Leveraging parts inventory solutions to keep your heavy-duty shop organized

A well-organized shop is a well-run one, and one of the ways a well-run shop can set itself apart is with a strong inventory management system. Taking care of inventory properly can help you know whether you are stocking too many parts and ensure that you have the parts you need for the typical day’s repairs, and in general, you won’t be wasting yours or your technicians’ time sorting through a disorganized parts room, ordering parts that already should have been on-site or looking frantically for a part that should be there.

There are digital solutions that can help. Parts inventory software is available from a variety of providers, digitizing your inventory process and parts room and getting everything onto one system.

The basics of parts inventory software

If you’re still using paper documentation to keep track of your parts inventory, or if you don’t have an inventory system in place at all, you may be wondering how this all works and what it does for you. So Fleet Service Technology asked several providers of parts inventory software to explain the basics of their solutions.

“The inventory management system allows the user to track the purchasing and dispensing for all parts consumed by a fleet shop, whether they were used for vehicle maintenance repairs or consumed internally by the shop or business,” explained Gregory Peck, product manager with TMW Systems/Trimble, which provides parts inventory solutions through its TMT Fleet Maintenance offering.

“Chevin’s fleet maintenance management software, FleetWave, contains inventory tools that allow users to control stock levels and assign parts to work orders. The tool also has the ability to generate and store purchase orders,” said David Gladding, global sales and marketing director for Chevin Fleet Solutions.

“The parts ordering process is easily managed through the software, which has the ability to generate purchase orders,” he added. “The approval process can be customized to prevent any unnecessary spending. The tool can also match purchase orders with invoices once received.”

So what does a system like this look like to you, the shop manager using it?

“In our system,” explained Kurt Claussner, president of Fleetsoft, which makes an eponymous fleet maintenance and inventory management software system, “we have several icons at the top of the screen: one is a vehicle icon, if you need to look at the vehicle list; if you need to create a work order, you just click on the work order button. We’ve had people that say they’re not computer-literate who have embraced the product.

“We created a consistency of all of our sections, so the screens look very similar. We like to say that if we can show you how to add a vehicle, you’ve learned about 75% of the program,” he added.

Benefits and features

One benefit for your technicians is that a comprehensive software system like these reduces administrative tasks so they can focus their time on their most important task: fixing trucks. Many of these necessary tasks are performed automatically by the system.

“In our system,” Trimble’s Peck said, “daily part requisitions are created automatically for stock inventory replacement and ad-hoc parts can also be added to the part requisition by parts room personnel or technicians using the Interactive Workstation. When the user is ready to place an order with their suppliers, the system will allow the user to press a button and the system will automatically create purchase orders for each vendor the parts will be ordered from or add the selected items to an existing open purchase order.”

“Parts assigned to job cards are traceable through the system, providing useful information on usage and costs per vehicle for monitoring purposes,” Chevin’s Gladding noted. “Parts can be assigned to job cards on the spot through our Workshop Hub app, which not only reduces administrative tasks but helps keep an accurate inventory of stock.”

With many inventory systems, you can set up minimum and maximum inventory levels of a certain part so that whenever you fall below the amount you need to have on hand, an alert is automatically filled.

“There are two main benefits to the min/max reordering feature: First, you will not run out of parts because you determine what your minimum stocking level is. Second, it will substantially reduce the amount of parts you have on hand. If you do not have an inventory system, you tend to over-buy,” said Fleetsoft’s Claussner. “Fleetsoft can also determine what the optimal minimum quantity will be based on how often you use a part. It saves money by reducing how much inventory you have on hand. It also reduces the size of the inventory storage space you need to have.

“What many fleets do,” he shared, “is put the minimum quantity at the lowest level possible and order daily from their parts supplier for next-day delivery. They let their parts supplier be their parts room.”

Trimble’s Peck noted that depending on who you want to put in charge of ordering, the Parts Requisition feature on Trimble’s software allows reordering to be performed at the shop level or at the corporate level where one purchasing agent is responsible for parts ordering.

Additionally, depending on the software solution you choose, it may integrate with the other telematics software that’s already on the truck, which can make it easier to identify and solve problems with the vehicle. With more and more telematics solutions and devices out there, it can make a shop manager’s life much easier when they can all be integrated together.

Many of these systems work in app form so they can be used on the phones and tablets you and your technicians are no doubt extensively making use of throughout the shop.

“The inventory software function is further supported by the launch of a new technician app called The Workshop hub,” Chevin’s Gladding said. “This app supports technicians by providing them with access to their workload through a smartphone or tablet.”

User feedback

The benefits mentioned above are borne out by the feedback the software providers have received from customers.

“During the development stages of our tools, we work closely with our customers, who are frequently involved with supporting us during the testing stages. A testament to the usefulness of our tools is that these clients continue to use the tools and incorporate them across the business at the end of trials,” Chevin’s Gladding said.

Fleetsoft’s Claussner shared: “I had the CFO of a customer call me a year after implementing the system and said that every year they report the dollar amount of parts at all their locations that are unaccounted for. He said the previous year the number was more than $700,000 in unaccounted parts. Once they implemented the system, the next year it was down to $1,700. He said they still do not know where all those parts went, but the inventory system paid for itself many times over.”