When an obsolete component breaks, manufacturers might struggle to find a replacement. This is especially true in highly regulated sectors like pharmaceuticals or food processing, where alternative replacements are not an option and the exact same part has to be sourced. Second-hand parts might seem like a great solution, but they come with a variety of risks. Neil Ballinger, head of EMEA sales at automation parts supplier EU Automation, explains why refurbished parts are a safer option.
Constant and rapid advances in industrial technologies mean that factories now have access to more and more sophisticated machinery. For example, increasing volumes of data can be collected and analysed for condition monitoring and predictive maintenance.
However, these advances also mean that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) need to discontinue older products to make space for emerging technology. This has led to quicker obsolescence of components, a problem for manufacturers faced with the sudden breakage of a discontinued part.
Considering that most plants rely on legacy equipment to run critical applications, manufacturers are routinely faced with the problem of having to replace obsolete parts. So, what can you do in this situation?
The problem with second-hand parts
Used obsolete parts are relatively abundant on the Internet and might also come with an option for express delivery. The price might be cheap, and sellers normally offer a three- or even six-months warranty. At first glance, it seems like a great deal.
However, when buying used you don’t really know the conditions of the item. How long has the part been used for, and how intensely? Has it been properly maintained? What is its actual life stage and how long will it last in service? Usually, these crucial questions can’t be answered. A used part may perform adequately and last for years, but if it doesn’t, there can be serious repercussions for your business.
Consider, for example, if a critical component breaks in a food processing plant. Depending on the external temperature, the manufacturer has between twelve and 24 hours to find a replacement before the whole production batch has to be thrown away.
If the part is no longer produced by the OEM but a used part is available online, then two scenarios are possible. In the first, the part works and production can be resumed. In the second scenario, the part doesn’t fit properly, breaks shortly after installation or performs inadequately — which can happen for a variety of reasons. Even if the part comes with warranty and can be refunded, the whole batch of food is now destined for the bin. The manufacturer has to look for yet another alternative, wasting extra time and money and extending downtime.
As this example suggests, used parts are not always up for the task when critical applications are at stake. Do you really want to take the risk?
The safer alternative
Refurbished or reconditioned parts are used original components that have been cleaned, thoroughly inspected and had any worn or damaged elements replaced. While they are not new, reconditioned parts will only show limited or no wear.
Most importantly, reconditioned parts have been tested to ensure they perform as well as new. For this reason, their warranty usually matches that of equivalent new components, both in terms of length and specifications.
However, the buyer still has to be vigilant. There is no standard industry definition for remanufactured, refurbished or reconditioned. As a consequence, these terms are often used interchangeably and may imply different levels of repair and testing.
It is always best to contact the seller and ask exactly what the refurbishing process has involved. A trustworthy supplier of reconditioned parts will be able to answer your questions, as well as to provide any after-sale support you might need.
In the fight against obsolescence, reconditioned parts are a crucial ally. By forming relations with a reliable supplier, it’s possible to make sure you have them quickly when you most need them.