MRO Magazine


Important lessons from the Olympics

Like many of you, I spent some time a few months back watching, at random, various events at the Olympics in Australia, where athletes from around the world were competing to be recognized as the best in their respective disciplines.

Observing the Games brought to mind a few parallels between the sports world and the topics we discuss in this column — the field of material handling is also a very competitive one. From overhead cranes to conveyor systems, competing manufacturers have produced an array of equipment that presents specific values to potential users. The variety of competitors offering similar products can challenge the most discriminating buyer.

I have found — far too often, in my opinion — that the lowest price is the only determining factor in a purchasing decision for many people. The buyer has assumed that all competitors are equal in terms of product quality and service, and the "default setting" is that of price. The fact is that they rarely are. In fact, manufacturers will often design their products to be distinguishable from their rivals. Also, many people believe that rating systems set by industry organizations will determine the quality of products. What they usually do is set the minimum standard for their industry. If the product is imported, then different specifications are applied, usually exceeding the minimum, but different nevertheless. Therefore, it is imperative for buyers to ask the question, "what is the difference between yours and the opposing equipment." The response might be enlightening.

Most people do make cost part of the equation. Value, however, should be a primary determining factor in any purchase. Cost is actually a shallow representation of what the competitors have to offer. It is up to the buyer to evaluate each product based on duty cycling capability, efficiency, reliability, user friendliness, safety, and other vital criteria. The significance of long-term performance and reliability may outweigh — by far — the short-term savings that are apparent at first blush.

Just as Olympic athletes must have everything absolutely right to win the gold medal in their event, so does your company. If you’re looking to stand on the podium as a winner of the ultimate prize, you’ve got to put in the preparation that will get you there.

Joe Harnest is the president of Rival Material Handling in Burlington, Ontario. You can contact him at 905-333-1432 or via e-mail at