Looking for an Inventory System 2020

To be 100% honest, our inventory organization tends to devolve over the course of the year. We often preface our inventory effort with one or two full days of organizing the shop, throwing out old/broken parts/tools, etc.

-Mike

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LOL the hard part is knowing when to throw it out.

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We still have some rusty tools that were donated as well as the bumpers from our first robot. I am doing some purging as we are sorting.

Finding a place for everything will be key (still in process with this one; all of this actually).

As someone who spends plenty of time of their day dealing with enterprise WMS solutions. I 100% agree with this.

I would also recommend Kanban systems for frequently used parts with min/maxes corresponding with ordering times.

Something that’s important to note is that an IT system doesn’t fix poor organization. If you don’t have the discipline to keep the shop organized without an IT system, the system will be completely useless. An IT system can absolutely enhance a teams experience (especially large ones) but timely cycle counts will still be necessary and inventory variance won’t be abnormal.

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Agreed. Mike and I have near identical thoughts here (and run near identical google sheets for yearly inventory).

You can guesstimate (and then refine) what you need for a given season for all standard materials; powerpoles, bolts, rivets, metal, etc…

Start the season with that amount, and stress to your student and/or mentor subteam leads that you need to raise the flag midseason if you’re at half inventory for something well before you’re at zero inventory.

Your team will always be sitting on $X of consumables that could’ve been spent elsewhere, BUT you get the upside of not having in season delays due to material shortages.

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After 21 years we’ve accumulated quite the collection. Somehow, it’s still fairly organized. The struggle is real though. I can tell you exactly how many NIB Falcon motors we have, but it you asked me how many Thunderhex bearings or 1/8 NPT right angle push to connect fittings we have available, I wouldn’t be able to tell you right off hand. I’d have to go look. In 2019 it was particularly tough for us with hardware because the robot had so many different sizes, and our shop has so many different sizes, every time we wanted to order we had to physically check our stock to make sure we didn’t already have it. I’ve been pretty good about knowing what we have, but in the past few years it has really grown, and it’s getting tough to track it. A database would be nice.

Your falcon point is great here.

Your tracking should be tied to some combination of cost and impact to season… past that just estimate what you need for a year and re-order before you run out.

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And unlike a typical business, FRC teams shouldn’t need to worry all that much about holding inventory. If you have the space and the discipline to keep everything organized (even just to the point that you can visually look through where you’re starting to run low), keeping stock levels high is actually cheaper–you can get bulk discounts, save on shipping, etc… the reduced stress alone is worth the money! :slight_smile:

One very simple step to take is keeping a parts ordering spreadsheet for each year (or gasp a real BOM?). That way you can get a sense of common parts and how many you’re using of each thing in a typical year. And then stock 2x that. And another tip is to size your organizers to the size and quantity of the amount you should have in stock, that way it’s easy to visually tell when it’s time to order more.

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All of these responses are incredible. I am really busy so doing more reading than posting, but this is helpful. For us, since we are an 8020 team, some of the fasteners are important to keep on our radar. Organization is going to need to be first on our minds for a while, but this is all helping us prioritize.

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Another thought is try to reduce the amount of different fastensers and sizing. This will greatly help you start organized. Just stick with 5-6 different sizes, and then all the lengths.

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Yes, We have done that :), and it did help a lot.

+1 for not trying to track things.

I think many teams overlook the ordering process when it comes to keeping an inventory. We have 0 inventory tracking and leverage faster shipping services (mcm and wcp) to keep things stocked*. I know most teams have significant difficulties ordering things, and streamlining this process should take priority over any inventory tracking system.

Although incredibly overkill for an FRC team, I think principles of the Kanban System should be implemented. Make it incredibly painless to see your inventory, then put systems in place to quickly reorder once you get low or run out.

*Sorry international teams

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Don’t keep inventory…

If you’re out of stock of a piece…I’m sure you can find an old robot with it somewhere! :business_suit_levitating:

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This * 1000. When I came back to 2220 one of the things we started doing that year, thanks to I believe the great @siirila, was move to a single spreadsheet with all our ordering. That has evolved into a single spreadsheet that has every order we’ve made since 2018. This is a fantastic reference for a team that has many different people who may be ordering things at any given time. We also track ordered/received there, since we have many people who want stuff ordered and one person who actually does ordering, making it easy for both sides of that is very important.

