6 Principles of an Effective Spare Parts Stocking Program

service_MG_4965After you’ve invested in an automated material handling solution—whether that includes conveyor, automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), or a combination of the two—you’re only 1/2 way there. Implementing a solid equipment maintenance program is key to ensuring that your system is always running at its peak. While there may be a variety of options for maintenance providers, in our experience establishing and maintaining an effective spare parts stocking program is mandatory.

Why? Because, with just a little advance analysis and planning to determine which components are most likely to need replacement in the event of a failure, you can ensure that your operation’s key equipment continues to operate with minimal downtime. Here are 6 principles to follow when developing an effective spare parts stocking program for your automated warehouse operation.

1Read the manuals. Yes, really. If you can’t stomach reading the complete documentation provided by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or system integrator for each installation, at least flip to the list of critical, wear and recommended spare parts. These components are the ones you should most strongly consider keeping a spare (or multiple spares) of, on-site.


2Ask the OEM and/or integrator which parts they stock. Just because a North American company installed your equipment doesn’t necessarily mean that all the components were manufactured here. At viastore, some of the equipment we install is manufactured in the United States; other items are manufactured in Europe. For that reason, we only stock certain critical, proprietary components that have particularly long lead times and are utilized by multiple customers—such as encoders and variable frequency drives (VFDs)—in our Michigan facility. If your supplier doesn’t stock a part, ask if you should instead.


3Stock anything marked “critical.” These are the parts that, if they malfunction for whatever reason, will definitely ruin your day. That’s because without them your automated system simply will not work. If your supplier doesn’t stock encoders or VFDs, and you know it will take weeks (or months) to get a replacement, stock it. This is particularly true of the motors and VFDs in AS/RS cranes, which are often engineered to very specific application parameters. Even something as small as a photo-eye or other sensor—while typically not expensive, and relatively small, their proper operation is essential. In fact, a few of any component considered “critical” should be maintained in stock, as many as three percent, depending on the item. Work with your supplier to determine how many of each critical parts should be kept on-site.
(By the way, if a specific part in a certain location seems to routinely need replacement—such as a sensor that’s breaking repeatedly, for example—let your OEM or integrator know. There are a variety of engineering and design modifications that can be made to better protect that component.)


Red-numbers-4Keep replacement “wear” items on site. With conveyors in particular, there are lot of wear points. Motor-driven rollers (MDR) that power slave driven rollers are commonly connected by a seemingly innocuous series of urethane band. Innocuous, that is, until one breaks and the conveyor stops rolling. A $100 investment in a bag of bands sized to your system is a small insurance policy in keeping your system up and running. Likewise, with belt conveyor, because many facilities use the same type throughout their operation, we often recommend that instead of stocking every belt length utilized, simply invest in a roll of each unique belt material and/or width in your system. When needed, the appropriate length can be measured, cut and spliced to the length needed for replacement. This saves both space and cost.


Red-numbers-5Maintain stock in “recommended” supplies. This might not only include components, but also consumables, such as fluids and lubrications, that should be applied at routine intervals (again, as explained in equipment manuals that you should really read).


Red-numbers-6Schedule an annual equipment check-up. Even if your own, on-site technicians maintain your automated equipment, it’s a good practice to bring in the OEM or system integrator at least once a year to inspect the system and its components. The reason? These experienced technicians service the same types of equipment on a daily basis, giving them insights and expertise from working on hundreds of installations similar to yours. They can give your maintenance team pointers on areas that need more attention, and suggestions on practices that can further extend the life of your machinery.
While there, have the outside technicians check and inspect the items in your spare parts inventory as well. Not only can they ensure that you have enough of each component on hand, but also verify that they are in good working order and ready to go should they be needed at a moment’s notice.

Remember, when it comes to a parts program, it isn’t a ‘parts is parts’ approach that will get you far.


Need more recommendations on spare parts and preventive maintenance for your automated material handling system? Connect with viastore’s customer care specialists at 616.977.3950 for guidance on your facility’s maintenance practices.

About Ben Outwater

Ben is the Director of Customer Service at viastore and is responsible for hotline, spare parts, and crane commissioning and service. Ben started with DCS (later purchased by viastore) in 2003 as a software engineer straight out of college, and has been with the company ever since.

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