Inventory management during the pandemic: strategies for maintenance and supply chain pros

Traditional supply chain management practices have emphasized stringent, just-in-time inventory and cost controls. With the current disruptions to manufacturing and shipping logistics, much has changed. Continuity has become the No. 1 priority.

In other words, with supply chains now less predictable and a longer wait time for getting parts in-house, you must do whatever you can to get the parts you need to keep critical assets online.


“Companies that have gotten by with a ‘break and fix’ maintenance and repair strategy now need a more proactive approach,” said inventory expert Glenn Pierce, vice president at SDI, in an April 2020 Best Practice Webinar from Fluke Reliability. Pierce and his colleague Brian Harmon, director of procurement at SDI, presented at the webinar titled, “Tips for MRO inventory during the COVID-19 crisis.”

SDI is a Bristol, Pa.-based supply chain management services provider for maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO), and a recognized leader in MRO supply chain services across North America.

‘Preventative and predictive maintenance … will be crucial’

Pierce and Harmon offer a mini-playbook for this new supply chain strategy, including more advanced planning and also researching the point of origin for critical parts. But just as important to production continuity is having a proactive maintenance strategy, they said.

“Preventative and predictive maintenance that maximizes equipment uptime and reduces the need for emergency parts replacement will be crucial in a post COVID-19 world,” Pierce said.

Asset management philosophies that emphasize thorough asset categorization, criticality assessment, and health tracking are more important than ever – down to the part level. Maintenance should catalog and monitor not only their most critical assets but also identify which parts need to be on hand as “critical spares” for planned (and unplanned) repairs to those assets.

To that end, Pierce and Harmon offer a boot camp in MRO challenges and unintended consequences – for the maintenance team. Some 42% of all unplanned downtime can actually be attributed to poor internal supply chain practices, they said. The more maintenance understands the challenges of parts management, the more they can plan ahead, to their own advantage.

“Collaboration between the maintenance and procurement/supply chain organizations is critical for visibility into supply and demand for reliable predictable operations,” Pierce said.

Supply chain tactics to deal with the pandemic

Here’s the summary of supply chain tactics SDI is now advising, to mitigate the impact of the crisis:

  • Make MRO a part of the plan
  • Increase visibility into MRO demand
  • Improve inventory accuracy
  • Identify and inventory critical spares
  • Identify country of origin on my critical and high usage items
  • Assess relationships with my key suppliers
  • Evaluate scheduled turnarounds that could be impacted

In the webinar, Harmon offers a number of tips on demand management, supply management, and sourcing management in the current environment. “Re-use certain commodities,” he said, or “upgrade to reusable or repairable parts and materials.”

He also advises securing the storeroom 24/7 to prevent supplies from going missing (i.e., not there when needed later) and to consider self-management strategies for high-volume supplies. Vending machines that require staff to sign in to access supplies tend to make people more thoughtful about their consumption.

For industries experiencing particular difficulties obtaining critical parts, Harmon has advice on “guerilla” sourcing tactics, including alternate parts options, nontraditional sources, and going direct to manufacturers. Now is the time to build supply chain relationships and do some research into the point of origin of parts you’ve been accustomed to using.

Pierce and Harmon close with some coaching on what quality data means in supply management terms. For those already accustomed to prioritizing data quality for reliability maintenance, their advice may sound familiar. “Actionable data,” Harmon said, “is the foundation for everything.”

For timely and highly-strategic advice on updating supply chain management practices to maintain production continuity during disruption, you can listen to the entire webinar with SDI on

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