When it comes to storerooms and materials management, one of the struggles that I repeatedly see in organizations is the issue of effective part descriptions, especially the short descriptions. This is especially true when you consider the domino effect these descriptions can cause. Using valves as an example, if your descriptions look like the following, then you need to give serious thought and effort toward your storeroom processes and data cleansing efforts.

BALL, VALVE, SS, 316, 2”

BALL VALVE, SS316, 2”

543564, VALVE, BALL

VALVE, BALL, 316SS, 2”

XOMOX, VALVE, SS 2”

V501, BALL, 2”

When you have a large database, say 12,000 individual SKUs, it becomes really difficult for people to find what they’re looking for searching the short text descriptions. Sure, you can use a wildcard search like *VALVE*, but that really doesn’t narrow it down for you.

What are some of the domino effects of short descriptions like these besides difficult searching? It becomes easier to have duplicate parts under separate SKU numbers. From the descriptions above, each one may actually represent the same valve or equivalent from different manufacturers. When the planner can’t find the item using a SKU number or short text from the storeroom catalog, they look up items using past work order history. Odds are the previous item was not associated with a stock SKU either, so they paste the short description text into a purchase requisition and launch it to procurement. Procurement doesn’t have time or the part knowledge to hunt the stock SKU number either. The part gets ordered and received. We might even expedite it while four sit on the storeroom shelf. Since there is no stock SKU reference, we can’t show usage or use the received part to swap with an older unit on the shelf (think "first in, first out", or FIFO). Then when we run a slow-moving report on the stockroom inventory, guess what shows up? The same part that we may have been buying every six months shows no issues in the last three years from the stockroom shelves. It may even be automatically deleted from stock based on the mood of procurement if they own the stockroom. It may be that we are using these items all over the plant and have no consumption recorded. We really don’t have usage information to determine how many we should be stocking.

In light of this discussion, examine how you are doing with your storeroom inventory descriptions.

About the author:
As managing principal for People and Processes, Jeff Shiver helps organizations implement best practices for maintenance and operations. Prior to this post, Jeff was a practitioner who worked 25 years in manufacturing and facilities with companies such as Procter and Gamble, IBM and Mars North America, where Jeff spent the bulk of his career. His experience includes maintenance and reliability, project and controls engineering, information technology and operations in manufacturing and corporate management roles. Contact Jeff at jshiver@peopleandprocesses.com.