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As seen in Ramp Equipment News, May-June 2013

Like your automobile, sooner or later your GSE will require a replacement part. What are the options today?

In the last issue of Ramp Equipment News, we highlighted the fact that JBT’s de-icer was enjoying its fiftieth anniversary.  The eagle-eyed amongst you who read that feature might have noticed that the ungainly Maintenance Master is not only still active in certain parts of the world, but it is also still being supported by the Orlando-based manufacturer with spare parts.

Those spares are key, in fact, to the well-being and longevity of anything that works on the ramp, and the above example merely bears testimony to this.  Today’s GSE fleet manager is aware of this and, like as not, he’s also aware of the trend that has seen many equipment manufacturers become vehicle assemblers rather than actual fabricators.  That’s called progress – but it still raises the question of sourcing spare parts.

Clearly, where we have an environment in which a number of GSE manufacturers supply the industry, it behoves them all to keep spares in stock.  That much is pretty fundamental and it does, of course, presuppose a weighty investment in that self-same facility.  However, with more and more constituent parts being bought in by the manufacturer in the first place, that inventory is arguably perhaps not as large as it once was.

When a spare is called for, the handler typically has a choice:  he can buy from the original equipment manufacturer or he can look around for a comparable part from a third party.  The choice is that simple but this is where problems can arise.  Whilst purchasing from the original supplier presents no risk at all, and in fact should come with a guarantee, shopping elsewhere may not yield the same result.

There’s a certain irony in all this, too:  that third party replacement part might have been exactly the same as the one fitted to your GSE by the manufacturer in the first place.  But you’ll buy it in different packaging and the chances are that it will be cheaper than the part from the OEM.

This will come as no surprise to most readers involved with GSE, one suspects, but where the water starts to become muddy is when a non-OEM part is not up to the job of the original or, worse still, when it is wrapped up in what purports to be the OEM’s packaging.  This happens, like it or not, and the consequences can be very serious indeed, especially where critical parts are involved.

This article is not setting out to endorse purchases from the OEM nor is it looking to cast aspersion on those companies who make substitute or replacement parts; rather, it is hoping to highlight the fact that a few dollars saved here could lead to greater expense elsewhere.

Caveat emptor

So why should the topic of spare parts be a problem at all?  That’s easily answered.  Elsewhere in this issue you’ll read about the realities and practicalities of standardization of GSE.  Why do fleet managers buy from different sources and mix and match their GSE?  There’s a variety of reasons for this but one of the most obvious is that of cost.  The accountant is generally happier signing a cheque with one less nought on it, after all.  And with every aviation company today focused on the bottom line, it’s no surprise that economizing has become second nature.

And the situation is no different with spare parts.  Shopping around isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though:  it all depends upon what is being replaced.  Any unit of GSE, like an automobile, will require consumables, which might entail windshield wipers, tires and the like.  These are not really considered critical elements and so non-OEM parts could well fit the bill.

However, certain parts fitted to ramp equipment are far more important and their replacement needs careful consideration.  Under this category are specific parts that have been engineered by the manufacturers, possibly to certain tolerances; or there could be parts unique to the GSE in question; or there could be a bought-in part that undergoes extra (and perhaps not always obvious) modification.  Furthermore, what about PLC installations?  Even these can be bought off the shelf today but here it’s very much a case of buyer beware, since they may not contain the correct software – or indeed, any software at all.  And given that more and more of the complex machinery on the ramp today is governed by the PLC, then it quickly becomes apparent that this needs to be totally correct if the GSE in question is to give of its best.

Aside from all this is the legal aspect.  Cases are not unknown in which an aftermarket spare part, non-OEM, has failed – to the detriment of the GSE and perhaps the operation at that particular moment.  This kind of episode can have much wider ramifications should personnel be involved in some way.  Investigation will hinge on the suitability of the part in question, with the aim of discovering whether the said part was fit for purpose; and those few dollars saved on the purchase price won’t necessarily go very far towards settling any litigation bill.  Indeed, it could be said of keeping GSE in tip-top shape that there is no quick fix.

OEM or OCM?

Sage Parts requires no introduction here:  the biggest specialist in parts and spares and with a global operation, it was the subject of a factory visit from this magazine in 2012.

