Other Dimensions: Working at Crossed Purposes

August 1, 2005
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Too often, it's the wrong people making the buying decisions.

This month's rant is about buying equipment. My point: Too often, those without a stake in the outcome of what they are buying are in charge of making the buying decisions.

The purchasing of measuring equipment and gages is my case in point. As a manufacturer, calibrator and seller of such equipment, we are on the receiving end of quality system questionnaires by the quality departments of our customers. For some reason, we receive similar quality questionnaires from their purchasing departments as well.

It seems to me that there is a duplication of effort here, and that the quality department should decide whether a vendor meets the required standards for quality matters. Purchasing, on the other hand, should handle the basic logistics of the purchase and be done with it.

Too often, purchasing personnel make the decisions based on price alone, ignoring the supplier and what the quality department or other requisitioning department has specified. The assumption made in the case of gages is that they're all made to the same specification; therefore, they are all the same.

While everyone is trying to do his job and agrees that it's the company's money that is being spent, what is forgotten is: Who had to beg for the money in the first place? It's that person or department that should be making the call regarding suppliers. If they're foolish, their budget will diminish rapidly for their folly. On the other hand, they'll also pay if nontechnical people buy the items based on price alone and things go sour.

It cuts both ways, of course. Most technical types understand little or nothing about what the purchasing folks do or how they do it. And if we did know, I think most of us would agree that we don't want to get involved.

When both parties keep to their areas of expertise, benefits flow to the company as a whole, as well as to those who had a part in a particular purchase or ongoing series of them.

When a third party's only function in the process is to get the lowest price, they may "save" the company money on the initial purchase. But they don't have to live with the problems caused by an item that is not up to standard or doesn't last as long as a competitor's more expensive product.

Technical support is another area that is not considered when price is the overriding guideline for buying gages or instruments. While most people can understand that this type of backup may be needed for an instrument, many will say, "How much support do I need for a simple plug gage?"

When the gages you bought accept the components but the components won't assemble, you may need a lot of support to determine why. There are a number of reasons why a simple plug gage is not doing what you want besides the fact that it may have been made to the wrong size.

One aspect of support that goes out the window when price is the key factor in buying equipment is favors provided by suppliers-such as when things are not covered by paperwork or invoices. "Could you

double-check this for me? My customer is disputing my readings?" Or suppliers may provide training for a new hire at your company at no cost. They also can be helpful in advising on the correct type of equipment for a job. That said, they won't be too enthusiastic about investing the time to do so if their work only will result in an order going to someone who did nothing.

I blame the consumer markets for the price mentality. With advertisements claiming "50% off" or even "70% off" appearing every day, some people actually believe it's possible.

Having written the above, I do have to admit that occasionally you do get a real bargain-such as the barbeque grill I got for a big discount. OK, so it doesn't have wheels, but who cooks while moving it around anyway? And I don't have to get a propane tank filled for it either. I just put some newspapers and wooden sticks in the tray and light it. And there's no messy, hard to clean grates; you just hang your steaks on hooks over the coals.

I don't know why, but every time I use it, I feel like I'm camping out.

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