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Coffee, Helicopters, and Inventory Management

By Sean Elliffe March 7, 2018 by Sean Elliffe

A day in the life of an off-shore Materials CoordinatorInventory Management

Todd Jenkins arrived at the Pearcy Shore Base outside Aberdeen at around 5:30 am. Fifty minutes earlier, having downed the last of his Java deep roast coffee, he said goodbye to his wife of 22 years, Janet. Both were now accustomed to the 28-day rotation of a Senior Material Coordinator on the Phoenix Oil Platform in the North Sea. A senior employee, Todd had an allocated parking bay where he left his 97 Mercury before pulling his gear from the trunk. He took a moment to breathe in the cool morning air before heading for the Helicopter waiting to take him on the 40-minute flight to the rig.

He boarded the chopper with 15 colleagues, also returning to the platform as part of the Tuesday switch out, and immediately sought out a window seat. He listened to the ever-increasing whistle of the rotors as the engines throttled to full power, and they were airborne. Todd sat thinking of what he needed to discuss with Jack Williams who he was replacing as part of the shift change. It was critical that he ensure a smooth transition in terms of the workload he would have to take up for this next rotation.

Top priority needed to be the level 5 strategic repair jobs that would need parts for which he was now responsible. He thought of the last time he ran into a confrontation with the Platform Lead Maintenance Engineer Mark O’Leary, a fiery Irishman who had little to no patience for missing parts. A no-nonsense but fair man, Mark was a stickler for on-time delivery and meeting the promise. “Don’t tell me you will have the parts in 2 weeks and then become apologetic a few days before a deadline when they don’t arrive!”,  this was the blasting he had received the last time there was a problem. Todd had worked out a solid communications protocol driven by the daily exception monitoring process which enabled him to have an early warning that potential problems were on the horizon. O’Leary was grateful for the effort and Todd’s genuine concern to communicate early if supply constraints arose.

His thoughts were interrupted by their arrival at the Platform. The pilot skillfully landed Chopper 7 on the deck amid howling winds and a light drizzle. That seemed all too easy, Todd thought, as he made his way down the jet bridge to the staff quarters where he would bunk down in room #25. The male quarters were simple but comfortable, given the limited space available on a platform the size of the Phoenix.

Once settled Todd moved quickly to the conference room for the 6:30 am daily briefing and the follow up he wanted to have with Williams. O’Leary was already at the pulpit, as they called it, ready to greet and talk the team through the plan for the week. The briefing was incident free, and Todd soon found himself deeply engaged with Jack Williams in a discussion on critical parts, potential shortages and the action plans that were already in play to address the backlogs/shortages. Together they then joined the off-shore planners and signed in to the Skype meeting on exception monitoring that was scheduled for an hour at 7:30 am.

The on-shore team included Procurement Specialists, On-shore Planners, MRP Controllers and Inventory Specialists, that were assembled under the leadership of Peggy Moss. She was a seasonal all-round Senior Supply Chain manager with experience in Demand Planning, Purchasing and Inventory Analysis. Peggy greeted the off-shore members and began the session looking into the results from the last MRP run. It quickly became apparent that there were many demand issues that had come into the system with unrealistic requirement dates. This placed pressure on the buyers for parts supply that were inside the known lead times. Peggy challenged Ron Cotterill, the on-shore Demand Planner, to review the required by dates based on a realistic view of lead times. In this case, she argued, it’s not the supply team missing demand dates but the planning team putting an unrealistic demand on the system. It would transpire later that there were also many cases where supply was late and under pressure to expedite materials in. All were keenly aware that O’Leary would soon be beating the drum if his execution plans were delayed.

Todd left the meeting and reflected on what had been a successful one. They had 5 “fix it now” items resolved, 4 “fix by the end of the day” items taken away by the MRP Controllers and Buyers to resolve and 2 “Action Tracker” items, that is those requiring more time and resources to resolve, captured in the Action Tracker tool. It was decided that the bigger of the two, a policy adjustment to reduce, not eliminate, direct purchasing in favor of material mastered purchases driven through MRP, would be escalated to the next Integration meeting for further executive direction. Peggy had long argued the need to better control what and how much could be purchased by way of direct purchase. This was because numerous items were being purchased directly when they already existed in the material master and were in fact, many were already on the shelf in the warehouse. The result was extra expenditure when those items were already available. In first three months of the year, Peggy had driven a cost avoidance program of $5.8M which provided the facts to justify the argument and take the policy change decision to executive management.

The problem statement, factual analysis and key business benefits for the policy change were well documented in the presentation that would go to Executive Management. Todd and Jack had done their part in the analysis and had just reviewed the details of the final version. It was now ready to go to the Executive Management team as a pre-read for the steering committee at the end of the week. The next challenge for Todd and Jack would be the change management process to drive new behaviors amongst the maintenance team and ensure effective implementation of this new policy. They knew that just one or two failures after that on material availability and the team would resort back to taking things into their own hands through direct purchases. O’Leary would support the new policy but would just as quickly renege if service levels in terms of availability fell short. The safety of the Platform, particularly following the Deepwater Horizon incident, would catapult O’Leary to back his guys to get materials if the supply team failed in any way or form.

Todd checked his watch, it was already 6:00 pm and the day was all but gone. He and Jack would compare notes one final time over dinner before Jack headed out in the morning. Todd would touch base with Peggy and the other supply team in the morning exception monitoring process. He would then be part of planning and supervising the cycle stock count process that was scheduled for Thursday morning. He mused at what he might find in terms of squirrel stores and the material write-on he may have to do before the week was out. His mission was to instill confidence in the teams that supply would meet their needs so that they would trust the ERP system as the single source of truth. He had a scheduled call to Janet at 8:00 pm and would turn in by around 10:00 pm to be ready and fresh for the new day.




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