6 tips for fixing your kitting process

Successful kitting can improve workforce efficiency and inventory management

By Wally Wilson, CMRP, CPIM, Life Cycle Engineering

Across manufacturing sectors, it’s accepted that implementing a kitting process to support planned and scheduled equipment repairs is a really good idea. A well-implemented kitting process will pay huge benefits in the form of reduced inventory investment, more-efficient utilization of maintenance technicians and storeroom employees, and overall equipment reliability. But problems arise when we assume everyone understands the kitting process and when lines of communication between the storeroom, the maintenance planners, and the maintenance and operations teams are not open and clear.

Consistently serving as a barrier to kitting parts and tools for planned work are unplanned additions to scheduled maintenance tasks for the day. Most of the time these schedule-breakers are jobs that the operations or maintenance supervisor believes are critical and must be completed immediately. In fact, most of these jobs are not critical, and most can be planned and scheduled for a later time. When these schedule breaks occur, the kits that are delivered and ready for the maintenance technician to execute the job are pushed off, and the kitted jobs have to be rescheduled. Having incomplete kits linger in the kit staging area or in the maintenance shop makes them a target to be robbed of parts. Furthermore, as additional scheduled jobs get pushed aside, what’s communicated to employees is that planned and scheduled work isn’t a high priority. This reinforces a reactive environment for maintenance work. 

Many times the kits are complete and ready for scheduling, but the planners don’t have the opportunity to schedule the work and have the kits delivered because higher-priority jobs are moved to the front of the line. When this happens, the volume of ready kits begins to build in the storeroom, and soon the complete and ready-to-schedule kits are multiplying like rabbits. Plant managers can find that they have hundreds of thousands of dollars tied up in kits.

Another concern with having a large number of completed kits in the storeroom is that parts are often issued to a kit as it is built. The issuing of these parts to a kit can trigger an automatic reorder for inventory replenishment. As a kitting process matures, more parts will be nonstock items that are ordered as demand for the part is identified. Sometimes jobs are canceled. If canceling planned jobs that are kitted becomes a habit, returning these parts to the storeroom inventory quickly causes the inventory value to become inflated, and a bloated or overstocked storeroom inventory results. Some parts that are nonstock items can be returned to the supplier for a restocking fee, but in most cases these parts are sent to the storeroom to be added to the inventory. Either way, this de-allocation is a waste of time.

Having too many kits piling up creates organizational challenges and inventory budget problems that can negate the benefits of using a kitting process. Here are some suggestions to help you reap kitting’s promised rewards:

1. Start with documented work management processes to identify and prioritize routine maintenance work. Establish clear guidelines for employees to follow when creating maintenance work orders. The guidelines should define an emergency and what can be planned and scheduled. Effects on safety, the environment, and production should frame the guidelines for prioritizing maintenance work.
2. Recognize that condition-based monitoring is essential for overall equipment reliability. Preventive and predictive maintenance practices are vital to understanding the health of your equipment. Generally, about 40% of preventive maintenance activities have kitted parts that can be used to execute the work.
3. When the storeroom has a request from the maintenance planner to build a kit, there must be defined lines of communication between the storeroom kit coordinator and the maintenance planner. The planner and the storeroom should communicate daily and should consistently identify the current status of kits. Using the work order to identify a kit and a visual management system to communicate the status of that kit will allow the planners to visually evaluate and manage the aging of their kits. Implementing a kit-aging key performance measure can help ensure that ready-to-schedule kits are not overlooked.
4. Canceled kits should be the exception, not the rule. Any time a kit is canceled, it should be viewed as a failure of the process. When work orders are being approved, the approver should conduct a critical evaluation to determine whether the work is required or whether it can be delayed for a plant shutdown or other planned equipment downtime. Canceling kits for routine maintenance causes decreased use of maintenance planners and storeroom employees and usually causes future equipment breakdown.
5. The supervisors in operations and maintenance play a key role in establishing the success of a planned work kitting process. Communication between these two supervisory levels is critical; it will either build or destroy trust between these departments that equipment will be available or the equipment will be returned to operation as agreed. Two conditions need to be met for kitted jobs to support the execution of planned work: 
     a. Operations supervisors need to make their equipment available for maintenance to execute the work
     b. The maintenance supervisor must ensure that the equipment is returned to operations within the scheduled equipment downtime.

6. All of the points in the previous suggestions are vital to a successful kitting process. The final element for success is maintenance leadership. Employees will do what they understand and follow established processes if a manager expects them to do so. Setting in place key performance metrics to measure performance of the processes and employees provides data to manage expectations and develop strategies to move performance in the right direction. 

The overall goals of a planned work kitting process are to guarantee that the correct repair parts are on-site and that tools and documentation are ready so the equipment repair can be executed effectively. The best-planned kitting process in the world won’t succeed unless everyone understands their role in making it work. Simply putting parts and tools together in a kit is a supporting activity for maintenance. We still need everyone to coordinate, cooperate, and communicate to make the kitting process work well.

Wally Wilson, CMRP, CPIM, is a senior subject matter expert in materials management with Life Cycle Engineering (www.lce.com). Wilson has more than 30 years of plant management experience and has helped domestic and global clients realize multimillion-dollar savings through lean inventory-management practices and supply-chain optimization. Contact him at wwilson@LCE.com.

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