Mike Bloomfield is the company’s Executive Vice President, and he reiterates the earlier assertion that within the GSE industry, there are very few parts that originate from the equipment manufacturers.

“There seems to be a misguided belief that GSE spare parts originate from original equipment manufacturers.  The fact is, the complete opposite is true.  In fact, many parts used in the manufacturing by ground support equipment makers are specified from non-GSE entities such as the automotive, hydraulic and electronic industry, and many other sectors.  Thus, the term OEM parts has essentially become a misnomer within the GSE marketplace.  Most, if not all parts and components originate from the OCM, or an original component manufacturer, a more accurate term when speaking of the origin of the part.  Furthermore, many people make the mistaken assumption that if a GSE part does come from an original equipment manufacturers, it must be higher in quality than a so-called non-original aftermarket part.  This, too, is simply not true.  In fact, the opposite just might be the case.  Perhaps this is the time to take a closer look at the above misconceptions by focusing on the prevailing factors affecting aftermarket parts in today’s GSE industry.

“A company that, for instance, produces tractors, loaders or de-icers, is not likely to also produce components for those tractors, loaders and de-icers.  There are several reasons for this.  First of all, the typical GSE production plant today is set up primarily for assembly, rather than actual manufacturing.  What’s more devoting separate business units to the engineering, tooling and testing of parts is expensive and the return on investment for an original equipment manufacturer to also be an OCM may not be an attractive business proposition.  And, as you would imagine, there is a unique expertise that goes with manufacturing parts – and that expertise is decidedly different from the expertise required to design and build ground support equipment.  For economies of manufacturing, this all makes good sense.  However, from a quality and lifetime performance standpoint, it might not make sense at all.

“Adding to the above is the harsh environment of a ramp.  Parts and components selected from use in other industries are not always the best choice for ground support equipment that will be called on to perform highly difficult tasks on a seven days a week, 52 weeks a year basis, often under extreme weather conditions.

“If you’re working with a top aftermarket supplier of GSE parts, chances are the parts you’re buying are actually higher in quality than the parts that were built into the original equipment.

“How is this possible?  That’s because nowadays a globally-leading GSE parts provider is much more than a picker and a packer.  A world-class parts supplier employs engineers specifically for the purpose of parts improvement, stringently testing and analyzing all kinds of GSE parts on high usage equipment to determine where performance and durability enhancements can be made.  Then, those parts are re-engineered to even higher specifications, and are made ramp-ready for the most demanding ground support applications.

“A perfect example involves components such as brake parts, de-icer pumps, electrical parts, radiators, axle and drivetrain components, and many other notorious low lifecycle components.

“The bottom line is, all GSE parts need to perform day in and day out, year after year.  Choosing the right parts supplier can provide peace of mind that aftermarket parts are equal to, if not better than, the original parts in question.

“Almost all parts or components are specified from other (non-GSE) uses.  It is that fact that places companies like Sage in a unique position to provide improvement to parts – ramp ready, if you will.  There are many end users that think that parts from the GSE manufacturers are better but as mentioned, this is not always the case.  Sage, for example, employs engineers specifically for the purpose of parts improvement.  There is no evidence to suggest that the OEMs do the same.

“Regarding the OEM’s outsourcing of parts, I feel that it is a necessary and natural progression.  Like all other industries (other than GSE), they enjoy a healthy aftermarket support network.  This keeps both the end user and equipment suppliers stable and happy, with both enjoying a good selection of high quality, readily available parts and components.”

Choosing carefully

The comment about the modern manufacturing facility being little more than an assembly point is not lost on Eagle Tugs’ Justin Akinleye.  “Yes, this is the reality.  The majority of our parts are bought in and we source primarily from the US, although engines and gearboxes may come from further afield.  At Eagle Tug we look to buy from the automotive sector wherever possible because this way there is more chance of these parts being available in the longer term.

“When we sell a tug overseas, we will always suggest that the customer takes the option of a 2,000 hour kit, which contains items like belts, bulbs and filters.  This is common sense:  there will be room in the shipping container for the items and it’s more cost-effective that way than buying the parts piecemeal at a later date, from various manufacturers.  In addition, having the parts from the start means that they can be better integrated with the purchaser’s warehousing systems.”

