Raw Materials Inventory for Small-Scale Manufacturing: The Definitive Guide 

Your raw materials inventory is the lifeblood of your business. Without it, you don’t have a product. For very small- or micro-businesses, raw material inventory management is not a priority concern. But after a year or two of growth, your raw material stock could become your biggest headache. Knowing when to switch your focus as your business grows is a key challenge for any owner.

Welcome small workshop and factory owners.

This is the raw materials inventory management guide for you. You could be a craft or artisan business, or a straight-up manufacturer, it doesn’t matter. This applies to makers of all stripes and shows you how your management of raw material stock should change as your business grows. Many business owners make the mistake of simply scaling up what they already do, and that more is more.  

This may work at first.

As your orders increase, you may order a ton of extra materials, assuming that the more safety stock you have, the better. Anything with the word “safety” in it could only help, couldn’t it? 

Well, imagine your raw materials inventory was raw produce in a supermarket. Stocking up to last you until next Christmas could be a bad move. Not just a small error, but one that could mean “checkmate” for a business.  

If stock is not sold in time, it becomes “obsolete” (or spoiled) and becomes unsellable. This spells a huge loss for the business. Not to mention the many costs incurred during the storage, maintenance, and transportation of the produce or material inventory.   

It all becomes a bigger cost burden. Your raw materials may not spoil like supermarket produce, but the result of keeping large amounts of raw material stock around is the same.  

You are gambling with high stakes, and sooner or later it may take a bad turn.  

In fact, many raw materials inventory management experts say you should run your small manufacturing business like a supermarket when it comes to stock turnover. A high inventory turnover ratio (ITR) keeps your business moving, rather than making it come grinding to a halt. 

What is raw materials inventory? These are the untouched and unmachined materials that go into your final products. All the raw materials used in production have costs that must be tracked and managed. The higher the number of raw materials you use, the more complicated this process becomes.

Why Solid Raw Materials Inventory Management is Vital for Small Manufacturers 

Imagine you were going on a round-the-world trip.  

You could take two large suitcases filled with clothes for every weather condition. You might think you’re being smart because you’re prepared for any eventuality, but in reality it weighs you down and costs you more money to transport.  

Contrast this to a single backpack. The money you save on baggage charges can be used to purchase what you need, as you need it. You are able to run for a bus at short notice, and people are more willing to give you a lift.  

The first option seems less risky, but progress is so slow it is less effective overall.  

The second option is a road to success. You haven’t put all your eggs into one basket. You can change direction at a moment’s notice and take a route that makes more sense.  

The same goes for keeping extra raw materials inventory lying around.  

What you thought was a boon for your business, could in fact be weighing it down.  

Get on top of your raw material inventory management and watch your business become so much easier to manage.  

Raw materials are the lifeblood of your craft or artisan business. And just as with the body, it must flow to where it is needed in the right amount. Too much can be just as dangerous as too little.  

Broadly speaking, as a workshop or small factory you typically handle three different types of inventory:  

  • — Raw materials inventory; 

  • — Work-in-progress; and  

  • — Finished products.  

The average time a business focuses on each type of inventory changes at different stages in the business’ life.  

During the startup stage, companies tend to focus more on finished products. This makes a lot of sense as getting products to customers is the top priority. You have to make a name for yourself, and your product is everything.  

That’s not to say this isn’t always a focus, just that the smaller business does not have to focus on raw material inventory management very much at this stage,  

As time passes, and the business grows, the owner might shift their focus towards manufacturing and inventory management efficiency.  

What was once barely a concern for the business owner, becomes the number one thing on their mind.  

24 hours a day, seven days a week. It seems like inventory management is taking over their life.  

The business owner might be spending more time than ever on managing their raw material stock, with little to show for it.  

More raw materials pile up, seemingly enough to last for any unforeseen occurrence. This increases your inventory expenditure on your balance sheet.  

Not to mention the amount of man-hours lost on tracking it all. 

Before you know it, you are spending more than ever to sell a single unit of product.  

Your business is bigger, it may even be more profitable. But if your overheads are destroying a higher percentage of your income, then what are you doing it all for? 

Below are our top recommendations for your raw materials management and planning. Use this knowledge wisely, and watch your workshop become better, faster, and stronger. It will become battle-hardened like a Samurai warrior. 

Raw Materials Inventory 101 

The fundamentals are so important.  

Have you heard of the Pareto Principle? The famous 80/20 rule that 80% of the results you get come from 20% of the input.  

You could be working your socks off for 100 hours a week, but only 20 of those hours get the majority of your results.  

Sound familiar?  

What’s more, 20% of the stuff you learn about managing your raw materials inventory is used for 80% of your operations. And guess what? This 20% is the tried-and-tested fundamentals that go to the heart of inventory management.  

Get your foundation right, and the rest will follow. Most disciplines have a core set of principles to learn that will put you at the top of the game if you take the time to master them.  

Are you spending too long on stocktaking, only to find mistakes happen anyway? Find out how to get started with a quicker and more accurate alternative here.  

Calculate how much you pay to keep each square foot of stock each month. The result may surprise you.  

