Service Parts Databases and eBay

Some History on Parts Databases

Back in the 2000 at the top of the tech boom, a company called Aspect Technology was purchased by supply chain software company i2 Technologies. Aspect Technology had developed an extensive parts database and the idea was that i2 would be able to leverage this database to power its supply chain software. The merger ended up being a bust, however it did highlight the importance of parts databases. However, a number of years after, industry does still not have the one-to-many concept of service parts tapped.

eBay the Underdog

One the other side is eBay. While eBay started off as simply an auction site. However, with its growth it has created something else. It is now the largest historical product database in human history. Amazingly, eBay did not have to pay for this database. Instead they were paid to create it. This is not the way service parts databases were supposed to have grown. The old (at the time the new) concept was that part databases would be developed by specialized companies with large hoards of consultants and meetings with tightly managed implementation schedules and so on.

What No One Predicted

No one thought that the most successful parts database would accumulate from transactions from an auction site. The database is an emergent property of theactivities are large amounts of people who just wanted to sell their product. The database is no an asset for eBay. It is also an asset for users, but it would be a greater asset if eBay would open the search capability to previous sales that are older than 30 days old. eBay should do this as it would cost them very little and while they claim it at their intellectual property, in fact it cost them very little to develop this database and is most free work on the part of people who created listings with them.

eBay Great for Service Parts Markets That Are Competitive

Even the most esoteric parts are available on eBay…for some products such as computers. However, automobile parts are still limited, which we think is due to tying agreements imposed by auto manufacturers on suppliers. To read more about this, see this post.

eBay Great for Service Parts Markets That Are Competitive

Even the most esoteric parts are available on eBay…for some products such as computers. However, automobile parts are still limited, which we think is due to tying agreements imposed by auto manufacturers on suppliers. To read more about this, see this post.

Using As a Service Database

Information Management

We maintain a separate blog dedicated to information management. On this blog we have written about a service that is set to change file management as currently practiced.

There are many implications to file management for, however the one we want to discuss here is the capability with respect to service parts information. allows you to easily keep documents, and then to link these documents to web pages and to send these links through email. Service parts have many files such as specifications or user manuals. The question is how to best manage these documents. Our previous idea was to simply integrate the documents into the actual web page. See an example at our Service Parts Portal website.

However, now we are not so sure that this is the best approach. A better approach may be to host the files at and then simply profile links to the page that lead to has an excellent interface for managing large numbers of files, in fact we think it currently the best on the web. Systems like SAP and others are trying to maintain the content in a central repository, the fact is ERP systems are not very good at this.

Using Online Video for Service and Repair

Videos for iMac Repair

As we described in our previous post, we recently had a hard drive in our iMac crash. After learning of the $420 dollar charge, and the inability of the Apple Store to put in the model that we wanted.

Reliability vs. Capacity

We wanted to downgrade to the higher reliability and lower heat smaller drives, and have opted for a Hitachi Deskstar 320 GB disk. We took out the 500 GB disk that came with the iMac and ran it in an enclosure and were disturbed by the heat it created. Little discussed is a univeral feature of new items. The newer a technology, often the less reliable the technology.

We decided to repair the iMac ourselves. One of the best sources of information on this is not from Apple (they do not endorse users to perform this replacement as they consider it too complicated) but from YouTube. Several users have posted how to remove the front integrated display to get to the drive bay. We have assembled several computers ourselves, and replaced numberous hard drives and this is the first computer we have seen that has its hard drive so difficult to reach that it requires a special approach.





These people posted this video for no profit, and it has helped probably many Mac owners do internal work themselves. Since Apple does not want people opening the case of iMacs, without user created guides, the information of how to open the iMac case would never be made available. Kudos to the YouTube community.

What We Learned from the YouTube iMac “Service Video”

  • What tools we needed to buy before we attempt the replacement (allowing us to order the tools along with the new drive so they all arrived at roughly the same time)
  • How to perform the case opening in a fine level of detail.

Videos are amazingly good tools for learning how to perform complex multi-step activities — and thus are perfect for service parts repair operations.