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I don’t know if we can get an @Allison_K showing here, but I think they have a system that’s pretty achievable/maintainable - just requires a good bit of up front effort to organize.

What I plan on doing is a little bit of a combo of annual inventory, plus making the teams purchase request form viewable by the team. As it is I ask students to fill out a form for anything that needs purchased and then I make those purchases Tuesday night/weds before noon. This would help in being able to at least find if the “thing” has been purchased recently or should be a thing that we have (like say the 4 chain tool breaks that we have because they kept getting lost)

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Lol, okay you convinced me. Apologies if this isn’t directly answering the topic question, I’ve had a day and this is more just a brain dump of RJ Inventory Management in general. If it’s too offtopic Andrew can take some of the blame :upside_down_face:

I have a mild fascination with process management.

General question: What purpose does inventory management serve?

The RJ answer is inventory management should enable smooth workflow. If workflow is interrupted there has been a failure. What are ways in which workflow might be interrupted due to inventory management (and lapses thereof)?

  • Not having a thing we need when we need it
  • Not being able to find a thing we need when we need it
  • Not knowing a particular thing is needed in greater quantities than we have it in
  • Thinking we don’t have a thing when we actually do

How do we prevent those things from happening?

  1. Be able to use the things that we have
  2. Don’t run out of things
  3. Be able to order things and get them on hand before we need them

Be able to use the things that we have

  • The thing must be useful
  • We must be able to ascertain if we have the thing and acquire it in less than six minutes

Inventory management will be greatly simplified if you aren’t drowning in clutter, consider starting inventory management by reducing the quantity of things you have in general and paring them down to only the useful things. If, like me, your team has individuals that are very emotionally attached to various things of questionable utility I have found it useful to delineate a particular volume in which they can rescue and store whatever things they so desire, regardless of my opinion on the utility of said things.

The next step is to be able to organize the remaining things such that we can ascertain if we have them and acquire in under six minutes. We do this by way of logical organization systems that use tactics that make it low effort for team members to find things and put them back. It is impractical to expect team members to memorize locations of specific things or even specific types of things. If you think your system is logical teach it to somebody that is brand new to the shop and robots and then ask them to explain it back to you and/or draw a map of how to find everything a day or three later. Use their response to figure out what about your system only makes sense to people that have years of experience and/or unusual eidetic memory. RJ tactics for logical organization include:

  • Shallow clear labeled buckets that aren’t stacked more than two high (nobody ever moves anything to find something under it)
  • EVERYTHING of one category is in one general place. Parts are in one closet, long stock in long stock holder, short stock under workbenches, etc. Some pictures here (this was in the midst of the last reorg, it’s a little better now)
  • Avoid purchasing things that don’t work with any of our other things

A formal inventory management system could serve the same purpose, but we have found it more efficient to be able to just teach everybody how to find things and then grab what we need when we need it.

Don’t run out of things

I hate running out of things. It is the worst. I also hate keeping track of how many we have of any random thing we are likely to run out of. For 2020 we revised inventory management so that we don’t have to know how many of a thing we have. We have a single 4’ wide chrome wire shelf with backup inventory of every supply that we have ever run out of organized into clear labeled buckets. When shop stock runs low, I restock from the controlled buckets. When the controlled buckets are empty I put them on my desk and that’s my warning that I better get my act in gear and order the things before we have a bad day and it’s entirely my fault. Things in controlled inventory include:

  • Tape (gaff and duct in various colors, double stick, electrical, masking/painters)
  • zip ties (white in 4" 8" 11" and colors in 4" for labeling)
  • 4 spare NiB of every motor and motor controller we have used or would consider using or would anticipate a partner using
  • electrical contacts, housings, terminals, and wire (zip cord in 10awg and 18awg and noodle in 12awg)
  • Bearings in all the sizes we use
  • #10-32 socket cap screws in all the lengths we stock (1/4" increments through 3") as well as nuts (nylock, keps, hex) and washers (standard and fender)
  • powder coat, portioned in zip lock bags
  • rivets in all the sizes we typically stock
  • spare NiB cameras/limelights
  • spare tooling for CNC and taps/drill bits (need to add spare lathe tooling)
  • spare blades for chop saw and bandsaw
  • spare NiB tanks and compressors
  • spare NiB VP and UP and accessories
  • +/- sticky liquids (lithium grease, tap magic, loc-tite)
  • spare NiB PS4 controllers, cable retention clips, 10’ USB cables
  • spare bandaids
  • spare solder and soldering supplies
  • spare sharpies (fine and ultra fine), pencils, pens
  • spare NiB REV hexbore, CTRE mag encoders, VP mag encoder slices, and limit switches (really, what other sensors do we need right?)
  • maybe some other things I’m forgetting, I copied this list from the last time I wrote it and that was from memory

