Too often users of precision measuring instruments and gages end up with the wrong equipment and don’t find out until it’s too late. ‘Too late’ means after rejects are detected by in-house measurements or in worst case scenarios, by their customer.

There are a number of reasons this occurs one of which is the process used to buy such equipment. I’ll try to shed some light on the buying process followed by most companies to show you where it can go off the rails. Who knows, maybe you’ll see something in your buying process that needs tweaking as a preventative measure.

When catalog items with part numbers are involved, it would seem there is little to go wrong and anyone in the front office can place the order. But this is not always the case. For example, many companies have a policy whereby the buyer has to get three quotes for the item being purchased and are obliged by company policy to use the supplier with the lowest price.

This is similar to government purchasing policies the world over and as you know, governments are not the swiftest in this regard. This method of buying equipment assumes that all of the features and specifications required to meet your needs are known and understood by the person who ultimately will use them. It also assumes that all the potential suppliers quoting on the order are able to ensure this is the case and they have someone on staff that can not only assist with selection but also with setup and in-plant training if required, not to mention subsequent calibration requirements etc.

Most people offering catalog items do not have such staff—if any—and may be simply a website operator and nothing more. This is not very helpful when things aren’t working out well. It could also mean you end up with a piece of hardware that is either not returnable as is the case with many gages, or it can be with a stiff return penalty for an error. Either way, you pay.

Many companies today consider their suppliers as “partners” in their operations which is a good attitude to have. Regular suppliers that are familiar with your quality systems, calibration and accuracy requirements and those of the industries your company works in offer value added benefits and can often catch mistakes or provide warnings of situations you may have overlooked.

A cheapest price policy rarely provides this extra level of assurance or help when you need a favor. Price is not the same as value.

One of the mistakes that regularly occurs is when a simple detail is not shown. For example, if the gage required is a ¼-20 UNC 2B plug gage you can find it in or on any number of websites or catalogs because it is a standard, stocked item. But if you forget to mention that it’s a left hand thread which makes it a special item most of the time, you’ll get the standard item that won’t work.

If you called it out as a ¼ UNC 2B gage, the UNC designation indicates you’ll get a 20 pitch gage which is fine unless you really wanted a 28 pitch gage you’ll get the wrong item because the UNC designation automatically indicates 20 pitch.

Let’s say you clearly list your requirement as a ¼-20 UNC 2A gage which is quite specific, but not enough. You’ll be asked if you want a thread ring gage or a setting plug for one. Let’s say that you clear this up by advising that you really want a setting plug. Job done! Or is it?

Your supplier will automatically ship a Class ‘X’ tolerance gage when you may have wanted a Class ‘W’ setting plug. Now you have to return the gage for credit and a replacement which will cost about 20% more. And if you discovered this error after the lab that calibrates your gages sent you the report, you won’t get a credit for their work and will also have to pay for it to be done on the replacement item.

Knowledgeable suppliers are aware of these situations and get clarification on them before things go wrong or get costly which ensures you get value at a fair price. When you get down to the crunchy stuff, you have a choice: low price or high value?