Finding that reliable part
To the uninitiated, the world of aftermarket parts can be quite confusing – and the fact that the same component made by the same company can be available in different boxes is just part of the problem.
The state of Australia’s spare parts market is a topic close to Dr Peter Hart’s heart. As Chairman of the Australian Road Transport Suppliers’ Association (ARTSA) and principal of a private consulting firm, he has a direct link to the nation’s component manufacturing community and is acutely aware of the regulatory issues it has overcome to uphold a stable supply chain.
“As opposed to the Original Equipment (OE) realm, the aftermarket world still has a bit of a Wild West feel to it,” he says – pointing out that Australia has no coherent standard in place to protect a commercial truck fleet from buying a potentially dangerous product. “People are often surprised to learn that in Australia, most truck replacement parts do not need to meet a technical standard, even if there is one in place. There is also no supervision of replacement part quality by state road agencies, so it is up to the buyer alone to beware.”
With online trade booming and the increasing proliferation of all-makes outlets – driven by OEMs and third party suppliers alike – Peter says that lack of regulation has led to a situation where purchasing a part must be viewed as a safety risk in itself. “The aftermarket has become a complex eco-system with a unique language where myths and misconceptions about parts options abound. That complexity makes it difficult for fleet managers to know which type of part – genuine, factory replacement, aftermarket replacement, will-fit, private label, all makes, white box, rebuilt or remanufactured (see breakout box, ed.) – is best for a truck at which stage of its life cycle. It’s become a guessing game.”
According to Peter, the industry’s increasing “demand for uptime” will only intensify the issue. “Uptime is the latest trucking industry buzzword, with manufacturers and service providers putting a lot of effort into getting a vehicle in and out of the workshop more quickly. That’s honourable, but I believe what it will do is put even more pressure on fleet managers, and in turn the aftermarket, to balance the lack of regulation with a sound just-in-time purchasing regime,” he explains.
“It doesn’t matter how quickly a technician can diagnose a problem; the repair will be put on hold until you have found the right part. As such, OEMs, workshops and transport businesses have to start formulating more coherent strategies to improve parts availability and meet the industry’s growing expectations in regard to uptime.”
He adds, “With that in mind, there is a real need to re-think our replacement parts policy as an industry,” he adds. “Let’s be honest – until there is an official recognition of ‘approved’ replacement parts in the current Australian Design Rules (ADR) framework, parts procurement is still very much a business risk.”
In the interim, Peter says transport businesses should be aware of some of the most common – and potentially misleading – misconceptions circulating in the industry.
Myth 1: There’s a minimum standard for parts in Australia
“You’d be surprised to know that Australia lacks regulations about the technical requirements for safety critical replacements parts,” says Peter. “That’s because the Federal Government has no responsibility for in-service heavy vehicles and the States and Territories have never regarded this as a priority.”
According to Peter, the in-service rules require that a vehicle not be modified from its original status – that is, it should continue to comply with the ADRs applicable when it was manufactured. “The problem is that the ADRs do not have technical standards for many types of safety critical parts. It is assumed that the OEM is technically competent and will supply safe parts. There is no approval mark for most types of safety-critical parts in Australia.”
He adds, “Because there are no legally binding replacement parts standards specified, the market has become a free-for-all in which price is the main decision-making factor. As such, it is unlikely that a roadworthiness inspector will object to a particular part being used because it is difficult, if not impossible, to know whether the replacement part is suitable. Roadworthiness might only become an issue if the truck crashes.”
In such a scenario, however, Peter says the truck operator is left extremely vulnerable should the replacement part have contributed to the crash. “If the incident was due to a part failure, then the operator will be vulnerable in court. For example, should someone claim the braking system on the truck was defective – which may or may not be true – it can be difficult to prove who’s right. If the operator has fitted after-market brake shoes to the truck, there could be a presumption that the truck is un-roadworthy because the original ADR status no longer applied. This vulnerability might arise in both criminal and civil cases, so operators should think twice about using non-genuine replacement parts for which no evidence that the part has been suitably tested is available.”
Myth 2: All parts are made equal
“Not every part is the same, even if they look alike,” says Peter. “The problem is that identifying what’s what has become a very complex question because of the different channels that serve the marketplace. Sometimes we know which design standards have been used, sometimes we don’t. The same is true for the manufacturing processes and quality control.”
