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Down But Not Out: Finding critical spare parts quickly and cheaply


Manufacturing operations can’t afford to let modern production systems lie idle because of a lack of spare parts. But a big on-hand stock of parts is also expensive. The Internet can offer a solution to finding critical spare parts quickly and cheaply.

"In a large operation like this, it’s not uncommon to have thousands of suppliers." says Doug Walker, maintenance manager for Irving Pulp and Paper’s operations in St. John, New Brunswick. "And we do have thousands of suppliers."

A company like Irving, which has three large plants in St. John alone (wood pulp, Kraft paper, newsprint and tissue), uses an incredibly diverse range of supplies and spare or replacement parts on a daily basis. When downtime due to a malfunctioning pump or compressor can cost tens of thousands of dollars per hour, having parts on-hand immediately is crucial. Irving has a comprehensive machine shop in-house, where parts can be repaired, rebuilt or often replaced on short notice. Irving also has a large inventory of spare parts — about 30,000 items, according to Gerry Roberge, mechanical manager with Irving.

However, not every company can afford either an in-house machine shop or a stock of 30,000 spare parts — some of which may never be needed. In the era of cost-savings and outsourcing, many companies are looking for better, more efficient and less expensive ways to manage their supply of spare parts. And some have begun to turn to the Internet for help.

Irving Pulp and Paper just installed One World from JD Edwards, a new Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) system that integrates accounting, payroll, human resources, maintenance, inventory and other "enterprise-wide" activities — including the tracking of spare parts inventories. This inventory lists every one of those 30,000 parts that Irving’s plants need to keep running; the inventory also lists the machines for which they’re made, how many are in stock, the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), the spares suppliers, whether the part is rebuildable, re-ordering information and more.

"Equipment changes frequently now, and the system includes a lot of processes to manage changes in the part numbers, the descriptions and the options," says Roberge.

While the OneWorld system offers Internet capabilities, including the ability to order replacement parts automatically from suppliers by e-mail, Roberge says Irving hasn’t tried that, yet. "But we are going in that direction," he says.

Untapped potential
Although the maintenance industry has embraced the Internet and uses it to find information about products, trends and professional development, true e-commerce services are only still developing. However, many are already using e-mail to informally communicate with trusted suppliers — like ordering rush deliveries or sending requests outside of normal business hours.

Some newer maintenance computer systems are capable of communicating automatically with vendors’ computers to order supplies when stocks get below a determined level, but few Canadian firms use these capabilities.

For example, Hydrauliques Continental Hydraulics Inc. of Montreal sells a complete range of hydraulic power equipment, systems and replacement parts including shafts, bushing, couplings, from a variety of manufacturers.

In 1998, Continental Hydraulics launched its Web site, www.continentalinc.ca, which lists all the products it sells and allows people to order a complete paper catalogue. As yet, there is no online ordering option on the Web site. One reason is the huge number of different parts, from different OEMs such as Eaton, Denison and Vickers. Putting this inventory into an on-line ordering system, complete with different pricing structures for different customer levels, is a highly complex task and would itself require significant maintenance. With some 15 employees in total, Continental may be too small to take on this kind of job without a serious payback. To marketing manager Patrizia Rivera, there doesn’t seem to be a need for an online ordering system.

"Some of our existing customers have placed orders by e-mail," she says. "But most of the response to the site is in the form of requests for the full catalogue. This amounts to 30 or 40 contacts per month, and of that, about five are sales — out of a total of over 400 sales invoices monthly."

Many of the contacts come from outside North America, which could represent an export opportunity for the company. On the other hand, Rivera says, none of the new e-mail orders has yet led to repeat business. "They’re usually one-shot sales for people who are desperate for a part."

Where to turn for replacement parts?
This just may be the greatest potential the Internet offers maintenance professionals: a place to go in an emergency, when you desperately need a replacement part that your regular sources can’t supply.

How do you start to look for parts on the Internet? There are companies the Web that can offer you some help. Here is a short list of some places you can look for spare or replacement parts.

