Issues with Suppliers

Originally titled 'We’re Customers, Too'

Shops face a variety of challenges virtually every day. Many of those challenges stem from dealings with our own suppliers.

Like many shop owners, my team and I face challenges every day. They range from meeting strict customer deadlines to dealing with equipment problems. And that’s just the start of it. There never seems to be a day without a difficult obstacle to overcome.

Some of these daily problems stand out more than others, often as a result of actions by our own suppliers. Here are the ones that cause my blood pressure to rise the most:

Key Tools Are Discontinued

Salespeople try to sell you new tools, like end mills, all the time. They let you try them out, and usually the tools work well. Since all of us in the CNC business realize the benefit of standardizing, we begin to use these tools exclusively. All is well, until one day we go to order more of that tool, our vendor says the manufacturer has stopped making the tool, and there are none left.

We’ve invested a lot of time in this tool, and almost all our programs use it. Now we have to find yet another tool and redo all our processes. 

Salespeople Don’t Know Their Products

Time is always in short supply. Customers are the most important part of our business and get most of our time. But suppliers and potential suppliers want some of it as well, and we need to constantly seek out new products that could help the business.

The problem is that more and more salespeople don’t seem to know the products they represent well enough. In fact, sometimes they don’t know much more than what they read in their own company’s literature, if that much. Sales meetings with representatives like this become fruitless and cause us to start painting every salesperson with the same brush. And they wonder why we don’t buy from them.

Suppliers Don’t Give Notice of Late Deliveries

This frustrating issue ranks at the very top of my list. Shops need to bring materials, tooling and people together to make products for our customers, and we work hard to deliver those products. When our suppliers don’t tell us that materials or tooling are going to be late arriving to our shop, we can’t plan accordingly. We sometimes don’t find out about a delay until the day we expected the delivery to arrive, and even then only because we called to find out why a shipment did not arrive when expected.

Then we have to inform our customers that their orders will be late, and/or put our own employees and other vendors under high pressure to get the job out on time. Obviously, this lack of advance notice creates a highly stressful atmosphere for everyone.

Machine Repair Difficulties and Delays 

Most shops likely are like mine and don’t have spare equipment just sitting around in case a machine breaks down. And when they do break down, it always seems to be at the worst possible time: when there’s a job running on it that’s particularly time-sensitive.

When this happens, we call the repair company, usually the vendor from whom we bought the equipment, in a panic. It can be very frustrating, to say the least, if we have a hard time getting through to a human being. And even once we do, there often is no one immediately available to fix the machine. We’re issued a repair time slot, but, in our experience, this appointment many times ends up being cancelled at the last minute because something else has come up for the vendor. When the technician finally does show up, there’s a high probability some of the parts needed to repair the machine will need to be ordered in from halfway around the world. 

I know many of you can relate to these issues, and I know it’s only the tip of the iceberg of problems that shop owners combat every day. It’s frustrating that the only way to solve these issues seems to be to stop doing business with the organizations and people who put us in these situations.

We put our customers first; it seems reasonable to expect our suppliers to do the same for us. We are their customers, after all.

About the Contributor

Udo Jahn is the general manager of Modern Engineering, one of the larger five-axis machining providers on Canada’s west coast. Email udo@moderneng.com or visit moderneng.com.