He expresses concern over grey aftermarket parts.  “This is a worry.  Degradation with substandard parts can be much quicker, which may not always be obvious.  You really do get what you pay for when it comes to buying spares.”

JBT AeroTech’s Lee Coon freely admits that he cannot speak for other GSE manufacturers but his company’s philosophy is quite clear cut.

“Our manufacturing model is to design, assemble, test and perform quality control inspections.  We assemble our products with fabricated and OEM parts sourced from around the world.  Many components are specially made to meet our unique application in purpose built vehicles.

“Customers purchase parts from a variety of different sources – especially common automotive parts found on diesel engines.  This includes filters, belts and common relays.  As such, it would be hard to speculate on the percentage of parts purchased elsewhere.

“As mentioned earlier, many components are specially made to meet our unique application in purpose-built vehicles.  We also have suppliers who modify their commercial components exclusively for JBT.  These are commonly found in hydraulic and electrical components and may not appear to be different from off-the-shelf parts.  We encourage our customers to insist on genuine JBT parts to ensure they are getting the right component for the optimal performance and reliability of their equipment.  The choice of non-OEM critical parts can also lead to a possible safety risk.

“The ease of ordering the right part is another advantage.  Whether utilizing our interactive e‑commerce system, JBTdirect, or our part sales representatives, you can be assured that the part you order will be the correct part.”

How big a problem is the sub-standard aftermarket part?

“Use of sub-standard parts in our equipment is a genuine concern to JBT as an OEM.  We frequently receive calls from customers concerned about the degraded performance of their GSE after replacing genuine OEM parts with substandard substitutes.  Researching the issue may take a while to discover the cause of the breakdown which increases the time the unit is out of service.”

Some consumables are less important than others (wiper blades, lights and so on).  Do the alternative parts supplier always win where this type of part is concerned?

“This can be the case with some customers ordering standard automotive parts.  Many times, our customers stock common consumables that they purchase in bulk.  Often, however, customers find it convenient to order all of their parts for JBT equipment directly from the OEM.  In addition, we offer different levels of routine maintenance kits, which include all the necessary hydraulic and oil filters, gaskets and seals required to meet the vehicle’s system service interval requirements.”

To what extent are his customers aware that certain parts of the company’s GSE are critical and that their replacement with non-proprietary parts is not a wise move?

“We are fortunate to have a very loyal customer base.  Those who purchase parts from JBT understand our strict quality standards and value when deciding where to purchase parts.  We also distribute technical bulletins to alert customers about the dangers of ordering parts which are not suitable as replacements.  Unfortunately, a poor experience ordering non-genuine parts is sometimes the best education in these situations.”

Is anything being done about the supply of substandard parts in the marketplace?

“In JBT’s opinion, the best thing that can be done is ongoing awareness campaigns in the industry.  We clearly mark our packaging with a combination of our logo and our part number to make it easily identified.  We also have a global customer service team available around the clock and encourage our customers to use our technical resources if they have questions or are in need of guidance with a repair.

“Finally, a word on warranties. JBT’s Warranty program does not tie customers to using JBT parts as it relates to common automotive and consumable components.  However, for proprietary and specialized system components, using aftermarket parts is not advisable.  JBT maintains a generous warranty program for our customers and we stand by our equipment for the life of the product, long after the warranty has expired.  Certain critical component failures can clearly be traced back to substandard aftermarket components.  Not only do they make it more difficult to troubleshoot the equipment irregularities, they can often cause very expensive repairs that cannot be covered under our product warranty.”

Pictured above are the internal components of a typical vacuum assist break booster used on a baggage tractor.  The components on the left are from the OEM (or OCM) booster.  While the specifications are adequate for its original use, automotive applications, the specification is inadequate for use in GSE.  The components on the right are designed for specific use in GSE which is more heavier and intended for the rigors of ramp equipment

Cure for the common leaky radiator.  Tanks that are twice as thick and ports are supported on both ends.  The cutaway on the right is a typical OEM radiator.  Notice the ports are only brazed on one side of the tank.  This leads to leakage and a short life.  The “aftermarket” version on the left sports a double thick tank and the ports are supported on both ends, thus eliminating the most common cause for leaks.

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