Peter says that regardless of the origin, the key differences lie hidden in the specifications that a part is built to and whether the manufacturer understands the application the part will be operating in. “Transparency is key. Same fit and function does not automatically mean you are buying a quality part – you need to know that it has been designed and built to adequate tolerances and specifications. All things have limits, and the challenge is to use parts that have high enough safety and reliability limits.”
Agrees Warren Farrugia, National Aftermarket Manager at SAF-Holland and a strong advocate for buying OE to ensure maximum transparency: “Original parts are typically components of a system that have been designed and engineered to work together in a certain way,” he says. “Strict tolerances and mechanical properties are what separate them from other types of parts – that way they ensure a system can work the way it was designed and engineered.”
Warren says non-OE parts may be cheaper in the first place, but the deviation from strict OE tolerances can dramatically shorten their life expectancy, with the resulting costs for labour and downtime making them “far more expensive” in the long run. As such, he says SAF-Holland’s much talked-about six-year/ one million kilometre warranty offering is only valid if OE parts are used.
Myth 3: Price equals performance
According to Peter, Australia’s strict Chain of Responsibility (CoR) legalisation has made procurement a critical legal issue for operators in the transport industry, so price alone should not be the decisive factor when buying a part. But, that doesn’t always mean an OE part will fit the bill. “During the truck life cycle, the definition of the value changes. For the first or second replacement you may value a highest quality part to keep the truck optimised,” he says. “A later life cycle owner may choose to migrate to a price point part as the vehicle ages.”
In fact, Peter explains many businesses now cover both audiences by differentiating between tier-1 and tier-2 parts, which are comparable to a supermarket’s home-brand. “Quite often both have been produced in an accredited facility with an approved quality control system, and both conform to the highest standards, but you get better service life out of the tier-1 part, while the tier-2 alternative will cost you less.”
While a low price doesn’t actual equal less performance under such a scenario, Warren says the true risk of opting for a cheaper price point lies in so-called clones, knock-offs or will-fits. Often reverse-engineered, they are not illegal, but may not necessarily achieve the best or safest result. “It’s not a fake per se, but because a lot of clones are sold under the same part number, they certainly bring a level of confusion to the market and make tracing them back under CoR a real challenge.”
To add to that confusion, Peter says there are also what could be labelled tier-3 suppliers in the game that do not try to hide the fact that they stand for a cheap alternative. However, he doesn’t like judging them based on where they are located. “While there is a lot of suspicious equipment coming in from Asia, especially via the Internet, you may also see some good quality products coming out of that region,” he explains. “Each needs to be represented as what they are – a will-fit alternative at a low price.”
Myth 4: It’s all about the name on the box
According to SAF-Holland’s product expert, Warren Farrugia, there is real risk to simply relying on the name on the box alone, as counterfeiters from around the world are becoming increasingly adept at copying corporate logos and packaging. “The name on the box should be secondary to who you are buying that part from,” he says. “Do your due diligence as to where the part comes from and check the quality inside.
“At SAF-Holland, we invest a lot of time and resources in building strong relationships with our more than 700 distributors around the country to make sure they know exactly what you need and are at your disposal 24-7. That’s why it’s so important to choose wisely who you buy from. Don’t be fooled by a pretty box; instead make sure you build that crucial relationship with a trusted local business so you can be sure the part you buy is the real deal.”
Myth 5: You can source everything online
In line with the above, Warren says the Internet won’t be able to replace local parts suppliers that know and appreciate the fleet in question and the people behind it: “The Internet is a great information source and should be used for research as much as possible. But what it can’t do is give you an answer to a highly specific question on the spot, and doesn’t have a personal interest in getting you back on the road as quickly as possible. For customer service and profound technical advice, there is simply no alternative to a local supplier you know and trust.”
ARTSA Chair, Dr Peter Hart, adds, “Many fleet managers think they can go online and order parts from anywhere and then just plug and play them into vehicles. Where is the testing and validation? What happens if something goes wrong? I’m not against utilising the Internet, but I am cautioning fleet managers to make sure they know who they are buying from.”
Rather taking a leap of faith, Peter and Warren suggest fleets source parts from someone they trust. “It’s not a question of where you by from or how you do it, it’s a question of how transparent the source is. Local businesses often have a degree of product knowledge that is second to none, so make sure you make good use of it.”