David W. Spitzer, P.E.

Getting the most out of vendors is a challenge facing all who are active in the fluid handling industry. There are techniques that you can use whether you are trying to get the best service at the local print shop or detailed information on a flowmeter. You will certainly be able to use your own experience to add to the tactics presented here.

Before you even think about calling the vendor, you need to determine what it is that needs to be done. For example, if a flow measurement is not stable, you may want to observe the effect(s) of putting the control loop in manual. This ensures that the valve operates smoothly. You may also want to observe other measurements (such as pressures, temperatures, and flows) that affect the flow through the flowmeter.

Vendors are trained to do certain things well, but troubleshooting your proprietary process or addressing internal politics is usually not among them. Vendors should know about the equipment that they sell, but even the best will stumble when asked to solve problems outside of their areas of expertise. Further, they potentially risk legal consequences if something should go terribly wrong.

Who should you call once you have determined that contact with the vendor is needed? Try to determine who has the information or who controls the resources that you need and call that person. If you cannot locate this contact, try to find a person that can help track down the appropriate contact information. This may be your local representative, but it could also be your supervisor or a technician who previously needed similar information from the vendor. For example, significant delays can be avoided by directly contacting the factory person who schedules field technical service instead of leaving a message for your local representative who is only in the office for two hours on Friday and will return the call during the next week.

Understand what the vendor does and does not do. As previously mentioned, vendors should know about the equipment they sell. Do not expect them to solve all of your problems. They may know a lot about widgets and have extensive related experience, but they sell products and they do not work for you. If you force vendors into the position of solving your problems, they may (reluctantly) do so, but their solution will usually entail the minimum of their effort and the minimum of their cost to successfully sell their product. For example, an instructor related a story about a contactor that had a 10 horsepower motor for installation on a fan that only needed a three horsepower motor. The instructor (who taught motor efficiency) knew that the energy consumption of the 10 horsepower motor would be higher and made him install the three horsepower motor. Installing the 10 horsepower motor was the easy way out for the contractor because he could “unload” a motor that he would probably not be able to use — and he was not paying the electric bill.

Be sure that you completely and honestly communicate with vendors in a clear straightforward and respectful manner. Vendors are indispensable in solving certain problems, so acting in a belligerent manner today may return to haunt you tomorrow. Given the comments above, there is nothing wrong with respectfully asking a vendor for referrals to find people who might be able to help solve the problem at hand.

As a last resort, carry a stick. Sometimes vendors (like all of us) need a little push. Over the years, I reluctantly called a few supervisors and contacted the factory for information that was not forthcoming locally. There is always the threat of curtailing future sales, but with certain products, this approach can be a double-edged sword.

In summary, vendors are people who should be contacted and used to perform work that supplements your work within their areas of expertise. You and the vendor should work together respectfully, and the vendor should not be asked (or forced) to perform your work.

About the Author
David W. Spitzer, P.E., is a regular contributor to Flow Control. He has more than 25 years of experience in specifying, building, installing, start-up, and troubleshooting process control instrumentation. He has developed and taught seminars for almost 20 years and is a member of ISA and belongs to ASME MFC and ISO TC30 committees. Mr. Spitzer has published a number of books concerning the application and use of fluid handling technology, including the popular The Consumer Guide to… series, which compares flowmeters by supplier. Mr. Spitzer is currently a principal in Spitzer and Boyes LLC, offering engineering, product development, marketing, and distribution consulting for manufacturing and automation companies. He can be reached at 845 623-1830.

For More Information: www.spitzerandboyes.com