A machine learning approach to enable bulk orders of critical spare-parts in the shipping industry

Fiorentia - Zoi Anglou, Stavros Ponis, Athanasios Spanos


Purpose: The main purpose of this paper is to propose a methodological approach and a decision support tool, based on prescriptive analytics, to enable bulk ordering of spare parts for shipping companies operating fleets of vessels. The developed tool utilises machine learning and operations research algorithms, to forecast and optimize bulk spare parts orders needed to cover planned maintenance requirements on an annual basis and optimize the company’s purchasing decisions.

Design/methodology/approach: The proposed approach consists of three discrete methodological steps, each one supported by a decision support tool based on clustering and machine learning algorithms. In the first step, clustering is applied in order to identify high interest items. Next, a forecasting tool is developed for estimating the expected needs of the fleet and to test whether the needed quantity is influenced by the source of purchase. Finally, the selected items are cost-effectively allocated to a group of vendors. The performance of the tool is assessed by running a simulation of a bulk order process on a mixed fleet totaling 75 vessels.

Findings: The overall findings and approach are quite promising Indicatively, shifting demand planning focus to critical spares, via clustering, can reduce administrative workload. Furthermore, the proposed forecasting approach results in a Mean Absolute Percentage Error of 10% for specific components, with a potential for further reduction, as data availability increases. Finally, the cost optimizer can prescribe spare part acquisition scenarios that yield a 9% overall cost reduction over the span of two years.

Originality/value: By adopting the proposed approach, shipping companies have the potential to produce meaningful results ranging from soft benefits, such as the rationalization of the workload of the purchasing department and its third party collaborators to hard, quantitative benefits, such as reducing the cost of the bulk ordering process, directly affecting a company’s bottom line.


Shipping industry, spare parts management, bulk ordering, machine learning, forecasting

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3926/jiem.3446

Licencia de Creative Commons 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Journal of Industrial Engineering and Management, 2008-2024

Online ISSN: 2013-0953; Print ISSN: 2013-8423; Online DL: B-28744-2008

Publisher: OmniaScience