When you’re having a breakdown, it’s best to talk

Breakdown. Downtime. Loss. Stress. Reputation. Big words in themselves, but put them all together and they are the stuff of manufacturers’ nightmares.

Engine room factory maintenance repair OEE fix - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
When your kit is still shiny from the box though, these things are covered by the OEM’s warranty – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

When your kit is still shiny from the box though, these things are covered by the OEM’s warranty and ultimately their problem to solve. You take comfort from knowing the OEM will be able to supply a replacement part quickly.

But what if your equipment is obsolete? What if the OEM is no longer in business? What if the OEM cannot supply the replacement parts and tells you the only solution is a very expensive upgrade?

You’ve got all the anxiety of the breakdown and it’s your job, alone, to fix it and get things back up and running.

In these bleak scenarios, there is sadly one place most production engineers turn – Google. Because Google has all the answers, right?  If anyone knows where the parts you need are, it’s the G-man. You can ask him secretly, and no-one will judge you.

When you’ve had a breakdown, chances are you’re super stressed. The downtime money clock is ticking. You think you’ve worked out the spare part that you need, but you don’t have one in stock.

You type the part number into Google and cross your fingers. The dots spin on the screen. You wait a few more painful milliseconds. Google says “no”.  And the world stops. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.

Alternatively, Google says “yes”. But also reveals that everyone else on the planet who owns the same machine as you has already been onto Google about this self-same part. Meaning it has effectively become gold dust. The downtime money clock keeps ticking. You weigh up your single option – Click. Buy. Ouch.

An alternative approach

Google search SEO engine - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Google has its place but should not be considered an overriding authority – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Somewhere in the multiverse, another version of you is in the exact same breakdown situation. In this universe though, there is no Google.

So the alternative you picks up the phone and calls a trusted spare parts supplier. They talk briefly about the weather and the stresses of downtime.

Then the supplier asks the other you a few questions back. Can you describe the fault? What is the machine? What is the issue? What make and model of PLC or drive is showing the fault?

The multiverse you does not mutter about wasted time and demand an engineer be despatched immediately because every second of downtime is costing money.

The other you patiently goes away to find the details, in the full understanding that finding this information now means the engineer can come to site with the correct equipment, the correct manuals, the correct laptop if necessary, with the correct software and cables, perhaps a replacement unit if it is appropriate.

Spending five minutes getting accurate information now could save hours of downtime through driving back and forth or unnecessary fault finding.

The multi-universe you also takes the same attitude to purchasing spare parts. With no Google to consult, the Google-free you has learnt not only to call with the requirements, but also not just to ‘check stock on an item’. Instead the other you explains what machine needs to be kept running.

You may have an item in mind, but you are open to options. In the past, you have found taking five minutes to have a chat about the problem, or potential problem, can save a huge amount of time, and money, when crises strike.

To learn more about how to develop your obsolescence strategy, contact Northern Industrial

The supplier explains that, with over 30 years’ experience finding solutions to breakdown problems, there is not much they haven’t seen. And, although their website can suggest replacement products for obsolete equipment, it is no substitute for talking a problem through to find the solution.

Inverter faulty? We may not have the exact model number but maybe we have a higher kw rating in the same frame size.  PLC problem? Maybe we have the exact CPU or maybe we have one with more memory. Maybe we have your exact HMI but it is under a different part number because it has a different colour bezel or has a plain membrane instead of a branded one.

All of these are drop-in solutions, not complicated retrofits. They are all things they come across on a regular basis, and they are all things a website cannot tell you, because the scenario planning would just to be too vast to make it functional.

It is easy to rely on the speed at which technology can give us an absolute answer, but from time to time, having a conversation with someone who knows someone who knows someone can be the quickest or even the only way to solve a problem.

So, even in a Google universe, breaking the norm and picking up the phone and taking a few minutes to talk, can actually get the job done faster. Google has its place but should not be considered an overriding authority.

Don’t be the person who goes to the doctor to tell him what’s wrong with you and what treatment you need.  Keep an open mind.

In short, when it comes to breakdowns, it really is best to talk.


David Lenehan is managing director of Northern Industrial, a multi-award-winning family owned and run business established 1978, providing new, reconditioned and obsolete parts and repair services to customers in 146 countries worldwide. The company currently sources from over 1,350 manufacturers, covers over 200,000 part numbers, and holds approximately £7m in stock. Northern Industrial is Certified ISO:9001 and approved by ISOQAR