The Use of Video

Video is popping up here and there in service management. For instance there are DVDs that deal with service management that can be purchased. Below are a few examples that are available on, but the titles are not very numerous, nor all that specific.

Maytag Repair

Motocycle Repair
There are several reasons why DVDs are not the best medium for repair videos.

  • Many people have a small video to contribute and will not go through the effort to produce an entire DVD
  • DVD’s tend to represent the interests and perogatives of the OEM. However, a number of unapproved techniques can be posted by users that the OEM would never publish.
  • YouTube and web video in general is far more convenient for the user
  • The cost is much lower
  • YouTube serves as a central online library for thousands of online videos

YouTube As a Service Video Library

The largest repository of service and repair videos in the world is no doubt on YouTube. However, it is not manufacturers or their service organizations that are leading the way, but individuals who are posting videos out of personal interest and in their spare time. This is yet another example of innovation not coming from inside of companies, but from outside, and from the general public.

Parts Databases and eBay

eBay has created the largest service parts database in the world, and it was not created by any one company (eBay only created the platform), but by the collective efforts of many individuals and companies simply through the listing of items. To read about this, see this post.

Using YouTube As a Video Server

Posting videos to YouTube is beneficial for several reasons. Once a video is uploaded to YouTube, it can be presented on any blog, as we have presented videos within the post of this blog. Therefore, the video can be both available to those searching YouTube and those searching the company’s service site. A series of service videos could be created for the most common repair items for a company’s products, posted on YouTube, and then also posted on a service parts repair site. Here is an example of what we are describing.


Companies focused on service should begin taking advantage of video, integrated into blogging software to improve the quality of their service capabilities and to distribute this information to the public.

Electronic Parts Catalog and Service Parts Databases

What Is the Difference?

It’s only though a discussion with a vendor of “electronic parts catalogs” that we understood that this is the most common nomenclature used to describe what we describe as a service parts database. We cover service parts databases in this post below.

Electronic parts catalogs are complex and have special needs in terms of supersession and detailed service information. Companies like Enigma, combine pure content management (which is a very broad field which incorporates the storage of almost any organized form of readable data) along with procurement decision support, among other functionalities. This type of functionality actually dovetails with bill of material or BOM management software – one example of which is Arena Solutions. However, while BOM management software is primarily used before and item is made, service parts databases (SPDBs) or electronic parts catalogs (EPCs) are used after the products are deployed and ready to be ordered. There is a good reason to integrate the system. As a test case we have attempted to do just this with our service parts portal, which is a simplified service parts database which integrates real time with an Arena Solutions demo system. The web technology of widgets, allows one web page to display the content of other HTML based systems through screen scraping. (we discuss the importance of making 100% web interface supply chain software in this post)

Service Parts Portal

We have taken advantage of this technology to produce the demo that you can see at the page listed below. (it comes with its own demo video, which we have included below as well.

The integration above is not implemented nearly enough.

This video is available on the Service Parts Portal site as well.

The Logical Integration

The reason integration it is necessary is because it is important to have new parts, part supersession, and other changes reflected in the EPCs so that the correct parts are ordered. However, PLM (collaborated on by designers, manufacturing and suppliers) has been considered a separate system from EPCs (collaborated upon by parts managers, dealers, and inventory planners).

Automotive Subassembly Outsourcing and Who Really Made Your Car


New Information

In a previous post we wrote about the inefficiency of automotive service parts networks.

The line of reasoning of the article was that manufacturers were unnecessarily outsourcing the management of service parts too low in the supply chain – at the dealer level and the auto service parts could be greatly improved in their management through a national and regional system of service parts management. Furthermore, that dealers were incapable of creating effective service parts websites and that this function should be centralized as well.

Structure of Auto Industry

What we learned from the book Who Really Made Your Car, by Thomas H Klier and James Rubenstein, is the following:

  • 70% of the parts of automobiles are made by suppliers
  • Manufacturers are actually now primarily assemblers
  • Much of the intellectual property and complex component manufacturing is owned and provided by the supplier / component manufacturers


Suppliers Actually “Make” the Car

Suppliers are producing most of the car and providing many different manufacturers with similar items. This is explained in the graphic below which provides a great insight into the many different places that the car’s major components are coming from. The sourcing pattern seems identical to, although far more complex than that of laptop manufacturers. (although laptop manufacturing is even more outsourced, with contract manufacturers producing HP and a number of other major brands out of the same factory and sometimes the same production line.