You could adopt principles of just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing. We recommend you don’t go for 100% JIT at this stage. Find out what raw material stock you have lying around the longest and ask yourself: why does this need to be here?  

By keeping less stock, your inventory turnover ratio (IRT) should be increasing. There’s no need to keep raw materials hanging around for months on end. If your IRT is low, you could be losing a good deal of money each month on carrying costs. Find out how to reduce wasted money on keeping raw materials here.  

Are your costs overtaking your income? Figure out your cost of goods sold (COGS) and calculate how raw materials used in production affect your bottom line.  

Spreadsheets are fine for calculating turnover. But this doesn’t take into account every cost you have. Dedicated software helps you calculate your actual profitability, as it is designed to cover every aspect of your manufacturing business. 

The Best Raw Material Inventory Management Techniques 

Don’t Obsess Over “Work-in-progress" 

Typically, companies start with finished product inventory tracking, then implement basic raw material stock management, followed by more complex work-in-progress management.  

We strongly recommend not to try to jump to the latter immediately.  

Although proper inventory management has great benefits it also comes at a cost — the cost of time and resources to keep it running and up-to-date.  

Thus, if it’s possible, then start with basic raw materials inventory management and do not try to immediately track different levels’ work-in-progress elements.  

It's better to have something simple working well than to have something complex that does not work properly.  

Keep everything lean and increase the complexity of inventory management only if there is a clear business need to do so.  

Update Safety Stock and Reorder Level Points 

Safety stock describes the amount of inventory a business keeps in the warehouse to protect against spikes in demand or shortages in supply.  

A good reorder point ensures that your business typically does not dip below your safety stock levels.  

Most manufacturers employ some kind of minimum inventory principles for raw materials used in production.  

PRO TIP: Learn how to calculate safety stock and reorder point levels. This reduces the strain on your business and the need to make frequent backorders

 Manufacturers often fail to calculate raw materials used on a regular basis. As a result, these raw materials inventory levels do not stay up-to-date. All the events below should trigger an adjustment: 

  • — A significant change in sales volume; 

  • — Major changes in supply lead times; and 

  • — A change in production volumes. 

Also, don't forget to adjust safety stock and reorder point levels to account for seasonal changes.  

Keeping these levels up-to-date ensures you always have just the right amount of raw material inventory in your warehouse, so you won’t have too much cash tied up. 

Don’t Try to Put All Materials on Production Recipes (Bill of Materials) 

Having a proper raw material inventory management in place does not mean you should track every material consumed in your production.  

For example, there could be several indirect materials consumed during the production process (nails, screws, buttons, and so on) that do not cost a lot and are typically purchased by the box in high volumes.  

It often makes sense not to have such materials on your bill-of-materials. Instead, cost them at the time of purchase and do not try to track every single piece consumed in production.  

It is important to get the high-cost raw material stock in place on a production recipe so you know early on if this is a profitable product.  

Don’t spend hours to save pennies. Focus on what has a greater effect on your margins.  

Use Industry-Standard Metrics to Find Out What Works for You  

Your business is unique, and what works for one business might not work for another.  

Bruce Lee recognized this when he was developing the ultimate fighting style.  

That’s what led him to develop what he called Jeet Kune Do.  

The basic guiding principles of this are simplicity, directness, and freedom.  

There is no dogmatic loyalty to one technique. He recognized the way to win was to do what works.  

This is the key to overcoming any challenging situation for your manufacturing business.  

Lee took what works and discarded the rest. 

The key for you is to use all the tools at your disposal to form your own unique style of manufacturing. You can find the secret formula to your optimal raw materials inventory game.  

That’s how small businesses can rise to the top. 

If you want to increase your workshop’s efficiency, then you need to know the raw materials inventory management techniques that work best with small businesses. Then, apply them in a way that maximizes the benefits for your business. If something has no utility, then get rid of it.

Use Smart Raw Materials Inventory Management Software 

You could have the best managerial mind in the world. Your industry knowledge could be second to none. But if you don’t have the right tools, your business could still be dead in the water.  

Managing raw materials inventory in a workshop or a small factory without dedicated software is like fighting a Samurai warrior without a Katana. You will lose, sooner or later.  

Using undedicated software, or a pen-and-paper method is like using a brittle training sword. You might deflect a few strikes, but your blade will break eventually.  

But just having the software is like having the best sword in the world, and no skill. You will still be outmatched and beaten.  

You need to combine the best tools with the best knowledge.  

You can apply the knowledge above while using a spreadsheet, but you risk it only being 20% effective.  

You might be asking:  

How does an MRP inventory system reduce inventory levels? It does it by…

  • — Getting work-in-progress out the door and to the customer faster; 

  • — Calculating raw materials used so you can set up optimal reorder points; and 

  • — Automating the repetitive tasks so you aren’t bored out of your mind counting buttons.  

This is not just any MRP software, this is Katana — The Smart Workshop Software.   

Don’t let the cost of keeping raw material stock destroy your margins. 

Try out complete raw materials inventory management that lowers your costs. 

See for yourself with a free trial of Katana.  

Kristjan VilosiusComment