Be able to order things and get them on hand before we need them

This is honestly where we’ve struggled the most, having done everything from complete formal purchasing request and record sheet, to literally no system at all. I have to say no system at all was the most recent one and it’s served us well. None of us have to worry about or become overwhelmed with trying to maintain record keeping. Most of what we need is parts or supplies that we have on hand anyway and/or can purchase locally same day (raw plastic and metal). Everything else either somebody that knows the design gives me a buy list and I buy it, or I just look at the CAD and buy directly from the feature tree, or it goes into a purchasing channel in slack. It sounds chaotic and awful but all the time that we don’t spend trying to coordinate and maintain a formal system goes into other things we find more valuable and/or more satisfying.

The main thing I maintain awareness of in ordering is protecting Saturdays - i.e. we better have things available to us on Friday so we can use them first thing on Saturday. Saturday is always our most valuable work days and most of the rest of the week is preparing to have a good day on Saturday. So with that I base orders from vendors on their shipping and will bother the designers and/or set their deadlines based on knowing what they need for any particular vendor by whatever day is the cutoff to get those things in by Friday.

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Please, always blame me if it comes to you posting about RJ training or organization. I’d love to shoulder that blame =)

We’ve picked the the sterlite clear bins from Target recently, and so far I’m liking them. We have a long way to go before we’re near a workable level of organization, but I like the way it’s going. One of our problems is the shelves that were installed are deep enough that if we wanted two we could store the bins two deep - but that seems like a dangerous thing to do. But I hate having the wasted space.

Going to mess around with some things a little bit. For instance - right now, I’ve got a clear bin that’s for ultraplanetaries. It’s got the UP kits, but also the hex adapters and M3 bolts to attach the hex adapters. Is it a little weird to have bolts in that bin instead of with other bolts? Maybe, but we don’t really use M3 outside of that, so I think it’ll make sense to team members. We’ll see.

Thanks for including examples of the things you keep in controlled inventory too.

For anyone curious, this is what our purchase request form looks like: Copy of Purchase request - Google Forms

Though I’ve been considering just having people fill something like this out directly - it just seems like the form was less intimidating for people when we were starting with it: Copy of Order form - Google Sheets

As mentioned, my newest plan is to have the form results be viewable by everyone on the team, and I’ll highlight things as they get purchased and include a notes column with information (such as if I got it cheaper somewhere else, if I have an ETA for delivery, etc). We’ll see if that happens or not.

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We do the same by keeping M4 hardware for BAG and 775Pro motors in our Stack On 17 Compartment organizer for Versaplanetary motor mounts. Other than custom gearboxes or reductions, VPs is where they get used the most.

Similarly, we keep our REV chain tools in our organizer with masterlinks and always keep a 3/16 hand riveter in the rivet box even if we mostly use air tools or M12 riveter. Keep it with what its used for and save a trip.

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This advice is more helpful than the inventory software program by far. You identified many of the thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head for a while. As I am one of those people who has difficulty throwing things away, these pieces of advice are invaluable. Thank you. Though I wish I could mark other posts as a solution as well, I feel for us, this hits the nail on the head so to speak.

The itemized list is incredible.

These exceptions to our “only use 10-32, 8-32, and 1/4-20 fasteners” rule wreak havoc on our organization system. I love this solution.

I think one big help for our organization (that you both touched upon) is knowing that is okay to throw out (or at the very least to be relegated to the throw out if we do not find a use for it soon area) things that seem like they could work with our current streamlined system, but cannot.

E.X. Rev extrusion pieces (we use 8020), and 10-24 fasteners (we use 10-32).

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