From Automotive Weekly

We took the example of one vendor called Dura. A visit to their website demonstrates that they make numerous automotive components, which they sell to many different manufacturers.


Dura’s Part Distribution Model

Dura does not sell parts directly to retail customers, but they do to dealers and independent shops. (however, dealers do have a stranglehold on the industry, and many parts are carried only by dealers) This is one of a number of areas where business are opposed to “free markets,” and instead select tying agreements and monopolistic competition.



Why Doesn’t eBay Own the Auto Aftermarket?

eBay is the largest service parts database in the world. However, for some reason, eBay is not prominent in automotive service parts. The fact that automotive service parts are expensive, yet only a modest service part market has developed on eBay is an indication that there are significant restrictions to who can get access to parts, and that there are in all likely strong restrictions on part suppliers, as part of their agreements with manufacturers as to who they may sell parts to in the aftermarket. No such restriction exists for computer components, where anything can be found and purchased on eBay.


Even the most esoteric service parts for computers are available at low cost on eBay. For more on eBay and their success in service parts see the link below.


What This Means For Service Parts Network Design

What this means is that the dealer system for distribution is even less efficient then we originally thought. People are going to dealers to get parts they think are made by manufacturers (Honda, Toyota, etc.), that are actually made by suppliers. All of these middlemen could be eliminated from the system and actually should be. These suppliers are the creators of these components and they should not be controlled by manufacturers, much less have to go through dealers – so dealers or independent repair shops can add an extra markup with no value add – to service parts.


Who Really Made Your Car,Thomas H Klier and James Rubenstein, W. E. Upj0hn Institute, 2008

Why Auto Parts Websites Are a Problem

Caught in a Time Warp

It is always amazing to come upon a technology that is so amazingly underutilized. This would be the case for service parts online databases.

The Story

We needed a door handle assembly part for a 1997 Honda Accord. First we started with eBay, which really had a pretty small inventory. We could only find the door handle assembly for a four door, not for a two door. This was a dealer only item. The trouble began when we started looking through dealer websites for the item. The experience began to get us thinking that the dealer value-add is seriously in question. Dealers are not necessary to buy cars (they could be bought online, but tested at a manufacturer sponsored center in a mall that had just a few models). The care could then be either transshipped from a different location, or simply build to order. However, instead of this we have this medieval auto dealer system that holds massive amounts of inventory so buyers will make impulse purchases “that day.”

Service Databases

When looking through the websites of dealers, it was absolutely maddening to try to navigate them. Most the sites are caught in a time warp and exhibit the worst of web navigation and design. Some of them ask for contact information so they can treat the desire to purchase parts as a “lead.”

San Francisco Honda, like 99% of the dealerships, seem to seriously misunderstand what the web can do, and how it can help automate transactions. Now we will be calling to the dealer, just like we would have back in 1940.

Why Has Online Parts Supply Demand Matching Been Decentralized to Dealers?

Why does Honda allow dealers, who lack the interest or size to develop competent transactional websites to sell auto-parts on-line? Why are Honda, and other major manufacturers, not managing this with a single website and a national network. It appears as if the dealer network (a way for manufacturers to sell franchises and not have to worry about retail, is interfering with the new realities and efficiencies of the web. Automobiles may have to be serviced locally, but there is no reason, with our fast shipping network, for parts to be managed at dealer locations. And especially when a customer wants to order a part, there is absolutely no reason they should have to a dealer to do so.

Its does not have to be this way. The fulfillment could be performed by dealers, but Honda could manage the front-end, much like

Learning from

The lesson from Amazon is that the web based supply demand matching no longer needs to be performed by the same organization that performs fulfillment. See this article on and how they serve as a supply demand matcher.

IT and Monitoring Competence and Fourth Party Logistics Providers

The concept of multi-partner coordination enabled by monitoring tools is a concept in logistics called fourth party logistics and is covered in this post.

