Strategies to Help Solve Supply Chain Issues
Struggling with supply chain issues? Here are some strategies that can help.
Written by Barry Victor, Owner of PROS Parts
Most experts agree that the supply chain issues we have been facing since the beginning of the pandemic will be with us for at least another year, well into 2023. As a small business operator, you have no doubt experienced shortages of supplies, equipment and parts necessary to run your business. While there is very little a small business operator can do to change the underlying factors causing supply chain issues, there are numerous ways to navigate around these shortages and minimize the impact on your business.
In this article, I will share eight strategies to consider for finding replacement parts to keep your machinery in operation. The focus is on parts, but many of these methods can also be used in other areas.
One: Optimize your supplier network
You have formed relationships with many suppliers over the years and have come to trust them as a source for items required to run the business. They can also be a source of creative ideas and market information. They have their own network of suppliers and likely a vast knowledge of potential sources of supply. They are also faced daily with the same issues you have from their customers, and should be able to provide helpful guidance. If your current supplier is not providing guidance, consider taking the time to find new suppliers who can help you navigate these issues.
One of the best ways you can mitigate shortages and reduce your costs is by planning ahead and stocking maintenance items that are frequently required. If you have been working with the same supplier for many years, they should be able to review their records of past purchases and suggest items that you have ordered multiple times. You probably already have a spare parts inventory so make sure to take the time to review stock levels and order before the machine malfunctions. Planning ahead will not only give you peace of mind, it will save you money by eliminating the need for expensive air shipments.
If you do find yourself needing an item that you do not have in your spare parts inventory and multiple suppliers have told you it is not readily available, you will need to consider other options. The options you have will depend somewhat on the type of part that has malfunctioned or deteriorated.
Two: Rewind, repair, resurface
While it may not be a less expensive or long-term solution, rewinding a motor can allow you to put the motor back into service if not permanently, then at least temporarily until the new replacement motor is available. Computer boards and other electronics can often be repaired as well and usually come with a short warranty. Valves can often be repaired in place with repair kits saving the time and effort of removing the complete valve from the piping. Air cylinders and other pneumatic components can also be repaired — usually at a far lower cost than replacing the entire component. Dryer wheels are an item that can be resurfaced with a new wear material much like changing the tires on your car, and can be a viable and less expensive alternative to replacing with new wheels.
Three: Use alternate component brands
Many manufacturers design and build components that have the same or similar specifications. One laundry machinery manufacturer may choose one brand and another may choose a different brand. The important principle to keep in mind when replacing a component with a component of a different brand is the engineering terms “Form, Fit, Function.” The term “Form” typically refers to the size, shape and other visually descriptive terms. “Fit” refers to the ability to interface with the surrounding machinery without modification. “Function” refers to the ability for the component to function in the application. Most parts supply companies should be able to help you navigate these criteria and offer you a suitable replacement that has not been affected by supply chain issues.
Four: Use alternate OEM brands
As described above, manufacturers of laundry machinery often choose different component brands but in some cases, they use the exact component as many other manufacturers. In this case, a supplier who has the data and tools to know when this is the case can offer you the exact part you need for your brand by sourcing it from a different OEM brand. While the price of the component may be different, the availability of the component could be better from the alternate OEM brand.
Five: Look at generic vs OEM
Similar to the alternate brands described above, generic parts are often manufactured for high volume components. While I would generally advise sticking with OEM parts to be confident in their ability to function successfully over long periods of time, generic parts can be a valid option if the OEM parts are not available. Your parts professional should be able to guide you to suitable generic replacements. Some components that are typically available in generic equivalents are drive belts, ironer ribbons, drain valves, pads and covers, bearings, blower wheels and lint filters.
Six: Search for alternate sizes
Using alternate sizes as a substitution should be considered carefully with the help of your parts professional. In some cases substituting a component of a different horsepower does work — for example a pump could be a valid option if the exact pump is not available. Operation of the machine could be impacted by this sort of substitution but on occasion it can be a valid option during supply chain disruptions.
Seven: Try substitute materials
During the design of most machinery, decisions are made regarding the materials used in components based on price, longevity and a host of other parameters. If the component you are searching for is not available in the exact material used in the original component, you may be able to substitute a different material. Substitutions of this type could impact the longevity of the component with longer life usually linked to higher cost and shorter life to lower cost. Gaskets would be an example of a component that can usually be supplied in alternate materials.
Eight: Consider used versus new
If all else fails and you are desperate to get your machinery back in operation, you can consider trying to find a used component to make the repairs. Many equipment distributors who take used machinery in trade often keep the machinery in order to salvage parts from it. As parts removed from used machinery do not generally have part numbers on them, making sure the part is the exact part you require can be a challenge. If the part being salvaged has been in operation for many years it may not function properly or the life expectancy could be limited, but it could be worth a try if all other options have been exhausted.
Supply chain issues have been hard on all of us. Hopefully we see an end coming. In the meantime, let’s continue to find new ways of doing things and possibly, we find efficiencies and discoveries that we may not have seen before.
This article was published in the October issue of American Drycleaner, page 24-26.