Parts is parts

Why is it so difficult to get parts from the big manufactures these days?


Today we have this little Agilent fixture come it. It is missing a couple of brackets and four attaching screws. In the back of the manual there is an exploded diagram clearly showing all the parts and a table with the Agilent part numbers.


I go to the Agilent find a part webpage, put in the part number, and there they are, $1.29 each. 200 in stock.


So, I order the two brackets and four little screws I need and send the order to the purchasing guys. A while later there is an email for me, purchase guy says the screws are not available from the vendor web site. He advises me to call Agilent and explain to them which part I need. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? It is there own part number, how could they not know what I need. So I go there myself, put in the part number, and up comes the “this part does not exist” screen. Weird.


So instead, I try it by putting in the main model number. A parts list come back with the screw the 2nd item from the top, still available, still $1.29. Put all the links and instructions and a screen print of the web page in an email to the purchase guys to order in the morning.


Probably in the morning Agilent will have readjusted the site again to make the part impossible to order. Why?


In the old days, the part numbers are all in the back of the manual. Having the part number guarantees that you can order the part. That is why they assign part numbers.


Now the US office frequently is only a storefront representing the overseas company that does all the design and manufacturing. My last place was designing and engineering in Europe and manufacturing in China. The Europeans will not return phone calls and/or were always on holiday. The Chinese don’t speak English. No wonder the storefront can’t get a straight answer.


We have these Agilent power supplies that are the size and shape of a pizza box. Can not order knobs for them. Customer looses the knob, the thing sits on a shelf. We call to get the part, can not be ordered. Sometimes we can get a free sample, but none are for sale.


I think the issue is the cost of selling incidental replacement parts is so high that the only reason to do it is for the convenience of the customer, there is little profit in it. So in the old days they did it for the customer. Now a days few companies care about good customer service. They care only about short term profits generated by selling expensive durable goods. To quote Charley Sheen “I’ve already got yer money dude”. Customer service is out of fashion. A calling center with English speaking operators is actually a selling point for the companies that have them.


So instead of getting our incidental parts from the manufacturer increasingly we find them ourselves and order them from 3rd party distributors. The process goes like this. First remove the part or if it is missing check one from a second asset that still has all its parts. Try and get a manufacturers name off the needed part. Go to Google and look for the manufacturer and or the part number if there was one on the part.


As I was getting ready to leave the lab tonight William calls me over to look at the input barrier strip on a Chroma load. One of the plastic “barriers” between the neutral and hot conductors was gone. We can’t ship it like this. Customer wants it back fast though.


He had one old one with a stripped out screw for me to take a number off. The maker was Hoppy and the part number was HP-T4047. I found the Hoppy website, Korean place. No distributors listed. Anyway I start to look for the part on their site and the different kinds of barriers strips include “modular” barrier strips. I look at the part again, take off my glasses and look very close. I see little number 1 phillips screw heads on one end and little nuts on the end of the two bolts that go all the way through the part. Now I am excited,


“William, it comes apart!”




“Look, it comes all apart!” Now hunting for the right size screwdriver.


William still does not get it “How does that help us?” he asks.


I am now just getting the screws out. The part falls apart in 20 pieces.


“Oh, now I get it.”William is smiling.


Chroma is one of those places that is a Taiwan company but has a US office. We have one asset that needs replacement cables that come with them when new. Now, the cables still come with a new one when we order them but today the purchasing department told us the cables are no longer available from vendor. So I had to order all the little pieces to make them ourselves. Now, I am going to have fun doing that task, but really, how could they not be available from vendor? They still come with the new units. I found replacements for the voltage cables as a ready assembly. Six dollars and sixty cents. Before we paid over one hundred dollars a set. The current cables materials cost quite a bit more, but considering we can make four sets with the materials I ordered, still about one half the cost not including my time.


Money can be saved by ordering parts from the 3rd party distributor. All the parts are off the shelf these days. The trick is to figure out who made it. Then who distributes it. I miss the 80’s. Life was simpler then.


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One Response to Parts is parts

  1. ellen says:

    Best story I’ve read in weeks! Thanks Dave!

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