Quality Magazine

Other Dimensions: I Can Get It Cheaper

July 1, 2006

I am always amazed at the logic, or the lack of it, applied by some of the people who buy gages and calibration services.

And it seems to be getting worse as the gap between the price of thread gages, for example, and the products they are made to check is rapidly narrowing.

A typical scenario involves a gage maker quoting a price and the prospective buyer saying things such as, "Is that the best you can do?" Or they quote that famous line "I can get it cheaper," which begs the question: "If true, why are you talking to me?"

One reason for focusing on money ahead of quality is that the qualities that separate a well-made thread plug gage from a bolt are not visually obvious. To the uninitiated, the only difference between suppliers or brands is price or delivery.

In a previous column I noted that retail advertising offering discounts of 50% or more off the regular price encourage the belief that price is the only difference. All things are not always equal under the sun.

On one occasion a potential customer claimed he could get a gage for 30% less. I asked him if his company was bidding on a job and their potential customer said a similar thing to them, what would they immediately suspect?

He replied that obviously someone is cutting corners somewhere-not doing final inspection on the products, skipping some treatment processes or using material from questionable sources. He was right, of course, but this was not obvious to him when he compared gage suppliers.

Some gage operators take comfort in the fact that all gages they buy must pass through their calibration department so they'll know if they're any good.

Assuming their department is properly equipped and has skilled people doing the work, they will usually only know that the pitch diameter size appears within limits and little else when a thread gage is involved. They also may know the diameter of a plain plug gage reads correctly in the couple of places it was checked.

In both cases, the overall quality of the gages and their true functional size will remain unknown until rejected components checked by these gages hit the receiving dock.

I had an interesting conversation with a gage maker a few years ago regarding customers rejecting thread gages. He said he cannot afford the time to check it again or get into a discussion with a customer over a rejected standard thread gage if the claimed error is equal to or less than his tolerance. He just sends a new one and puts the rejected one back in stock knowing it will probably be sold to someone who won't check it, or if it is checked, the odds are that it will be measured improperly and declared good.

Considering the prices at which these gages are sold, I wonder how he can afford to prepare an invoice for them. The last time I checked, his business was booming.

As gage buyers focus on price alone, it is only natural that gage suppliers will do the same thing. Under this scenario, after the gage passes the buyer's inspection, anything that happens later is the buyer's problem.

When told "I can get it cheaper," I'm tempted to ask, "Do you know what you are really getting cheaper?" Instead, I take comfort in the old story about the farmer confronted by a hay buyer demanding lower prices. He advised the buyer that he could supply hay for less after it has gone through a horse.

Trust a farmer to come up with a solution. Now the question is, where can I get a horse that eats gages? Maybe I'll sell them first as food for whales and re-sell them later and cheaper after they've been through my "maritime processing plant."