Whether it is used for drinking, cooking or washing away waste, water is the cornerstone of civilization and without it, life as we know it simply would not be possible. Despite our dependence on this fundamental resource however, the scale and complexity of the networks which transport water from the original source to our homes is seldom considered.
Although over 70% of the earth’s surface is submerged under water, only 2% of the planet’s water supply is fresh, and of that, just a fraction is actually safe to drink. As a result, in order to get the most out of this finite resource, it is essential our water systems collect, purify, store and transport water as efficiently as possible. However, when you consider that the UK’s water network encompasses over 22,000 miles of pipeline, maintaining these networks is a mammoth task. While a staggering 16 billion liters of water is pumped across England, Scotland and Wales every day, the UK’s water network is a mere drop in the ocean compared to America’s 800,000 miles of water pipeline and 600,000 miles of sewage lines.
Given the huge size of these water supply chains, it is not surprising that a significant amount of resources are required in order to keep them operational. For instance, according to the American Congressional Budget Office, the cost of maintaining America’s water infrastructure over the next four years could cost tax payers up to $98 billion. While some of this budget will be invested into updating aging treatment plants, the majority will be spent on fixing issues and replacing parts across the water network.
Although many maintenance projects are likely to be planned in advance, given that an unexpected repair could be required at any time, the businesses responsible for managing water networks are under constant pressure to resolve issues as soon as possible. While in a perfect world, every spare part would be kept in stock at all times, considering that water networks are typically made up of thousands of different components, some of which are extremely expensive, holding large stores of spare parts is simply not feasible.
However, as the people of Glasgow recently discovered when a broken valve caused service outages across the city; an issue along the water network could cause widespread disruption. Ensuring that parts are available when required is therefore very important. While water was restored to Glasgow within a matter of hours, considering that the duration of a repair is significantly influenced by the availability of the required components, if the replacement parts would not have been immediately available, the 50,000 residents affected by the broken valve could have been left without water for much longer.
In addition to prolonging service outages, lead times for new parts could also delay repair work, which in turn could result in hefty fines. For example, local councils across England have the authority to fine utility companies for disruption caused by delayed maintenance work and in 2011 alone, the UK’s largest water service provider was fined £3.7 million for over running repair work. This resulted in lengthy road closures. With all the costs associated with making a repair coupled with the potential cost of disruption, the overall financial costs of an issue can quickly accumulate.
As a result, in order to minimize the potential disruption and cost of making a repair, a range of factors have to be taken into consideration when planning inventories. In order to find the balance between inventory costs and availability, lead times and supplier capacity must be taken into account. Only then can the appropriate stock levels be achieved
While water networks are just one example of the important role spare parts play, managing inventories of spare parts is something all businesses must take into consideration. After all, regardless of whether your business needs a replacement part for a delivery truck or a new fuse for a computer server, without them, your operations could quickly come grinding to a halt.
Considering the importance of spare parts in our water networks, how dependent are your operations on spare parts and what steps have you taken to ensure you can obtain the parts you need, when you need them?