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8 min read

Choosing a Spare Part Catalog Software: A Guide for OEMs

This guide underscores the nuances in building and evaluating a solution that aligns with your brand's value proposition, provides an innovative edge, and speaks volumes about your authority in the market.


Introduction

Selecting the right spare part catalog software is a pivotal decision for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). It is the backbone of your service promise to your network. This guide underscores the nuances in building and evaluating a solution that aligns with your brand's value proposition, provides an innovative edge, and speaks volumes about your authority in the market.

Context

Business is booming, products are shipping, and customers are happy. Then, something breaks. Your customer starts searching for support. What do they find? A phone number and a form on your website. Not cool.

If you’re a manufacturer and this sounds like your company, you’re reading the right article. It’s time to figure out how to deliver the modern customer experience your network expects. Unlike other posts on this topic that are high-level gibberish written by AI, this post is based on real-world interactions and behind-the-scenes work that we do and don’t share with ChatGPT. After all, business won’t be booming for long if your process looks like the one below (true client submission).

What is the purpose of a spare part catalog?

The purpose of a spare part catalog is to enable users, technicians, and maintenance personnel to identify, order, and replace parts when necessary. It's how you deliver your service promise.

First steps…

Understanding how to create and maintain a spare part catalog is critical to deciding what software to choose and which vendor to work with. First-hand perspective is everything. 

To make the best use of this post, you should map the steps currently involved in your part order process, including who can place an order, how it gets shipped, invoicing, payments, etc. Use whatever tool you like; paper and pencil work fine. If you need a template, check out our  Zea - Spare part order template on Figma.

Then, choose an assembly to document. It should be something manageable with less than 500 parts. Too few parts and you won’t get a good feel for the scope of work, while too many parts will just slow you down. For those of you with a background or interest in statistics, if your company has 10,000 serviceable parts, pick an assembly with at least 370 parts to have a confidence level of 95% that this PoC will cover all the scenarios and edge cases you will run into when documenting equipment.

Finally, get the 3D model for the assembly and export the bill of materials from your ERP to a spreadsheet.

[Step 1] Identifying Parts

Part identification helps users identify specific spare parts and components associated with a particular product or system. This is crucial for maintenance, repair, and replacement activities. Skilled technicians, as well as customers, need to locate the exact spare parts and components on a specific model or system. Here are the tactical first-steps to take to provide them with that information.

Build the service bill of materials (sBOM)

If you don’t already have a field for a service part number, create a new column in your spreadsheet called “ServicePart”. We’ll use it later.

Because we only want to identify serviceable parts, the first step is to build the service bill of materials (sBOM). Theoretically, it’s simple and only requires you to determine which parts to sell individually.

Ask yourself:

  • How do you indicate if the part is serviceable or not?
  • Note the ERP field and value for a serviceable part
  • Note the ERP field and value for a non-serviceable part

If you don’t already have a field in the ERP to indicate if a part is serviceable, create a new column in your spreadsheet and call it “Serviceable”. This will be a boolean value of TRUE or FALSE. Ensure that all parts have a value in this field.

Verify the part description is adequate for a spare part catalog

Oftentimes, you’ll notice that a buyer in purchasing has slipped some internal notes into the description field(s). Ensure that what is present in the description field is what you want to show to the users of your spare part catalog.

  • Are the part descriptions adequate?
  • Are there different types of information in the description field that could be moved to its own field?

If you notice any problems, fix them. You may want to contact some of your customers to ask them what information would help them in their day-to-day work.

Verify the part description translations

Sometimes, you will have multiple language fields associated with a part description. Be sure to set your default language (usually English) and target languages for translation. If you are missing any target languages in the scope of your spare part catalog, add them to your spreadsheet and create the translation.

Identify parts that are sold in multiple quantities

Find an item that is only sold in multiple quantities (for example: a bolt that is sold in a box with a quantity of 10)

  • How are items sold in multiple quantities identified in the ERP?

Find the part number in the ERP for the kit that contains the 10 bolts from our example above and add it to the ServicePart column. This will ensure that the bolt is identified as serviceable, but when your customer adds it to their shopping cart, the system maps correctly to a quantity of 10 bolts. 

Identify parts that are sold individually and as part of an assembly

An assembly includes individual parts

  • Find an example of a part sold individually and as part of an assembly.
  • Find an example of a part only sold in an assembly with other parts

By looking at the data we exported from the ERP, how would the user know that the part is available separately and as part of an assembly? Answering this question is critical to being able to develop upsell opportunities.

  • Is the part list structured in a way to indicate that the part in the assembly is a service part AND that the assembly itself is a service part?
  • When purchasing an assembly, are the included parts listed correctly? Note that when purchasing an assembly, it may come with parts unavailable separately.

Categorize parts

Think about how your users will search for parts, you'll want to segment parts by type or audience. Some options include labelling parts as:

  • Wear items: Do your customers need a quick way to budget replacing wear items on a fleet of vehicles before the start of a season?
  • Electronic: Do you have specific policies that apply to electronic parts, such as a specific warranty or return policy?
  • Emission: Do you have a legal requirement to offer a specidif warranty period on emission related parts?
  • Kits: Does your organization create a lot of kits that you want to be able to showcase to customers? This could be an engine rebuild kit, a system upgrade kit, or other types of maintenance kits.
  • Accessories: Would you like to be able to propose accessories that fit on your customer's equipment? If so, consider labelling accessories as such to be able to offer them to your customer as an upsell opportunity.

Ordering Parts

A spare part catalog provides detailed part numbers, descriptions, and other essential information needed for placing orders. Providing this information at the time of order ensures that the parts are acquired in a timely manner.

