The Other Side: Sourcing Your Parts?

By Jim Fidele


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Second sourcing parts is a standard practice in most progressive biomed departments. Buying parts from the OEM is the most costly option and, at times, the most complicated. Finding other suppliers for parts is a great opportunity to save your facility money and show value for your department. It does take time to learn what to do but if you follow a few guidelines you can easily save thousands of dollars a month.

Be prepared to build customer trust, minimally you should talk to your manager or supervisor about what you are doing. I try to dispel any rumors that the OEM may have told my customers about second-sourced parts. Service reps like to give the equipment users just enough information to arouse suspicion about the quality of second-sourced replacement parts. For instance, I had a customer tell me that he did not approve of me utilizing “used parts” in his equipment. I had to gently explain to him the boards I purchase from the OEM are also refurbished/used boards. I then explained to him the exchange process the OEM uses to supply boards to its customers. After I educated him, he clearly saw the benefits of purchasing the parts from another supplier. Another creative claim from OEMs is “all our parts are quality assurance tested and meet our stringent specifications.” I have many stories of DOA parts from the OEM that have frustrated my team due to additional down time and troubleshooting these problems cause. The OEM had sent us a new “tested” defective part. My goal is to be up front about what I am doing and to educate my customers on using second-sourced parts. Most of them quickly see the value.

Be sure to establish criteria and guidelines to follow before spending time trying to find a second source for a replacement part. First, find out how long can the equipment be down. Finding other sources for parts requires some extra time for research and phone calls. If the second-sourced part company is new to your facility, an account may need to be set up. These activities require extra time. The customer is always first. If the equipment is mission critical, it may be best and faster to order from the OEM. Another consideration is the clinical function of the device. It is prudent to consider the function and impact of the part to device. Be aware of any perceived risks associated with each replacement part and how it effects the patient if it fails. If something bad happens, others may not understand the reasoning for selecting a non-OEM part. However, many opportunities exist that are not risky. Next, purchase components that meet or exceed the OEM’s specifications. Try to purchase parts directly from the manufacturer of the particular part. This skips the OEM as the middleman. Lastly, always document and log your successes. This will help if you should need the part again or if you need to promote your worthiness.

For instance, when looking for components like valves, motors and switches try to acquire the part directly from the company that manufactured it. OEMs do not manufacture their own general electronic parts. They may make their own specialty items but common items are purchased through companies that specialize in common items. I have a three volume book set that is called the Electronic Engineers Master Catalog (EEM). It is also an online resource at www.eem.com. They have essentially every company that fabricates any widget for the electronic industry. I find it to be an invaluable tool.

Other sources for parts are third-party refurbishers and servicers. Medical Dealer magazine is a good place to start when looking for those resources. You can also search the Internet. If you are really pressed for time, you could use a company like PartsSource and they will do all the research for you.

The money saved by spending some extra time researching will pay for itself tenfold with each success you have.

Here is just one experience I had. We had a spec table that was in need of a power supply. The OEM wanted around $4,000 for the part we needed. We pulled the part and contacted the actual manufacturer of the power supply and were able to buy it for $279! I didn’t forget a zero there either. Can you believe that mark up? This is just one instance of many experiences I could tell you about. It may not happen like this every time, but sooner or later your efforts will be rewarded.

It takes time and energy to source your parts but, as you can see, OEMs are charging double or triple or more for the same part. The keys are to gain your customer’s confidence, give yourself time to research, and develop resources to help you find the parts you need. And, remember to always keep a log so you can build on your experiences.