Specific types of parts

LIFT TRUCKS

– ACC Associates of Caledon East, Ontario (www.liftandmove.com) specializes in all sorts of heavy lifting equipment, including large lifters, heavy load movers, cranes, hoists, etc. You can reach them by phone at 905-584-1066.

– Liftruck Service Co. Inc. (www.lifttruckservice.com) in Iowa specializes in service and parts for all sorts of lift trucks, including Crown, Nissan and United Tractor, as well as related equipment such as Allegany Scales. Its inventory of 120,000 parts also includes materials-handling equipment and supplies. The company can be contacted at 563-322-0983.

HVAC

– Garneaux Inc. (www.garneaux.com/hvac) operates a complete Web directory for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, machines, parts and supplies in Canada and the U.S. Its site has information and links to other sites.

– Gas Equipment Supplies Inc. (www.ges.ca) sells natural gas systems, HVAC systems and equipment, and parts for different OEMs.

– Temperature Systems Distributors (www.chillerparts.com) supplies replacement components for all models of chillers and other HVAC components from Trane, York, Carrier and other OEMs. The company is in New York City at 212-564-9460.

ELECTRICAL & ELECTRONIC

– EIS (Electronic Integrated Supply) (www.eis-inc.com) calls itself "the one source for electrical materials." A subsidiary of The Genuine Parts Co., EIS supplies wire, cable, insulating films and papers and laminated products. The company has a large inventory of spare parts, and it also manufactures custom-made electrical-grade in-sulating papers and composites such as Nomex, Mylar and Kraft. EIS also offers automated supply replenishment through electronic data interchange. EIS is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia; with an international sales office in San Francisco at 510-490-5855.

POWER GENERATION

– Motion Industries (www.motion-industries.com) is one of the world’s largest distributors of bearings, and also sells replacement parts and hose products for electrical, fluid and mechanical power transmission. A part of the Genuine Parts Co., its web site allows you to search for replacement parts and hose products.

– Industrial Marketing Systems (www.imswe.com) supplies parts from a wide range of OEMs in power generation, as well as air pollution control, water and waste-water treatment, fans, fluid drives, material handling and other industrial needs. Its site displays its products, sorted by OEM. The company is located in Twin Peaks, California at 800-937-8099.

HYDRAULICS

– Safeway Hydraulics (www.safewayhyd.com) makes hose couplings that fit just about every make of hydraulic system, including Aeroquip, Hanser, Parker and others. The site allows you to search for quick couplers for manufacturers of hydraulic motors and systems. Safeway’s Canadian distributor is CFA Industries in Aurora, Ontario 905-713-3926.

– Hydrauliques Continental Hydraulics (www.continentalinc.com) has a comprehensive selection of hydraulic equipment and components, but no online ordering capability. Visit the site or call the comapny’s Montreal office at 800-226-1601.

MISCELLANEOUS OR GENERAL INDUSTRIAL PARTS

– Universal Sales (www.universalsales.com) sells everything from bearings and power transmission equipment to pumps, compressed air, instrumentation and pipelines for a great many OEMs, including USL Industrial, NL Eldridge, Gilco Bearing & Supplies, CFM Industrial and others. However, the Web site is confusing, doesn’t allow searching, and lacks basic information such as contact people or even the company’s address. You can reach Universal Sales by phone at 800 663-5544.

– LL Brown Inc. (www.llbrown.com) of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania sells replacement machinery parts for manufactucturing and machining, including milling, turning and thermoform equipment.

– Wheelabrator (www.surfacepreparation.com/Aftermarket.htm) specializes in selling supplies for surface preparation (sand blasting, etc.) A division of USF Surface Preparation Group, Wheelabrator also sells parts for competitive manufacturers’ equipment. The company is located in La Grange, California, at 706-884-6884, 800-544-4144. It’s Canadian office is in Oakville, Ontario at 877-789-1275.

– National Hose (www.national-hose.com) is a Canadian wholesale distributor of hoses, fittings, etc., for industrial equipment from many different manufacturers. The company’s Web site lists categories and types of parts available, but not prices, so it’s not an e-commerce/e-procurement site. Still, it’s useful for looking up what you need. You can reach National Hose in Scarborough, Ontario at 416-298-0494.

