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sparesFinder - cloud solution for managing spares data

Friday, August 31, 2012

UK company sparesFinder has added a new module to its cloud-based Master Data Management (MDM) software to help companies organise their spares and equipment data for new projects.

sparesFinder, a UK company which specialises in cleaning up and organising spare parts data, has developed an online tool called 'Spearhead', which provides asset owners, EPCs and equipment suppliers with a collaborative solution to capture, verify and deliver all of the spares data required to get new plant and equipment operational.

These companies can use the system to manage all of the key materials data for a project, including item descriptions, links to equipment tags, and the recommended quantities of each spare needed for build and operation.

The idea behind Spearhead is to bring together sparesFinder's expertise in cleaning up spares data, with the problem which engineering companies have managing the spares data with a new project.

During the process of new construction projects, companies are typically given many different spreadsheets of spare part data, typically known as Spares Parts Interchange-ability Records (SPIRs) spread-sheets - hence the name of the product.

'You might have 200- 250 different suppliers for the equipment on a rig - possibly many more than that,' says David Stroud, CEO of sparesFinder. 'Each supplier will provide the SPIR data for the equipment that they are selling you, but each completed with better or worse quality and with little consistency between them.'

Engineers then need to review this data, add their own stock recommendations and before long the quantity and complexity of data becomes simply unmanageable. Worse still, the SPIRs are often delivered at the last minute creating process bottlenecks and putting operational dates at risk.

This antiquated process of managing data frequently leads to multiple instances of the same item being named differently and over ordered. Moreover, the lack of process visibility incurs heavy and unnecessary extra expense.

'The more I looked the problem, the more I knew we should build a solution, as this issue lends itself to the areas where we try to differentiate ourselves, namely delivering high quality spares data using collaborative web based solutions,' says Mr Stroud.

Spearhead offers control and visibility of the whole process, giving management reporting of completed tasks and highlighting risk where work is not being completed on schedule. Suppliers, EPCs and owners can import all of their spare parts data and organise them on one system according the required standard, with a master catalogue of all the parts that have already been entered to re-use if necessary.

You can make sure the same spare part is described in the same way for every piece of equipment it is used on, so you can easily find out if the part you require is already in use within the company and avoid buying stock that you may already own.

The software has roles and audit trails, people can be allocated different tasks to do and you can track who has done what.

The system is particularly applicable for new build projects, because they offer the opportunity to put in a good system right at the beginning for managing spares, although the same application can also be used to get a better handle on the spares requirements for existing assets.

Like all of sparesFinder's software, Spearhead has been developed working together with a number of sparesFinder's customers, in particular MKS Databanks who are one of the first adopters. The solution has already been used to support projects in Ecuador, Columbia, the North Sea and Australia.

Spares inventory optimisation

An important benefit of Spearhead is helping companies work out the optimum number of spares of each item to keep.

It is typical for buyers to just halve their supplier's recommendation, on the basis that the supplier is trying to make them to buy more spare parts than they need.

'There should be a clear process about how you assign that spares level,' he says. 'You should look at the criticality of the equipment, if it would impact production if it fails, and also whether there are health and safety or environmental impacts.

'Then you can work out your maintenance requirements and how you will repair any failure so you can understand what you need to hold - if you do that properly you can cut your spares by a huge amount.'

By integrating the system with current operational data, you can also see if you have the same part in use on another piece of equipment, how many spares you already have, and how often you use them.

About sparesFinder

sparesFinder's original business plan, launched back in the dot com era of 1999 to 2001, was to help companies find spares on each other's shelves. The idea was that companies could see if the spare part they needed was available on a platform a 10 min helicopter ride away, rather than have to close down operations while the part was delivered from the manufacturer in Singapore.

In one case, a North Sea oil rig which had a failed gas detection meter, and would have had to shut the platform down without it, used the service to find a spare meter in the onshore storeroom of another operator. 'One search and a quick phone call saved an enormous amount of downtime,' says Mr Stroud.

sparesFinder ended up moving on from this business plan when it found that most oil companies did not have good enough data.

So since then it has been mainly offering software and services to clean up and manage spares data, taking an export of spares data from companies' enterprise resource planning systems such as SAP, cleaning it with their proprietary software tools and establishing an integrated data maintenance solution to keep the quality high as new items are purchased.

sparesFinder increased revenue 60 per cent last year, and with 50 per cent of earnings coming from the USA, is just the kind of high tech, export led company that the government is hoping will lead the UK out of the current recession.

The Spearhead solution takes the company forward to address the cause of high inventory levels and poor data at its source. It can use its expertise in cleaning up and governing spares data, to help companies put together databases of spares data for greenfield projects, and, if they choose, align it with the spares they already have.

Poor data, poor performance

It is hard to understand why companies are happy to increase costs from not looking after their data very well, Mr Stroud says. After all if you are a 10% margin business, saving £1 in cost makes the same impact on profits as selling £10 more product.

It is common for companies to invest in new data processing and transaction systems, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, but then load the data from their previous software into it, without any cleaning.

This is similar to buying a new Ferrari and using oil from a your old car in it, he says. The massive improvement in performance you expect is not going to be achieved.

'There is a huge amount of unstructured data out there,' he says. 'There are lots of very good analytics tools and databases that can give you lots of glossy reports. But there's nothing to connect the analytics tools with the massive data which is not very well structured.'

'So we're saying, we'll organise all the data - then you can put really good analytics.'


The sparesFinder software runs in the cloud, which means that it is much easier to ensure the software is running reliably.

For PC installed software, 'whoever is developing the software hasn't got control over your computer, so has to deal with enormous variations' says Mr Stroud. 'It's a very slow and costly way to develop software.'

'On the cloud, there's only one version of the software and we control the hardware. All the customers do is log on. The whole thing just works better.'

You can pay for the software on a monthly basis. Mr Stroud believes that a monthly payment model means that the software supplier has a much bigger incentive to keep the customer happy, than if the software is all paid for upfront, because it gives the vendor incentive to keep offering a good service.

Cloud systems can also be running much faster, he says. 'If you like the idea of this, you can have it in 10 minutes, you get your login and there you go.'

'If you're putting in software on your own (in house) IT infrastructure, first you have to get approvals, then you have to get the IT people interested, then you have join a waiting list, then they take 3 months to do it and allocate all their costs your way. By then the benefits have been lost.'

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» Sparesfinder


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