconnected storeroom. If the two percent had been routinely using MRO, there would be no problem. The fact that the missing parts caused downtime was the effect of stores operations unconnected with the critical needs of maintenance.

The answer to achieving a reliable MRO storeroom is to have stores connected to the needs and programs of maintenance and plant reliability. In this situation, a connected store would have had the information necessary to ensure 100 percent availability of the critical spares.

What is a maintenance-connected MRO storeroom?

Here are the components:

  • Proper investments in people, processes and technology:
    • The people are not only ‘parts experts,’ but understand the parts’ applications to plant equipment.
    • The processes include tight integration with maintenance for faster and safer execution of maintenance work at a lower cost.
    • The technology includes interfacing with a company’s EAM/CMMS to ensure an accurate minimum equipment list (MEL) and identification of critical equipment systems with fully populated bills of material (BOMs).
  • Ability to affect maintenance improvement by helping to manage maintenance backlog and contributing to reducing mean time to repair (MTTR).
  • Ability to affect reliability improvement by participating in failure analysis and contributing to improving mean time between failure (MTBF), for example failure mode effects analysis (FMEA), failure reporting, analysis and corrective action system (FRACAS), etc.
  • Ability to affect reliable equipment performance by connecting expert supplier engineers with maintenance initiatives.

Maintenance contributes to the manufacturing mission by delivering a reliable plant. To be reliable, the plant must have reliable equipment which, in turn, must have a reliable MRO stores operation. To be reliable, stores must be connected to the manufacturing mission via maintenance reliability programs.

How to achieve a reliable MRO stores operation that is connected to maintenance while providing an optimum cost position? First, assign a “positive” project manager who will:

  1. Obtain agreement from all disciplines that the investment in change has a positive ROI scenario; it is needed and critical to a reliable plant.
  2. Define the goals of change and establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to sustain the goals.
  3. Decide if the company has the knowledge and is willing to assign necessary personnel for success or investigate an on-site third-party MRO company provider with experience to provide connected reliability operations.
  4. Recognize that a maintenance coordinator is critical to success and serves as the principal liaison between maintenance and stores operations. This person must be laser-focused on providing stores expertise to maintenance reliability improvement projects. If stores are to be operated in-house, the company must hire an experienced maintenance coordinator who can affect the change. If a an outside provider is selected, that provider must have a maintenance coordinator on staff to implement and sustain the effort. The maintenance coordinator contributes stores expertise to the areas of required maintenance.

In this example, the maintenance coordinator applies stores expertise to each phase of managing maintenance work, ultimately affecting MTTR.

  1. Work Identification: Assist with MEL development, identification of critical equipment systems and development of respective BOMs.
  2. Work Planning: Assist with providing planners visibility to available inventory to develop work plans and populate backlog.
  3. Work Scheduling: Assist with expediting scheduled work by eliminating “waiting for material” work order status.
  4. Work Execution: Assist with kitting and staging of material for planned maintenance events.
  5. Work Reporting: Assist with providing material usage and cost at the plant, area, equipment and work order level.

In conclusion, when 76% of respondents to the survey said that MRO was a constraint or did not even consider MRO as factor in reliability, there should be no question that there is a need to change the management operations of MRO stores in order to contribute to plant reliability. The exceptional value that can be released from MRO needs to be defined and recognized so that the 76% can be turned around.

Whether the change can be made by utilizing the talent and time of existing personnel and doing it in house or to hire a third party expert provider, this decision needs to be centered on the following: existing condition of stores, management’s attitude regarding MRO, and the recognition that there is value in change that must be captured.

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