During a recent maintenance-management seminar, the topic of purchasing cards (P-cards) being taken away for misuse almost created a riot among the group. One of the more frequent complaints from maintenance people is that they just want the parts to do their job right. While P-cards help enable this, they can be a curse at the same time.

Typically, many organizations do not have a good partnership between the maintenance, materials management and purchasing functions. The illusion of a partnership exists, but not a real partnership. As such, maintenance uses the P-cards as a method to navigate around the difficulties of purchasing parts and materials through the normal channels. Face it: We enjoy the freedom of just running or calling down to the local supply house to get what we need. Needless to say, there are lots of issues embedded here, but let’s just focus on one part of the P-card curse.

If we are using the P-card to navigate outside the normal purchasing and materials management channels, that generally means we are purchasing parts and materials outside the CMMS/EAM systems. While some groups have great procedures for getting P-card purchases into the CMMS, most don’t. For many organizations, here is how the process works:

  • 1) The maintenance supervisor shags the parts on the P-card. Maybe they get a receipt at the time of purchase or maybe not.
  • 2) Some 30 to 60 days later, they reconcile the receipts with the credit-card bill when it comes from accounting and charge it to a budget cost center in a blanket order fashion. I already hear some of you asking, “So what’s wrong with this approach?”

Here’s the problem with the scenario above. The individual parts and materials along with their cost didn’t get charged to each individual work order. Talk about a lagging metric! It may be 90 days before we see the actual money spent hit the budget, so we are flying blind. Even then, we still don’t know the money spent or actual parts used at the individual equipment level. We might know an area at best.

Worse, we lost the opportunity to build our bill of materials (BOM) in the CMMS. Every time we buy an item, even if we don’t stock it, we should be assigning the item a non-stock part number, capturing the description, cost and sourcing information to link it to our equipment. It may be the only way we have to build the bill of materials.

We need to get in the habit of buying everything through the CMMS, even if using P-cards to purchase. Doing this gives us the ability to build the bill of materials for our equipment. We understand the usage so we can make intelligent stocking decisions with materials management. We know our costs down to the individual equipment levels. We aren’t waiting 90 days to understand the cost of each work order. Furthermore, we can use our equipment data in the CMMS to determine where we are spending our money and see if we are having issues with types of parts.

The bottom line is that if you are using P-cards, make sure you have procedures that are audited and enforced to overcome the P-card curse.