Some questions to ask. Who can order parts, and what pricing, discounts, geographies, shipping, tariffs, and taxes apply? Are you dealing with commerces that have loading docks? For example, delivering an engine that weighs 200 KG on a skid requires a different delivery than putting a decal in the mail.

Pricing

Verify that the price field is the correct one to display to your customers. We’ve seen instances where parts analysts incorrectly quoted based on the cost field. Note that you can choose whether to display pricing information in your published catalog or not, we’re simply taking the opportunity to validate that your system has the correct pricing information.

If you plan on implementing an e-commerce solution, look at the inventory levels in your spreadsheet.

  • Are those inventories available for sale to your customers, or are they reserved for scheduled work on the production line?
  • Does the reorder point include the demand forecast for service parts?
  • If the quantity available for service is zero, what is the lead time to tell your customers?
  • Will you allow orders to be placed on parts with 0 inventory (back-orders)?

If you use the part catalog to capture orders from your clients and have a parts analyst follow up with a quotation, ensure that the analysts understand how to interpret inventory quantities and reserved parts.

If going the full e-commerce route, and depending on your order volume and processes, you may want to explore an integration between your part catalog software and the ERP software. The integration will speed up the order and invoice process and enable real-time information such as price and inventory.

Installing the Parts

This is a golden opportunity to link service information with your after-sales profit center, your spare part catalog. In truth, there should be a circular reference between your spare parts platform and your product documentation. To truly help, the experience you provide must transcend beyond a mere listing of parts - it's about equipping your audience with insightful information such as:

  • Installation instructions: Detailed guidelines and diagrams should be readily available to guide through accurate installation processes. Nobody wins when the part is installed incorrectly and wears out prematurely.
  • Technical specifications: Clear specification and technical data are necessary for ensuring correct fitment and usage.
  • Troubleshooting assistance: Troubleshooting instructions and flowcharts can help out users confirm they are replacing the right part, boost conversion, and lower part returns.

Documentation

Your part catalog is a comprehensive documentation source, providing information on specifications, compatibility, and any other relevant details about each spare part. This documentation is essential for training purposes as well.

Do you have any reference documentation for the part? This could be a link to a promotional video for an accessory, a material safety data sheet (MSDS) for hazardous materials, installation instructions, warranty guidelines, repair manual, recall information, etc.

Define the different types of documentation currently available and opportunities to link from your documentation to the parts in your catalog and vice-versa.

Managing a Part’s Lifecycle

A spare part catalog includes information about the lifecycle of each part, such as its expected lifespan, recommended maintenance intervals, and any potential issues or recalls. It should also include supercession information such as any predeces sors or successors. Your chosen software should be able to provide users with:

  • Product Lifespan Data: By describing expected part longevity, maintenance cycles, and recommended replacements, you instill confidence in product reliability.
  • Revision and Recall Information: Notices about revisions, recalls, or advisory bulletins need to be a part of the platform.
  • Supersession Data: Information on previous versions and successor components helps users find replacement parts.

Supporting Customers

Companies providing products often offer customer support for their products. A spare part catalog can be a valuable resource for customer support teams to assist customers with inquiries related to spare parts and replacements.

  • What is your warranty policy?
  • Does it vary by the type of part? 
  • What is your return policy?
  • What is your service promise?
  • Will you turn on part reviews?

Customer support is a testament to your brand's dedication to post-sales service. Your spare part catalog software should be an extension of this commitment:

  • Accessible Customer Service Interface: Embedding customer support within the software adds to convenience and rapid resolution of inquiries.
  • Feedback Integration: Encourage improvement and self-service by integrating reviews for each part of the catalog.
  • Comprehensive Knowledge Base: Build and maintain a searchable knowledge base that captures frequently asked questions, tips, and best practices.

Topics to discuss as a team and with the rest of your organization

See how your colleagues or leadership team answer these questions. It will help you understand what type of experience management is looking to offer.

  • If there is a critical part that is required for both service and the production line, who will take precedence? Explain that if service takes precedence, it impacts the work on the production line, but if the production line gets the part, your customer has machinery they can’t use. 
  • Who will be responsible for naming and classifying all the part descriptions and kit content in all supported languages?
  • Do we want to build up this knowledge in-house or toss it over the fence to a supplier?
  • What is the main objective of the spare part catalog at our company?

Conclusion

Choosing a spare part catalog software that not only simplifies complex processes but also aligns with your brand's identity is non-negotiable. Hopefully, this guide has provided you with enough context to be able to objectively evaluate the options on the market. Your approach towards adopting a software solution that is scalable, automated, and user-friendly will chart the course for a long and profitable relationship with your customers and a after-sales teams.

How can Zea help?

Zea's team specializes in augmenting your 3D models with service information which enables you to deliver world-class product documentation that customers love.

We work with you to go through everything in this post and more to deploy a solution that works for all stakeholders. Our services range from a proof of concept to complete white-glove service launch your e-commerce webshop and crush your aftermarket competition. It all starts with a success plan.

What is a Zea Parts success plan?

  • It's real-world experience working with Zea to build a part catalog before committing to a subscription.
  • A personalized discovery and onboarding experience.
  • An implementation and deployment plan based on a gap analysis.
  • A validated business case according to your objectives with validated numbers.
  • A production-ready showcase to get feedback from stakeholders
  • Two-month free trial access to Zea Parts

What to expect

  • An initial test (gap analysis) to ensure the success plan is worth executing.
  • A series of workshops over six weeks to build the business case.
  • A focus group to showcase and measure dealer/partner feedback.
  • Everything you need to make a go/no-go decision.

Deliverable

  • A branded, ready-to-deploy 3D spare part catalog.
  • A summary report of the focus group feedback.
  • An updated project plan and support quote (if applicable).

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