It’s a sad fact that there is simply not a lot of thinking going on in the management of service parts.

Service Parts Portal and Arena Solutions Integration

We were so impressed with Arena Solutions for BOM management and PLM that we decided to create a service around it.

Arena manages bill or materials to in a very sophisticated way. We perceive a real need for capabilities in an area of software for service parts maintenance systems that allow service parts to have information regarding maintenance notes and service part information such repair costs per repair type.

Multiple User Input

One of the important considerations with regard to this type of system is the ability of multiple users. In this way the database can be updated by:

  1. Field technicians
  2. Internal service personnel
  3. Customers (in the comments area)

This combined with making some portions of the database private and some public can bring the best of all worlds in terms of maintenance information distribution.

See the demo at the link below.

How the Bill of Material, MTBF and the Product Structure All Tie Together

MTBF and the Product Structure

In our previous post we discussed the different vendors and services offered for reliability testing and prediction. One of the important issues with relation to MTBF management is the product structure. The product structure is the hierarchy (or at least at first glance) of materials that make up an overall product. This has different names depending upon the application. In SAP ECC it is referred to as a Material BOM or an Equipment BOM. In MCA it is referred to as the product indenture network. This survey conducted by Arena Solutions on this topic is quite interesting.

BOM vs. PLM Software

Being able to deal with the BOM in a flexible and distributed manner is increasingly a capability with what is referred to as PLM software. However, that is not right. BOM management is actually a subcategory of the broader term PLM or life-cycle management. Lifecycle management exists in a number of applications in supply chain, as the article below explains.

Eric Larkin, Chief Technology Office at Arena Solutions, has some interesting things to say about PLM vs. BOM management.


Having powerful and collaborative BOM management software is important for many reasons that include improving the efficiency of product development and building quality into products as well as product costing for contract development. However, it is also important for service parts planning and MTBF. MTBF calculation integrates with the BOM.

ERP for BOM Management

There is increasing evidence that BOM management greatly benefits from specialized software. ERP software manages how the BOM relates to execution and planning, but does not tend to have advanced capabilities with regards to BOM management. (of course Oracle purchased Agile in 2007, a leader in PLM, however, software mergers often kill the aquired company’s innovation and product. Look how little Oracle has done with the PeopleSoft functionality). Here is an interesting quotes regarding ERP for PLM from Arena Solutions.

There is a misconception that Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems can be used to manage all product information after design, including changes and communication. Unfortunately, even though the final production BOMs, the Item Master, and costing information are ultimately loaded into ERP systems, these systems do not have integral processes for ECOs or file management. Therefore they cannot be used to control BOM or item changes or manage associated files. Furthermore, as a tool primarily for internal groups, ERP systems cannot be used by external partners and suppliers to obtain product information. –

ERP systems are not designed to be change control or file managementtools, and must be manually updated to reflect approved productchanges. To update and change product information across electrical andmechanical CAD tools and ERP systems, many companies employ spreadsheetsoftware, such as Microsoft® Excel, to manage part changes, SOPs andBOMs and to communicate them to project teams.” –

Reinforcing this statement is the poor track record of SAP PLM. We personally analyzed this “solution” several times only to find that it did not involve new software as much as simply leveraging the old structures with a few bells and whistles added in.

(in the past several years, SAP product management and marketing is increasingly following the Oracle model of presenting vapor or stretching pre-existing functionality to fit new solutions)

Spreadsheets for BOM Management

Exporting BOM information to a spreadsheet and managing it there for MTBF and other purposes is not a very competitive solution with the other alternatives that are present. In fact, even using an on line spreadsheet like Google Spreadsheets, while better than using Excel with its isolated files, is still not really capable of managing the complexity of BOMs. Furthermore with the rise of contract manufacturing and distributed product development and manufacturing, islands of data created by Excel are even less useful. Amazingly PLM software is still lightly implemented out in the marketplace.

Graphic from Arena Solutions – taken from an online webinar – not a formal study.

As far as ERP systems, while ERP systems have BOM functionality, it is not the functionality offered by Arena. Rather ERP BOM management was developed in order to support transaction processing. This is quite a bit different from what specialized BOM management software does.

