|Advantages of Using OEM Parts
What are the advantages of ensuring that spare parts for equipment come from the original machinery manufacturer, or are there savings to be made in buying from a third party?
Technology advances have done wonders for meat processors, fostering productivity improvements that many industry veterans could not even imagine 20 years ago. Such progress, however, can be a double-edged sword. The current crop of processing machinery is extremely complex and technical. Unlike simple mechanical assemblies of the past, today’s components are much less likely to be interchangeable; instead, they have been engineered to be interdependent, pieces in a series that all work together in a very precise way. It takes more than just skill to keep these state-of-the-art machines functioning according to spec, especially in high-volume environments. Well-trained operators, highly-educated service people, and original-quality replacement parts can be critical in sustaining peak performance. However, the expense of replacement parts to some processors may be daunting and with lines of spare part dealers often knocking on the door offering cheaper alternatives, it can be tempting for some to try to save a little cash. This, though, can be a false economy. As one Townsend NL17 FLEXlinker customer in the US, Tom Hoffman the plant engineer with Chermake Sausage said: “Lots of people bug me to buy aftermarket parts, and I won’t do that. When guys come in real cheap, I say there’s got to be a reason. “The cheap alternative is not necessarily the best. In the long term the cheap alternative is cheap for a reason. It might not be specifically designed for the machine in question. It most probably will not have the same tolerances that the part produced by the original manufacturer will have and its life expectancy is likely to be shorter. In the long term the cheap part can prove more expensive. Another Townsend customer, Mike Wayne, facilities and maintenance manager for Vienna Sausage Co, in Chicago said he receives frequent phone calls from what he refers to as “knock-off” parts outfits. He refuses to do business with them, because he said the high speeds common in sausage manufacturing plant mean that the slightest imperfection is apt to generate some kind of problem. “Breakdowns here cause extreme supervisor discomfort,” Mr Wayne said. He added that buying replacement parts from the manufacturer ensures that the equipment stays “in engineered conditions, with specified tolerances and thicknesses. “Compatibility is one of the biggest risks processors run in buying parts from a third-party supplier. As the old adage goes, “the devil is in the details,” and even parts that look alike can have differences that will affect either machine function or results. James Howser, maintenance supervisor at Boars Head Provisions’ plant in Virginia, said that when it comes to parts that are unique to the individual piece of equipment it is best to go to the original equipment manufacturer.Boars Head uses stuffing equipment from Townsend Engineering to make hot dogs. “I could probably have a stuffing horn made somewhere else,” Mr Howser said. “But I don’t think they could produce the same quality.”Townsend UltraServices manager Barb Lunan said that a major distinction of Townsend stuffing tubes compared to non-OEM tubes is that Townsend tubes break down into three pieces for cleaning. “It’s a sanitary issue,” Ms Lunan said. “Can the competitors’ equipment do that? “If not, chances are the parts cannot be cleaned properly, she warned. Processors considering whether to buy off-the-shelf parts from a non-OEM supplier need to be sure they are getting an exact match to the original — which does not always happen. Townsend field service engineer Bill Wonderlich gave the example: “The Mitsubishi touchscreen Townsend uses in its equipment has been customised with proprietary features that improve performance. “He said that customers, who obtain that item through a third-party aftermarket, could be caught unaware and left with a deficient configuration or a machine that does not function up to par, not to mention missing out on valuable Townsend customer support programmes, such as training and technical service. Lee Buell, customer service manager for Multivac in Kansas City said the company was baffled when it tried to resolve a customer machine problem by telephone recently. “What they told us about where they were cutting packages didn’t make sense,” he said. Multivac finally dispatched a technician to clear up the confusion. It took several hours of lost production time to trace the malfunction back to hole-punching blades in the machine’s forming die. It turned out that the blades had been bought from a third party, and the holes drilled in them were the product of the customer’s own effort. When the Multivac technician measured and compared the blades to the original equipment manufacturer’s parts, he found that the replacement blades were thinner and the holes were not as precisely aligned. Hans Verstegen, the Director of Customer Support at the Dutch equipment manufacturer CFS echoed the belief that processors are better served by buying parts from the Original Equipment Manufacturer, because the processor is certain the part will fit and work as it was designed to do. “Taking externally manufactured parts can lead to unexpected production stops, which can be very costly indeed. “The processor is guaranteed the part will function without damaging the equipment or infringing the warranty on the equipment. Sometimes non-original parts can lead to very costly break-downs of the equipment. “CFS not only gives warranty on the equipment supplied, but also the parts supplied. “Mr Verstegen added that processors will also be informed of new developments in parts, which may benefit the performance of their equipment. The aim of the equipment manufacturer is not purely to provide the right machine to do the most effective job on the production line, but also to provide a service to the customer. The original manufacturer can guarantee that parts will be available for the machines for years to come and they can also guarantee speedy delivery and technical advice. By providing speedy assistance, the equipment manufacturer says he is better placed that third party operators to ensure the least possible downtime and in the long run save he processor money. Dave Brown, executive vice president with Formax said: “When I put any material in front of my customer — whether equipment, service, or parts — I have a vested interest and shared responsibility to make sure the equipment performs at the highest level possible. It’s my brand name on it. “However, manufacturers cannot be totally responsible for the way their machines perform in the plant setting. “Equipment is only one piece of the puzzle. In that environment, everything has a major impact,” said Mr Brown. Nevertheless, he added that as a supplier, his role on the production floor is significant. In fact, listening to the comments from large processors is what spurred Formax to incorporate servo technology into the Maxum 700, its latest-generation former that makes burger patties at the impressive rate of 8,000 pounds per hour. The result: “We’ve taken out a significant number of parts in the old systems to reduce costs and still increase productivity.”Working with the customer, keeping him informed and ensuring that production is maintained is an essential part of the parts and service operation for the supplier. “We also offer customer training here in the United States, in Europe, and on-site in the plant. We have dedicated equipment in both facilities to do that,” Mr Brown said.An emphasis on customer education allows the company to conduct troubleshooting by telephone, a great time-saver for processors, and 24/7 technical support has been available for the past 35 years.”I sell from a value platform,” Mr Brown said.”It’s not fair to think you can buy a cheaper part from someone else and get full service.”I need the aftermarket business to support those services.”In the end the argument between buying original equipment manufacturer parts or third party parts comes down to much more than just price. Sigurpall Jonsson the Director of Customer Services at the Icelandic base equipment supplier Marel said: “There are so many things that have to be taken into account. There are a lot of issues to consider, such as the environment, the tolerances, the materials.”He said that where machines are used to do precise jobs, such as accurate cutting or weighing, ill-fitting cheaper parts can in the long run cost money. Any failure to maintain accuracy in cuts or weight can mean more giveaway and a drop in yield and performance. With present day supermarkets demanding more and more accuracy in portion and weight, more could be at stake than a few pence or cents per kilo — entire contracts could be at risk. Mr Jonsson said that other aspects also have to be taken into consideration, including the materials being used and how cleanable they are and their tolerance to the chemicals and washdown apparatus in the plant.”In general is would also take a shorter time to buy parts from us, because we have them in stock, and this means less downtime,” said Mr Jonsson.”If someone wants to buy a new motor for a machine, for instance, he has to ensure that it is geared to t he correct ratio etc and by the time this has been discovered and the correct specification has been bought from a third party, it would have been quicker to get it directly from us.”He added that on top of this the question of durability of the part was also key to whether buying from a third party really saves time, money and production.