Making indirect procurement more efficient can help with meeting demands for the water industry

“To say we live in challenging times would be an understatement,” states Emma Botfield, Managing Director for the UK and Ireland at RS, in her foreword to the RS and Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) Indirect Procurement Report 2022. “Inflation and interest rates are rising, supply chains remain under extreme stress, and fuel and raw material costs are surging.”

This article explores how both these challenges and sector-specific demands are affecting the UK water industry. What are the biggest issues facing indirect procurement professionals in this field – and how can improvements to Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO) help to alleviate pressure?

A wide range of challenges
Asked about procurement challenges in the next twelve months, respondents to the Indirect Procurement Report survey referred to the same issues as Botfield. More than 60% mentioned managing risk in the supply chain and global political uncertainty, 76% supply chain disruption and 82% inflation and higher costs.

Every sector has its own issues too. In the water industry, these include climate change, with droughts and floods affecting availability and quality, and population growth, which creates pressure to increase capacity. Complying with legislation governing water quality and the environment requires time and money, the latter of which is hard to secure whether through funding or investment.

Another significant challenge is ageing infrastructure. Across all the sectors represented in the recent RS and Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) Industry in Motion study, the biggest driver of unscheduled downtime was ageing assets, at 28%. For those in the utilities sector, however, this figure rose to 39%.

“It’s about the length of time these systems have been in existence,” says Chris Cruise, Industry Sector Manager for Utilities, Power and Communications at RS, “Even if we consider assets built following The Water Act of 1973, this still means many are more than 50 years old.”

Moreover, he continues, although these organisations are always investing, they cannot simply replace the whole water system. But what can they do to address these myriad challenges?

1. Supplier consolidation
One solution for indirect procurement professionals working in the water industry is to consolidate suppliers. Reducing overall supplier numbers is a popular strategy for improving efficiency within MRO, used by almost half of respondents to the Indirect Procurement Report 2022.

Working with a smaller number of trusted suppliers presents other advantages too. RS, for example, offers same-day delivery and expert advice. Supplier rationalisation can also help to increase compliance, a major concern for those in a highly regulated industry such as water.

2. Inventory solutions
Inventory solutions are another possibility, taking MRO efficiencies to the next level. One water company that implemented managed inventory system RS ScanStock®, for instance, reduced order processing costs by 70% – an annualised saving of more than £45,000.

Furthermore, inventory solutions ensure that vital supplies such as PPE, workwear, tools and engineering consumables are always available when needed. This is crucial to the water industry, argues Cruise, as these companies cover such large areas.

"It makes sense to have inventory in strategic locations"Chris Cruise, Industry Sector Manager, RS

“Engineers could drive round to suppliers to get products but they might not have them in stock,” he says, “so it makes sense to have inventory in strategic locations, mapped out in a data-led way.

“You can make sure an engineer is never more than a certain number of miles or minutes from a site where they know the stock is going to be there because we manage it and make sure it’s there for them to use.”

3. Maintenance solutions
Maintenance services provide another way to address broader challenges and sector-specific pressures, with condition-based monitoring, energy management audits, calibration and lubrication all helping to reduce reactive maintenance.

"It keeps plants running longer for less and optimises engineers’ time"Chris Cruise, Industry Sector Manager, RS

“Rather than an engineer running around trying to find a problem,” says Cruise, “through maintenance solutions, they know where problems are before they happen. It keeps plants running longer for less and optimises engineers’ time.”

This translates into significant cost savings, given that unscheduled maintenance costs four times more than planned maintenance. Using maintenance services also allows you to optimise performance of equipment and improve machine reliability. You’ll buy fewer tools, parts, consumables and PPE, which means less money, time and waste. Less unnecessary maintenance means less risk to your workers too.

Choose a provider with experience in the water industry for assurance that they’ll comply with relevant safety standards and regulations – and ask what else they can offer by way of support, whether that’s advice and training on safety issues or risk assessments of MRO equipment and procedures. In a high-risk industry such as water, you need all the support you can get to protect your workers, the public, the environment and your reputation.

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