Arena Solutions

Arena Solutions’ website is quite good and for anyone interested in PLM and BOM management we recommend a visit. It is of course selling a service, however it is also very educational and most the statements made on the site are reinforced by our consulting experiences.

In one of their white papers we found a very good explanation of the needs of modern BOMs.

“As the design progresses toward production, the part-list-like engineering BOM must transition into a detailed manufacturing BOM that includes all the items required to make sub-assemblies and the final product. During this process, numerous project teams contribute to the BOM and item changes (Figure 2). The resulting manufacturing BOM is highly relational and includes various associated data and files, such as design drawings, software files, item files, costing information, compliance status, specification data, and supplier information.” –

The Relational Model for BOM Management

One easy way of understanding this is that one sub-component often is part of more than one parent component. Therefore, by using a relational BOM configuration (which is different from a relational database, you can use a relational database, but still follow a restricted hierarchical model in your BOM configuration.), when the sub-component is changed once in one location it affects all parent components immediately. This is the desired end state, that all parent products be instantly updated when a change to a sub-component is rolled out. This relates to all life-stages of a product’s existence. This updated part data is then sent over the planning system where a flag is changed that tells the planning sytem this part should no longer be planned. Having this data updated is as important as the algorithms you use to produce a forecast.

This complexity really requires a software specialized software solution. Furthermore, this is perfect application for a hosted application. (we increasingly wonder why companies continue to ask for software they have to install and manage, particularly when the application is shared.) With hosted applications, as long as the software provides a standardized feed of some type (such as RSS), application integration can be managed completely on line, so a BOM Management – PLM service provider like Arena could be integrated with an on line version of a transaction processing system and the service parts planning system.

Application Screen Shots

Arena has a nice interactive demo on their website, so we decided take a few screen shots. This screen shows the different status of notifications.

Below we have a listing of notifications for particular BOM numbers. We also see the people (users) that have the ability to view or edit or comment on the BOMs.

Below we see the view for Monica Williams, and the materials for which she has notifications. You can see that each of the materials has an event code attached to it.

When we select one of them we get taken into the detail.

Here we can see who is part of the notification distribution list.

Here we have a flowchart of the process status.

Here we can see that suppliers are involved in this process and can log in.

Also, the individual products that make up the BOM are listed as well.

For each product, there is a coding for the items compliance requirements as well whether the prase of the item (if its in production, obsolete, etc..)

If we select the files, we can see all the attachments to each product.

In conclusion, we find this software very compelling. Furthermore they offer a fully hosted solution which they call on-demand. In our consulting experience, Arena is providing answers for a lot of problems that plague BOM management at many a company.

Open Question

One of the questions we do have is where an MTBF value is located. For the purposes of service parts planning, Arena just needs to feedone number per part. Both SAP SPP and MCA can perform their forecasting(if the option is selected) from a simple MTBF value associated withevery product record. This is called leading indicator forecasting inSPP and causal forecasting in MCA. At least MCA has some involved ways of calculating the overall service level, and one ofthe inputs is the MTBF of the underlying items – related to theinventory coverage for each item.This is something that should naturally be maintained in Arena. How this value is obtained is a different topic and is covered here.

However as far as how Arena holds the MTBF, we will update this post when we find out.


Wikipedia on PLM Arena Solutions


Service Part Maintenance Databases

What This Article Covers

  • What is a service parts maintenance database? 
  • What are some examples of service parts databases? 
  • What are two databases in one? 

Service Part and Service Maintenance Database Background

Service parts require extensive documentation because of the need to capture information from service calls. Successive service calls (in addition to other research performed by the service technicians). This is of critical importance to service organizations, and the requirements for doing this would not seem to vary greatly from company to company. Desirable traits in this software would be:

  1. The ability to easily update the service part data
  2. A distributable web-based system
  3. Volume and security capabilities
  4. The capability to handle image, video and audio files in addition to various document attachments

These are all capabilities met by a CMS or by blogging software like WordPress or Typepad. We were curious about how service parts and maintenance databases are being developed generally. What we found surprised us in that we did not find anywhere near the activity in this area that we expected.


