Treasures in Your Stock Room...
As spring approaches, we often hear people talk about their need to do a thorough spring cleaning. Somehow, the increase in sunlight and warming temperatures seems to encourage an automatic response. Experience tells you that spring will bring an increase in activities. Your instincts respond by creating a desire to straighten up your belongings, somehow getting your “house in order.” By and large, this is a great exercise for many of us. Organizing our belongings at home is a worthwhile endeavor, as it often surprises us with an occasional treasure. The same method of thinking can be applied to our parts rooms. What treasures lurk hidden in your parts bin?
I recently dropped in to see a customer while traveling on an outside sales trip. As I stood in the customer’s office, I noticed one of my boxes on his floor. This box was unopened, and still had the packing list attached to the box. I remembered sending this customer an AOG part several weeks previous to my visit. Upon talking to my customer, I discovered that this shipment was, in fact, the AOG part I had sent a few weeks prior. As I talked with my client, I discovered their aircraft was in for a long refurbishment, receiving new paint and a new interior. I asked why the part was AOG when the aircraft would be sitting on jacks for several months. The parts buyer shrugged his shoulders. He then was kind enough to offer me a tour of his parts room. Sure enough, there was an identical part sitting on his shelf. Not only had he ordered an expensive part AOG and paid overnight shipping unnecessarily, but he also had the part on his shelf to begin with.
This type of unorganized buying behavior is why many FBOs and air charter operators have unnecessarily high parts costs. Preface this with another visit I had with a customer in Alaska several weeks ago. I was in visiting with a turboprop operator whose parts room was very organized. Everything they had was labeled, including their consumable supplies. Bin locations where mandatory and no stones were left unturned, so to speak.
A place for everything ...
Many DOMs see the rightful importance of keeping the hangar floor, work spaces and tool cabinets in a high state of organizational readiness. Everything needs to be clean, organized and accounted for. The same principles apply to the parts room. Larger operators normally have a well-organized and laid out parts room. Often, I see that smaller and medium-size operators have a less-than-organized spares room. If your parts room lacks organization, maybe it is time to have a conference with your parts buyer. If you don’t have a specified buyer, then identify someone on your maintenance staff for that position. At the very least, identify someone to organize the parts room and regularly inventory its contents. Once you identify your team member, make sure and provide clear instructions as to how often the parts room is to be inventoried, and how to go about documenting this process.
There has been a lot of discussion over the years among parts professionals on how to organize a parts room. From my experience, I have seen two main methods.
First is alphanumeric. In a parts room that is organized alphanumerically, parts are stocked in alphanumeric order. Part numbers that start with the letter A are stocked in order, all the way through letter Z. Then, part numbers starting with the number one are stocked sequentially until they reach the number 10. I have seen operators of all sizes use this system.
The second method is the one we use in all Chance Aviation locations. Our company stocks by product category. For example, all aircraft tires are stocked in one area. All bulbs are stocked in another. Batteries are stocked properly in one section, while avionics and instruments are stocked in another. The reason why I prefer this method is that it makes reordering and process control somewhat easier. Although computers are critical, stocking by product line makes it easier for aircraft technicians and entry-level staff members to find parts in the event that you have an afterhours AOG event. I have also seen many instances where, although you may not have a certain part number tire in stock, a quick glance enables you to tell your client that you have an equivalent item available for use.
Another important consideration for stocking by product category is that it facilitates storing cores and hazardous materials in designated locations. All hazardous materials are generally required to be placed in special flame-proof cabinets, or in a secure but properly-ventilated area. Cores, on the other hand, should be locked away in a special area entirely their own. We use specialized staging areas for cores: one area for cores to be processed and another area for cores that we wish to keep in storage long-term. I would highly recommend that cores for long-term storage be kept locked away in a safe place.
... and everything in its place
Now that you have identified who is going to organize your parts room, let’s talk about the layout of the room. I know many operators use whatever space is available. I have seen 10-foot wide closets used, all the way to large warehouses. Either way, the principles are the same. First, make sure you have adequate shelving. If you have a parts room that is only eight to10 feet tall, then I would recommend buying Gorilla-brand racks at Sam’s club or Costco. They are reasonably priced and hold a surprising amount of weight. If you are looking for tall or pallet racking, I would recommend finding a used material handling company in your local Yellow Pages.
Because of the downturn in the economy, many material handling companies are sitting on piles of used racking systems. This is one of those times when buying used is smart. Recently, I purchased $5,000 worth of racking for $1,700. It pays to look around.
Once you erect your shelving or racking, resist the temptation to cram each shelf full of products. Leave a little room available on each shelf, as you may need some room in the future. As you do place products on your shelf, try to place higher usage items (like filters) closer to the room entrance. Slower-moving items like cores or surplus items should be placed in the farthest corner of the room. Studies have shown that this layout increases productivity and minimizes down time.
Many parts may come in packaging or storage containers of their own. When this is the case, and as space allows, it is best to store those containers on shelves. If the parts are loose, then it is best to store parts in either metal or cardboard bin boxes. In regards to the bin boxes themselves, I have found that many people have a hard time locating a source for bin boxes. I have found an online shipping supply company called Uline (www.uline.com), which stocks several sizes of white cardboard bin boxes.
After you have organized your room and arranged your parts on the shelves with adequate room, the last thing to accomplish is to label the boxes. The cleanest and most professional thing to do is use a label maker. Most people have some sort of label maker around. Many people have a UPS or FedEx thermal label printer on their shipping computer, yet don’t think to take advantage of this resource on hand. Dymo makes several nice and affordable label makers. It seems like a waste of effort to organize your parts room without finishing it off with a sharp, professional description of what is in each bin box.
The finished product
As a DOM, you should give yourself a pat on the back. You directed the organization of your parts room, and provided an inventory list of your recent audit to your CFO. You have provided leadership and accountability while protecting the investments of the company owner — but that’s not all. During your inventory audit, you found some hidden treasures. You found an extra starter generator core that came along with a Falcon Jet you recently purchased. You found that box of 3M Aerospace tape you hadn’t realized you had. Maybe you simply have some landing lights that are no longer needed. You changed aircraft models, and don’t need those 4596 landing lights anymore. What do you do?
What you are faced with is an opportunity. If you are a DOM who has parts you don’t need, call your local parts distributor and local repair stations. Many of us look for cores constantly, and most smart distributors will help their good customers dispense with their excess inventory. You might consider sending your parts list via email and working out a consignment agreement. Many distributors will list their customers’ parts on an online listing service in return for a small percentage of the sale. This relieves you of the hassle of monitoring your inventory and allows your distributor to do what they do best!
If you have gone through this exercise recently, you realize that this was a lot of necessary effort. If you currently have a parts professional on your staff, consider yourself blessed. You might take some time to talk with them about their excess inventory and what they are doing with it. Better yet, ask your staff member if they need any help for an upcoming inventory audit. Parts professionals are a part of the aircraft maintenance team. Any successful aviation operation requires an entire team to keep aircraft flying safely. Take care of your team — they might find some hidden treasures to help you along the way.
Norman Chance is President and CEO of Chance Aviation, an international aircraft parts distributor headquartered in Indianapolis. He graduated with a degree in Aircraft Maintenance from Vincennes University and has a degree in Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle University. Chance has recently been named to the board of directors for the new Indiana Aerospace Junior/Senior high school. He holds an FAA A&P certificate.