What are some of the big issues facing engineers in MRO right now? And how can trusted suppliers help them to address these challenges?

“I’ve spent thirty plus years in the world of Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO),” says Graeme Fullerton, Head of  UK Corporate Sales for RS. “That’s a lot of time talking to engineers about what keeps them awake at night.”

Here Fullerton shares some of the biggest concerns voiced by maintenance engineers, observations supported by the findings of the most recent global survey of indirect procurement professionals conducted by RS and the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS), as shown in bold below. He also shares how trusted suppliers can help maintenance engineers to overcome these challenges.

19% say the pandemic has accelerated supplier rationalisation
A major challenge for maintenance engineers today is rationalising the supply chain. There’s a need to balance costs: MRO products often represent a very low percentage of overall plant spend or investment, but it can be difficult to manage.

Many of those working in indirect procurement have and continue to work on reducing the number of suppliers for many years, becoming more reliant on high quality suppliers that can bring them value and product selection along with technical backup and resources. The latter includes value-added services for procurement, inventory and maintenance.

54% say COVID-19 has caused supply chain disruption
Another challenge is reliability. To achieve this, engineers working in MRO are developing proactive maintenance regimes and want continuity of supply, quality products and a supplier who can react quickly and offer flexibility as their business grows to support this approach.

"Businesses are looking for suppliers who can handle the supply chain issues"Graeme Fullerton, Head of UK Corporate Sales, RS

To ensure the continuity that they want, businesses are looking for suppliers who can handle the supply chain issues caused first by the coronavirus pandemic and now by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

We’ve reached a point where people are no longer keen on pursuing lean manufacturing because they don’t want the disruption of not being able to source a product at a critical moment. As Emma Botfield, Managing Director of RS in the UK and Ireland, puts it, “It’s not ‘just in time’ anymore, it’s about just in case.”

As a result, maintenance engineers want a supplier with a large product offering, available straight off the shelf, that can help them to avoid breakdown scenarios and get moving again quickly. At the same time, they want high quality and highly competitive products and are looking for the reassurance of brands they know and recognise such as the RS Pro range.

36% say collaboration with suppliers has increased
Maintenance engineers are also looking for suppliers who can share valuable insights and expertise.

Take PPE. Ensuring that workers turn up in the morning and go home at night the same way that they arrived is of paramount importance. That said, PPE was always seen as an add-on product for many MRO distributors.

Now it’s become far more important to those responsible for MRO to keep track of PPE requirements and their PPE spend. More of them require value-added solutions that support the management of PPE such as industrial vending for lineside availability of products. They need to be able to trust that suppliers have the high specialised and highly technical knowledge of PPE required

In terms of the food and beverage industry, for example, PPE is needed to protect both the person and the product. Needlers, now part of RS Safety Solutions, is a specialist food industry PPE supplier that can provide a total consultative sales and technical service. Engineers in heavy industries, on the other hand, can turn to Liscombe, a specialist supplier of PPE for hazardous environments that is now part of RS Safety Solutions.

18% say their company has a strategy in place for condition monitoring
If you go back ten years, condition-based monitoring as a bit of a luxury, a nice to have. Now proactive maintenance strategies are becoming a must-have.

"Proactive maintenance strategies are becoming a must-have"Graeme Fullerton, Head of UK Corporate Sales, RS

Engineers and others working in a production environment understand they must get ahead of the curve and be able to predict failure before it happens, therefore they’re looking for reliable systems for condition-based monitoring and preventative maintenance as well as general maintenance solutions.

68% say managed inventory services provide better visibility of stock and spend
It isn’t just attitudes to proactive maintenance that have changed over the last decade or so. There’s also been a big shift in attitudes towards the total cost of ownership (TCO).

Fifteen years ago, MRO was a transactional environment where engineers bought a product and suppliers such as RS delivered it. Now TCO is paramount, making it more important than ever that suppliers deliver value to their customers.

The product price remains important, of course, but it’s only one factor in purchase cost or total cost of acquisition for the customer. Value-added solutions such as RS ScanStock™, a managed inventory system, have a big role to play in this.

They can be a huge support when it comes to managing a storeroom and are some of the solutions that we can offer organisations to choose from to best meet the needs of their company and fulfil that TCO saving.

46% say sustainable and ethical procurement is now a top business pressure
The need to ensure a better planet for many generations to come has risen up the corporate agenda in recent years. In the RS and CIPS survey, 55% of respondents reported that their company had a strategy in place for reducing their carbon footprint and 28% for energy monitoring.

"ESG now forms a major part of any contract award criteria"Graeme Fullerton, Head of UK Corporate Sales, RS

Furthermore, 64% stated that their company had a strategy in place for sustainable and ethical procurement. Environmental, Social and Corporate (ESG) now forms a major part of any contract award criteria – in many cases up to 30 percent. Maintenance engineers are rightly demanding that their suppliers demonstrate how they, and their products, are working towards a cleaner, greener future for us all.

More information about the RS Group’s 2030 ESG action plan is available in “Improving ESG for a better world” by Vice President of Social Responsibility and Sustainability, Andrea Barrett at RS Group plc.