– Indusco of Brick, New Jersey (www.indusco.com) specializes in mining equipment, including locomotive sytems, heavy materials handling and related equipment. It sells spare parts from most manufacturers in this filed, such as ABB, ACME Electric, Anderson Electric, Eric-son, Everready/Excide, Fluke and others. Indusco can be reached at 732-899-2660.

PORTALS

– Web "portals" are sites that guide you to other sites, sifting and sorting information into categories for you. While there are many portals on the Web, one of the most useful for Canadian maintenance professionals and plant managers is Excite Canada. Users can find needed parts by progressively narrowing searches from "manufacturing" to "machinery" and finally to "parts." This is done very intuitively through menus and buttons — or you can just type this Web address: www.excite.ca/guide/business/companies/manufacturing/machinery_and_equip/machinery_parts.

REVERSE AND REMANUFACTURING

There are times when you might search all over the Internet (and the real world) for a part but still come up empty handed. This is a common experience when the part or the machine it came from is no longer manufactured by the OEM. In this case, you may have to turn to a company that can make you a new part.

– American Holt Corp. (www.americanholt.com) has over 100,000 machine parts in stock, organized by the OEM’s part number. It specializes in printing, binding, packaging and paper converting equipment, but also has parts for machines in other sectors from bottling to material handling.

If the part you need isn’t somewhere in this inventory, American Holt can also make replacement parts for just about anything by reverse-engineering from an existing part. You send them the part that’s worn or broken (or better yet, your last spare), and they’ll use it to make a replacement. For more information, contact American Holt Corp. in Northwood, Massachusetts at 781-440-9993.

– Standard Alloys (www.standardalloys.com) has taken the same approach to the next logical step: in addition to tracking its own extensive stock of spare parts for just about every manufacturing sector, its Common Parts Integrator database includes the spare parts inventories of co-operating companies across the U.S. (no Canadians yet, unfortunately). All of this content is organized by OEM part number, but also includes detailed information.

If you need a part, contact Standard Alloys (by mail, phone, fax or e-mail) with the OEM part number. The company then searches the CPI, and if it locates the part at another customer’s location, requests to buy it.

The CPI is the brainchild of Standard Alloy’s president, Jeff Smith, who began compiling the database about three years ago. Since then, some 15 to 20 companies have volunteered their parts databases, and Smith has manipulated the information — sometimes hand-written — into the CPI format. Smith still describes the system as being in the formative, data-gathering phase, but it is beginning to work for its users.

If the system locates a part whose owner doesn’t want to part with it, Standard Alloy then gets into reverse engineering, making the parts the customer needs. "It happens especially with older or obsolescent machinery: people use their last part, and when it wears out they’re in a bind," explains Smith.

For example, last spring, a customer in Hawaii suddenly found that one of its older pumps needed five replacement parts, but it only had four. The customer asked Standard Alloys for the last part. "I found one in a plant in Louisiana. We went to the company there, made a drawing of the part, came back to the foundry, made a pattern, then a casting, then machined the part and shipped it to Hawaii.

"It was a great job for us, because it led to a $30,000 order for a bunch of other parts," he adds.

The system works, says Smith: "People are giving us their databases." As a result, Standard Alloys now can supply several thousand more kinds of parts than it could before.

However, Smith admits that the system has not brought in any new customers, yet. Users tend to have been existing customers who know they can turn to Standard Alloys for spare or replacement parts. Still, "this is the future ?± industry is going to turn to the Web more and more to find what they need."

The issue is control

No matter where you turn for spare or replacement parts ?± original equipment manufacturer, broker, distributor, remanufacturer, in-house or outside machine shop — the issue is control. "It’s not necessarily important who makes the part," says Irving’s Gerry Roberge. "The issue is that we’re in control of the situation."

Having parts available when you need them is the bottom line. When today’s plant managers and maintenance managers are in a bind for parts, the Web has the information they need. All they have to do is use it.


Scott Bury is an Ottawa-based freelance writer and a regular contributor of technical features to PEM. You can reach him at s-bury@home.com