If there is one thing that every modern trucking shop technician frets over – especially those working in large fleets – it is the ability to effectively manage the massive jumble of truck parts that they must deal with on an ongoing basis. The fact is, a well-managed parts inventory can help motor carriers save both time and money.
From fleet manager to truck driver and technician, ask any of them and they will tell you that having a truck down and not having the parts on hand to fix it creates a major headache. Therefore, properly managing your parts inventory is a critical aspect to running a successful fleet operation. When you need the right part at the right time, not having it can result in lost business.
Operating an efficient supply chain is directly related to having the parts on hand when you need them. Far too many fleets suffer unnecessary downtime because they are not efficiently or effectively managing their parts inventory. In the end, it is all about having the right part when you need it and where you need it. Just having the part, but not knowing where it is when you require it, helps no one.
One way around this is for a motor carrier to partner with a reliable vendor who can provide the part when it is needed. Yet, not every fleet is in a position – whether financial or logistical – to find such a partner. In those cases, what is a motor carrier to do? Let’s dig a little deeper.
Step One – Coding to the Rescue
Have you heard of vehicle maintenance reporting standards? They are industry-wide standards designed to offer a level of consistency to parts utilization. By using VMRS codes, a motor carrier can examine which parts are used the most, when they are required, and if they fail. This allows motor carriers to better manage which parts they have on hand and avoid excess inventory problems.
Utilizing a system that relies on code tracking allows a motor carrier to take a long-term look at parts inventory management and procurement. A historical parts usage tracking system eliminates cost problems if you have more parts than you need, just as it eliminates downtime issues when you don’t.
VMRS codes were created to provide a universal language for motor carriers and manufacturers to rely on when specific components or parts are needed. Whether it be someone building the truck, computer, or otherwise, VMRS codes make a huge difference in effectively managing parts. If properly used, this coding system can not only help with inventory management, but also greatly improve preventative maintenance schedules and help fleets keep track of specific failures. They help shop technicians develop a long-term view of which parts are working and which aren’t.
For those learning VMRS codes, it should be advised that the most common code used is thirty-three. All the codes are nine digits long and are broken down into groupings. The first three digits describe the system being used, the next three describe the assembly the system is being used on, and the final three describe the component itself.
If you aren’t utilizing VMRS codes as a critical aspect of your inventory management system, you may not be as efficient at managing your overall inventory and eliminating downtime. Why not allow your shop technicians a better idea of which parts they will need and when they will need them? VMRS codes are your friend.
Step Two – Embracing Telematics and Software Solutions
While there have been programs and databases in place for a long time that help shop technicians better manage their parts inventory, the explosion of trucking technology has created an entirely new landscape. Whether it be using QR codes, apps, or advanced telematics, shop technicians have more technological tools at their disposal than ever before.
As an example, one manufacturer recently released an app that lets a parts manager or shop technician log into their inventory on a smartphone or laptop. They can interface whether it be an Android or iPhone device. No matter where they are, they can complete a comprehensive inventory analysis, figure out which parts are out, and which need to be ordered, look up a specific part by part number or type and even filter for missing parts or parts that often fail.
Fleets who already use telematics solutions are used to seeing efficiency gains. Are you ready for your parts inventory to see the same gains? Telematics providers built into their systems many ways to track inventory and manage parts. Their systems are designed to prevent downtime, and allowing their customers to better track their parts creates an added value proposition within the system.
When a motor carrier knows that a vehicle or group of vehicles have been placed into service at the same time, they can set up a reminder system that allows them to know ahead of time which replacement parts will be needed and when. A fleet manager can then order the parts well ahead of time. Once the trucks are then brought in to be serviced, the parts will already be on hand when needed.
Telematics also helps fleets assess long-term parts trends and component life cycle needs. When failures and defective parts are spotted ahead of time, fleets can use that data to address the situation before a minor problem turns into a major one.
Step Three – Track Service Events
Far too many motor carriers address maintenance needs in a vacuum. Rather than holistically looking at what failures are occurring and when, they are addressing service events from a reactive standpoint. By examining them closer, a motor carrier can go from a reactive stance to a proactive one.
Ask any fleet manager and they will likely be able to tell you down to the dollar what parts are costing them, whether it be in general maintenance or repairs. Whether repairs are done in-house or by an outside service provider, they should have this information always on hand. Still, are they digging deeper into the numbers?
By digging deep and proactively addressing parts and maintenance concerns, managers and technicians can follow a part’s history and know where money should be allocated. Repair dollars don’t come cheap, so knowing where your parts inventory is deficient can help trim costs and pad your bottom line.
Following service event reports closely can give your shop the critical information it needs to boost or decrease inventory where required. Whether it be the need for special equipment, a higher budget for more technicians, or improved training on specific parts usage, having a deep knowledge of service events and tracking parts can yield positive results.
Step Four – Utilizing E-Commerce
In the age of the internet, just about anything can be procured online. Many fleets have moved their parts procurement efforts to online purchasing, a move that can yield significant benefits. Still, motor carriers must be very aware of whether they are dealing with a reputable company or not.
If you work with a local vendor, you can pop in at any time to look at their operation. The same does not hold true for online vendors. Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways for you to evaluate if they are the company you should be partnering with. How long has their website been active, and do they publicly display reviews or testimonials?
Furthermore, do they have a customer service department on hand to answer questions in a courteous and expeditious manner? As with any vendor operation or partner, quick customer service is critical. This has become especially important in the age of the ELD.
If you aren’t quite sure what part you need, will your online partner be on-hand and ready to guide you? A good parts supplier – whether online or otherwise – should have a support staff on hand to assist their clients where required. It is also important to analyze whether their support department goes above simply helping you find a part.
A reputable vendor partner will be able to assist you far past the order process. A motor carrier should be able to expect their partner to provide information on the order replacement process, updates when parts are shipped, ways to track the parts once they have shipped, and information on return policies. Partners who have been in business for a long time will often cultivate several touch points with their clients.
The point is, you should feel comfortable working with a company, especially if they are an online vendor. A wise man once said, if you must think twice, think again. Your business isn’t buying something as simple as a hat or shirt. Having the parts you need on hand when you need them is a critical aspect of running a successful trucking company.
Now the question is, are you doing everything you can to run an effective parts management program? If not, you may be selling your shop short. Do your technicians and fleet managers a favor by keeping parts in mind.