It is important to recognize that this is not the only name for this type of software. It also goes by the name electronic parts catalog or EPC. We define this other term in this post.

Generally Available Applications

Here are a few we ran into. One is called Aligni, which specializes in component management

You can test the trial yourself. However, they seem to be more of a parts management system rather than a part service management database. In fact the shortage of vendors or even announced programs in this area was eerie. However, service parts are a greatly under-serviced market from a software perspective. If our initial research is correct, there are huge benefits to be received by using blogging software to build and maintain parts databases.

Another is called Engima, which develops service parts databases for purchasing decision support. They create what is known in the industry as an electronic part catalog which is then used as the basis for the purchasing engine.


Interaction with Planning Applications

The service part and service maintenance database interact with the planning system in some cases. But in others cases they do not. For instance, the transaction system can feed both the service part planning system and the service part maintenance database (SPMDB)

SAP Equipment Master

There is some confusion, which is only encouraged by SAP product marketing, that the SAP Plant Maintenance module maintains a capability in service management. Their argument is supported by the master data object called the Equipment Master. The equipment master is to the service part what the material master is to the finished good. The equipment master has a very large number of fields. However, while SAP proposes that the equipment master can be pushed out to a portal to allow for the creation of a service maintenance database, the SAP Portal is not designed for this purpose.

A Logical Design

What makes the most sense for clients that use SAP ERP(or other transaction processing software) is to integrate the service parts database with blog software and to periodically bring across new parts to the SPMDB and not worry about sending the maintenance data back to SAP ERP.

Two Database Types in One

Service databases are two things in one. First they are a comprehensive listing of the parts which are used for repair and refurbishment. This takes into account the part specifications and details of the essential part attributes. The second part is the service management part of the database. This is where the combined intelligence which is gathered during troubleshooting from service calls is aggregated and organized. The collective database has some essential requirements.

  1. It must be secure so that portions that need to be shared with consumers can be, while other posts are only available to company personnel
  2. Have the capacity to manage the service parts database
  3. Strong search function
  4. Update-able from many locations ( which allows service representatives to constantly update and enhance the database)
  5. The ability to store multiple media types such as technical drawings and product pictures as well as PDF and Office Documents
  6. In some cases the ability to allow customers to comment. The logic being that some customers have valuable additions to make to the database

Service Parts Databases in Practice

What needs to be done to optimize service parts and service management databases is often not done. There are many reasons for this, everything from weak content management skills on projects to software issues. After a brief period where service parts databases were lauded as a future emerging software area, less successful implementations lead to the area being de-emphasized by companies in preference for other types of IT projects.

Future Service Management Databases

With the rise of distributed software such as Drupal and WordPress among many others, there has become a strong capability manage content with blog tools. However, many firms are unaware of the overlap between blogging software and more traditional CMSs. Therefore, there is a segmentation in the market between younger small companies that prefer to use blogging software for content management and the large companies that tend to use specialized content management software. One very specialized area within content management is digital asset management.


The lack of focus or commitment of resources into developing service parts maintenance databases is strange and a missed opportunity. We can not say for sure, but we can imagine how service part maintenance databases may have become commingled with Product Life Cycle management. We hope that is not the case, as PLM is focused on the beginning of a product’s life, service parts maintenance databases are focused on the end, and are really a different animal.


Are there any questions about this design? If so, comment below. 

Understanding Service Parts Planning



Generally service parts planning differs from final product planning in the following ways:

  1. A high number of low volume irregular demand items in the planning database
  2. Inapplicability of traditional measures of forecast error (service parts management has much higher month by month forecast error than finished good forecasting. A service part can go many months with no demand at a product/location)
  3. A higher necessity to manage many locations as a single inventory “pool” – this means more transshipments between various inventory holding locations
  4. More complexity in procurement (end of life, lifetime buy, phased out suppliers) leading to different inventory holding strategies
  5. High variability in repair lead times (due to un-serviceable items which require inspection prior to repair lead time estimation)
  6. Inapplicability of common high volume forecasting and inventory management techniques (such as high volume forecasting algorithms and EOQ or POQ)
  7. Higher emphasis and need to handle obsolescence supersession and substitutability.