We humans are no strangers to losing something important, only to find it six months down the line when it is no longer needed. That metal IKEA bed frame that needs tightening up – where did I put the Allen key that it came with?
The same principle can be applied to industry. Operators and maintenance engineers have different tools, stock and spare components available, and keeping on top of them can be difficult when you’re faced with a variety of different tasks, in different business areas, on a daily basis.
To meet this need, there are a variety of solutions available to industry, ranging from simple storage innovations, to more advanced services and technologies. Operations Engineer (OE) explores some of the available options…
Employees looking for a simple solution to keep assets tidy should consider peg-boards, storage racking and lockers. These solutions have been around for decades and are used in a variety of sectors, such as domestic, leisure, catering, manufacturing and warehousing.
Peg-boards are perforated with a grid or pattern of holes, into which hooks or pegs can be fitted for hanging tools. Racking, meanwhile, is relatively well-known in industry, so doesn’t need much explaining – usually a certain height and length depending on the site, with stock, tools and spare-parts stored on the shelving, used when required, and put back afterwards.
Another simple solution that offers greater security is the locker system. Items are stored inside and taken out when needed. More sophisticated systems require users to enter a pin code or use a swipe card to gain access to the asset, helping with security and traceability.
One company that provides such a solution is iLockerz – a sister company of Keytracker, which supplies systems to keep track of multiple sets of keys and equipment. In fact, last year OE explained how iLockerz had worked with Siemens Rail (www.is.gd/papube), which was storing laptops that were used to provide maintenance and servicing to trains and signalling equipment, in a cupboard.
The management team wanted to improve how the devices were accessed and updated. This resulted in iLockerz installing ‘intelligent’ lockers at the two main Thameslink depots – allowing authorised users to access laptops by swiping ID badges over the card reader on the system. Each staff member has a unique PIN, with the software working with the system to record who has accessed the system, what compartment they have accessed and what time it was opened.
The rise of digital has impacted all areas of industry – from health and safety, sales and operations, to logistics and environmental impact. So too is it playing a role in inventory management. One example is a batch scanning software called Inscan.
Provided through Brammer Buck & Hickman, Inscan is said to be an easy-to-implement barcode-driven stock check and replenishment process. Aimed at customers who are looking for a low cost, uncomplicated inventory management solution, the Kanban batch scan process system is said to give greater control over costs and improves productivity, through real-time reporting on all kinds of variables.
Inventory can be tracked by user, location or cost centres, and counts can be updated or verified on the go by scanner or smartphone. Comprehensive reporting and data can also be viewed in customisable formats.
“Notably, this system also functions as an added organisation layer within your workplace,” says Brammer, Buck & Hickman. “All focused toward keeping your products tidy and your workshop in check, Inscan terminates the loss of undocumented stock, as well providing you with a clear understanding of just where your products are getting to.”
Tool inventory and management can be a costly and time-consuming process. Having greater control over what tools are on-site, how many are available, who is using them and when to re-order, offers significant support and accountability. Industrial vending is another solution.
Dormer Pramet’s ProLog vending systems provides such assistance to hundreds of companies in numerous countries, offering individual compartment control in a standard shopfloor cabinet at point-of-use. In addition to the standard check-in/check-out features, added business rules and reports are available to provide detailed analysis of performance. Furthermore, users can automatically ‘age’ and lock-down tools based on specific criteria, setup alert notifications when a tool has reached a defined setting and a full audit history by asset and user.
SupplyBay and SmartDrawer are Dormer Pramet’s most popular vending devices. SupplyBay is engineered for industrial environments to deliver reliable high-volume dispensing for a wide range of tools and supplies. Its large dispensing door gives easy access to load and refill. The SmartDrawer allows users to choose the best level of access for each application. It can be a stand-alone unit or combined with other devices for a tailored solution, offering a mix of compartment options between two to 128 positions in each drawer.
