Food processors speak out about the importance of faster replacement parts delivery.

Running lines and fine-tuned machines are essential to every food manufacturing plant. Without working equipment, not a single slice of cheese, bottle of dressing or sandwich cookie could be produced. Obviously, food processors rely heavily on the use of replacement parts to keep machines humming and product coming off the line. Although this dependency leaves plant and maintenance managers at the mercy of components suppliers, they don't mind speaking out about how these vendors could be doing better.

As a matter of fact, respondents toFood Engineering'sThird Annual Replacement Parts Survey had a laundry list of actions that suppliers could take to make them more satisfied customers. Not surprisingly, number one on the wish list was lower prices, followed closely by requests for more available parts and improved customer service.

Speed also is of the essence when it comes to customer satisfaction. Several respondents asked outright for faster service, while others beat around the bush with comments such as "get the stuff on time," "quicker turn time and technical assistance," "timely delivery of parts," and "timely service at reasonable rates."

Demands for speedier service come as no surprise as on-time delivery was ranked as the second most important characteristic when selecting a parts or components supplier. Ninety-five percent of respondents to this year's survey said that on-time delivery was extremely or very important. The only characteristic that ranked higher was product quality with 98% of respondents considering this extremely or very important. These traits-especially on-time delivery-seem to be growing in importance compared to last year when on-time delivery was ranked as extremely or very important by 89% of respondents and product quality was ranked as extremely or very important by 96% of respondents. And, it seems our impatient respondents are still willing to pay more in order to get high-quality products in a timely manner, as lowest price was ranked as extremely or very important by only 30% of this year's and 31% of last year's respondents.

Getting wired

As Internet ordering continues to grow (56% of respondents say they have purchased replacement parts and components via the Internet in the last six months compared to 54% last year), it makes sense that many crave user-friendly websites. Of those who have purchased parts via the Internet, 28% did so directly from a manufacturer's website, with an equal number doing so from a distributor's site. When compared to last year's survey results, it appears that manufacturers' sites are losing ground to distributors', as 31% of last year's respondents purchased from a manufacturer's website, while only 23% did so from distributors' websites.

In either case, however, our respondents ask that these virtual suppliers provide more online catalogs and ordering availability, websites with better customer service and more detailed information, web-based ordering systems and websites where they can see images of the parts and order them via credit card.

Apparently, food processors are becoming more computer savvy, as installations of tools such as computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) and automated systems for ordering replacement parts are on the rise. Currently 65% of respondents say they are running computerized maintenance management systems, while another 9% plan to install one within the next year. And, a large portion of respondents-46%-are using system-generated purchase orders, while a growing number-11% this year compared to only 5% last year-have a direct data link to a parts supplier or distributor.

For this reason, it makes sense that these computer-age purchasers want more computerized solutions from their suppliers. There are requests for bills of materials with drawings that can be downloaded to computers, supply parts lists for equipment that can be installed into a CMMS, as well as technical and repair manuals on CD-ROM.

Who makes the decisions and how?

But who exactly is it that wants suppliers to provide faster, web-based and computerized parts ordering solutions? Maintenance was the hands-down winner when respondents were asked what job function is involved in the majority of decisions involving replacement parts and components. Fifty-three percent of respondents named maintenance as the primary decision maker, while engineering and plant operations were the primary decision makers 20% and 14% of the time, respectively. However, the chain of command according to this year's respondents appears to be shifting. Last year's respondents identified maintenance as the primary decision maker in 77% of the facilities and engineering and plant operations in 49% and 62%, respectively (with multiple responses allowed).

To find out exactly who is involved in the decision-making process, respondents were asked to indicate which job functions were involved each step of the way from determining need to developing product specs to approving the purchase and placing the order (multiple responses were allowed). Maintenance was most often responsible for determining need, according to 87% of respondents, followed not-so-closely by plant operations and engineering, according to 73% and 64% of respondents, respectively. When it comes to developing product specs, again, maintenance is in charge in 66% of the cases, while plant operations and engineering are responsible 50% and 59% of the time, respectively.

It seems maintenance is also often responsible for approving the purchase. Fifty-four percent of respondents said this is the case in their facility, while approval is handled by management in 59% of responding facilities. Even placing the order falls on the shoulders of maintenance in many plants-61% compared to 75% of the time for purchasing.

Again, permitting multiple responses, the survey also asked readers how they gather the information necessary to make replacement parts purchasing decisions. It seems, FE readers turn to their peers for help more often (76%) than supplier literature (74%), Internet search engines (73%) or supplier or distributor sales or customer service (both 67%).

While they may rely on the word of a friend when researching parts, the parts replacement strategy is a bit more technical in most facilities. When asked what method best describes the maintenance replacement strategy in their facility, the majority (57%) of respondents said regularly scheduled visual inspections are used to determine wear and need for replacement. Time-based parts replacement schedules are used in 18% of facilities and automated measuring and monitoring of parts and components was used by just 6% of food manufacturers. However, a surprisingly large number of respondents employ the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy with 17% saying they wait until equipment is broken to replace it.

While they have no choice about fixing equipment once it's broken, food processors do have a choice about keeping costs down. As a matter of fact, many turn to remanufacturing or re-engineering of parts (56%) and consignment (24%). Perhaps that's because it's just getting increasingly more expensive to keep equipment running. Median spending on replacement parts and components was $500,000 according to this year's survey, up from $400,000 last year. Average spending per plant totaled a whopping $4.9 million, up from $1.15 million the previous year. Since food processors are spending more capital on replacement parts, it would seem they have the right to speak out and ask suppliers to deliver these parts on time and to make ordering easier and more convenient with user-friendly websites. Here's hoping replacement parts suppliers will make a few wishes come true.

Who Answered this Survey?

Earlier this year, Food Engineering sent surveys to readers with job titles in plant operations, engineering, general administration and purchasing who have purchasing influence for process equipment, packaging machinery, material handling, refrigeration/freezing and/or general plant equipment, whose company primarily produces food products or ingredients. Of those who responded, 99% are personally involved in purchasing at their facility. Primary job functions of respondents included general administration (27%), plant operations (23%), maintenance (21%), engineering (16%), purchasing (9%), quality assurance or control (3%) and R&D (1%). Ninety-six percent work in manufacturing facilities, versus administration-only locations.

More than half (58%) of respondents work in facilities with 100 to 499 employees. Sixteen percent work in plants with 500 to 999 employees and another 16% work in facilities with more than 1,000. Only 10% of respondents are from facilities with less than 100 employees.

Of the 11 different food and beverage production categories represented by readers, meat, poultry and seafood products were the most prevalent (25%), followed by beverages (13%), dairy products (11%) and miscellaneous food products such as coffee, snacks, pasta and spices (11%).