Anyone who has been servicing imaging systems for any length of time has had the unfortunate experience of getting a bad part. When the part is needed to get a down system running again, it can be one of the worst days in a service engineer’s life. You spent time troubleshooting the fault, and when fairly sure of the part you need, you get the part on order before the shipping deadline. You inform the customer that you’ll be “back in the morning with the part.” Looking forward to the satisfaction of getting the system back up, you pick up the part the next morning and head to the customer site. You put the replacement part in, boot up the system, and … the system still doesn’t work! What happened? Is the part bad? Is it the wrong version for the system? Did you fail to identify the correct part in your troubleshooting? Is there another part that also needs to be replaced? Even worse than not being sure what went wrong, you are going to have to tell the customer that the system still isn’t working. Even if you have already established good credibility with them, they are going to wonder if you really know what you are doing. They are probably going to get questions from their boss and their internal customers about who it is they have chosen to maintain the device, and they may force you to call in the OEM field engineer. You may even be asked where the part came from. Unless it came from the OEM, which is very possible because even the manufacturers sometimes ship parts that don’t work, you can’t do much more than tell them you will be back tomorrow to continue the service call.

When an event like this happens because the part was defective, it reinforces the importance of having a good parts supplier. Most manufacturers have prohibitively high pricing on replacement parts, in large part to scare customers into buying a contract from them. That also means that buying an OEM part is a last resort for most of us. So what constitutes a “good” supplier? Assuming that you want to get parts that work out of the box and are reliable, and not just the cheapest one you can find, what characteristics can you use when evaluating and selecting an aftermarket parts supplier?

If possible, visit the supplier so you can see for yourself what they are doing. I can tell you from experience that it can be very informative to even ask the question about doing a site visit. Your parts suppliers can make you, or break you.

Technical support
Find a parts supplier that can help you identify the failing part and the version of the part that you need for your particular system. If they really know what they are doing, they should be able to provide the information you may need to install that part. There are companies that will sell you the part without making sure you have the passwords or other information you need to install it, and are happy to charge you a restock fee when you return it. Be concerned if the company that sells you a part doesn’t ask questions about the hardware and software version of the system on which you are working. They are probably just a “broker” that is buying from another company and reselling to you.

Hero kits
If you are unable to be sure if you have identified the part(s) that you need to fix the problem, are you able to get a hero kit of two or more parts in order to make sure you can fix it on your next visit? What, if any, restocking fees are you going to be charged for the unused parts you return.

Testing
An important factor is how the supplier tests the parts they sell. You want a part that was tested in the same type and version of system that you are repairing. Find out how the parts company does that. Do they have testbeds they use for testing? Are they able to configure the part to the same version as you need? How long do they burn-in the part?

Warranty
The warranty period can be an indicator of the confidence the company has in the parts they sell. Be careful, though, since some companies that sell you on the longer warranty seem to find ways to not honor that promise.  What is important to you (and your customer) is how long the part lasts once you have installed it.

Quality
Everyone makes mistakes. But what do they do when something goes wrong? Ask the company if they have a corrective action system, and for some examples of recent ones they have experienced. A company with a strong quality management system investigates DOA (Defective on Arrival) and warranty failures with the intention of making sure it never happens again.

If possible, visit the supplier so you can see for yourself what they are doing. I can tell you from experience that it can be very informative to even ask the question about doing a site visit. Your parts suppliers can make you, or break you.