We’ve all done it. You go to get the milk out of the fridge or biscuits cupboard and someone’s taken the last one – and not added it to the shopping list. And while it might be mildly annoying when it happens at home, it can be mission-critical when people fail to keep the spare parts inventory up to date in an engineering environment.

Human error plays a major part in some of the challenges the facilities management (FM) sector faces in managing spare parts. ByBox’s research of the major FM service providers found that overall FM providers are dissatisfied with the way spare parts are managed, giving their performance an average 6.8/10 on a variety of different criteria. And human error is often to blame.

Engineers are notorious for removing a part from an on-site store and failing to record it. Just like the milk example, a fellow engineer expects that part to be in the store; and is frustrated when it’s no longer there. This can result in the engineer needing to go to a wholesaler and pay more for a part, miss their SLA and incur financial penalties as well as wasting critical time.  There’s even the potential for a client site to go down as a result, losing the organisation millions of pounds in addition to reputational damage.

Although many FM providers say that their inventory is managed by their CAFM system, there’s a mismatch between the centralised CAFM system and the spreadsheets and manual lists that many sites operate on the ground. Centralised procurement teams have very little visibility of site stores.

Thanks to the huge number of models and parts available, there’s also the problem of site managers, engineers and procurement people mistakenly ordering the wrong part for the required job which is then a hassle to return and costs yet more money in stock holding and additional admin processes.

Engineers are also known for maverick purchasing – buying a brand or type of product that they particularly like rather than what may have been prescribed by the client organisation or FM service provider. This can be more expensive in the long-run, even if it’s cheaper to purchase at the time, and cause issues around performance and compliance.

Our research shows that the distribution of spare parts to sites is seriously flawed, often relying heavily on human intervention to ensure that the right spare is procured at the right price and in the right way for the right problem and delivered to the right site and then used correctly.

Overall, there is an understanding that the management and distribution of critical spares needs improving across the board to reduce the potential for human error.

The FM firms ByBox spoke to for the report had five key recommendations:

  • The centralisation of the procurement and distribution of M&E spares which will reduce the potential for human error and manual site-based processes
  • Greater reliability and proactivity from the supply chain to be able to source parts from one location before the day starts, thereby removing the need for individual engineers to personally purchase parts at a wholesaler
  • More standardisation of assets and parts within buildings including architects, specifiers and construction firms stopping installing systems manufactured / maintained by one-man bands where any spares come from a single source supplier. This would reduce maverick purchasing and improve response times.
  • The ability to store more critical spares in a fixed location close to or on site
  • Better use of CAFM systems to manage inventory at site level, improving the use of data to better forecast break fixes / predictive-based maintenance.