Brammer Buck & Hickman also offers vendor-managed services. Invend industrial vending machines are said to provide 24/7 line-side access to the industrial consumables and can be completely tailored to each customer’s needs.
“Invend has proven to result in a consumption reduction of up to 40%, provides greater control over budgets for consumable items and also frees up time for staff to focus on areas that add real value to your organisation,” says Brammer, Buck and Hickman. “Of course, it also means that workshops can be simplified and used to store larger items that are used less frequently.”
Another ‘service’ solution for tools and consumables, which is provided by Brammer, Buck and Hickman, is Insite – essentially a dedicated Brammer team placed within the customer site.
The Insite team becomes an extension of the on-site team and integrates into the business to provide support. It can provide a single point of contact for orders and customer service enquiries, as well as other value-added services from stores design and restructuring to condition monitoring, e-Commerce, energy efficiency services and training.
The author visited Heineken’s Hereford cider mill in 2017 (www.is.gd/lewapo), which had an Insite service on site, but now no longer does. Insite was implemented at the drink manufacturer’s site in 2010 and was geared entirely towards meeting the needs of Heineken, offering support for purchasing, stores, maintenance and engineering teams, and reducing consumption of fast-moving consumables.
With responsibility of procurement and stores management handed to Brammer, the maintenance team was able to focus on overseeing and repairing machinery and equipment. In addition to overseeing procurement by consolidating stock and reducing suppliers, Insite also helped with numerous plant areas, including the main stores and the kitting area.
Around 50 people, including Insite personnel, worked on redesigning and upgrading the main stores area. This involved the removal of ‘dead stock’ – old parts of machines no longer in use – and optimising accessibility by rearranging products and standardising racking.
The phrase ‘tidy desk, tidy mind’ is a well-known one. Organised surroundings and well-placed assets allow for much clearer thought and action, and there are certainly a range of solutions available for industrial inventory management.
CASE STUDY: Fletcher Moorland eliminates stock-outs
When customers rely on you to repair vital production equipment, typically within a matter of hours, every tool, component or consumable item needed must be available. Failure to ensure this can result in missing customer deadlines and can also negatively impact a company’s bottom line.
For engineering service and repair company Fletcher Moorland, most jobs fall into this emergency category. This is true, whether it’s an easily resolved, routine repair or a more complicated issue involving obsolete or highly-specialised components. To differentiate itself, the company is on call 24/7 to repair and service production components for its industrial and manufacturing customers across the UK. This includes everything from motors and pumps to electrical and electronic equipment.
Stock-outs were becoming an all too common occurrence. Running a busy workshop that operates 24 hours a day, engineers would help themselves to what they needed on a job-by-job basis from the company’s stock cupboards. These items included ball bearing components, drill bits and consumables, such as tapes, adhesives, batteries and sanding discs.
With engineers then moving on to the next repair, they would often forget to advise management of imminent stock shortages or to complete the company’s purchase request forms. This would put pressure on the purchasing and logistics department to fill stock levels as soon as possible. Fletcher Moorland was urgently seeking a solution to improve visibility into stock levels, while reducing the amount of time spent in sourcing and managing these items.
It turned to UK distributor Hayley Group for help. The teams collaborated on an industrial vending solution to ensure tools, components and consumable items are always replenished before running out. Hayley Group installed a mix of automated, self-serve devices, manufactured by Apex Supply Chain Technologies, including: a Solo wall-mounted dispensing device for high value drill bits; a Smart 5000 helical dispensing device for consumable supplies, including glue, tape and batteries; and two Axcess 6036 automated lockers for precision ball bearing components.
All of these devices provide easy access to items, while also automatically tracking and reporting every withdrawal in real time to Apex Trajectory Cloud. This cloud-based data platform automatically notifies Fletcher Moorland and the local Hayley branch office when any stock-keeping unit reaches a predetermined level. The Hayley team has these items restocked within a matter of hours.
Trajectory Cloud also automatically generates reports on consumption rates to alert management to potential issues.