Tuesday, February 1, 2022

The supply chain logjam is hitting spares and parts now


Two recent posts caught my eye.  First, Ricochet reports on a behind-the-scenes crisis.

We have all seen the empty shelves for randomly illogical items, starting with toilet paper and now cat food.

With a very small engineering firm, there is a larger supply chain crisis that will be coming to a head in three to six months. We can’t get parts. I could go off on tangents, but let’s focus on just one major device. A PLC, or programmable logic controller, is a computer that runs actual stuff. Not things like a washer and dryer but how about the water that comes into your house, the water that leaves, the drawbridge that needs to go up, the MRI you desperately need. Almost everything you touch that is manmade uses one of these controllers at some point in the process.

To fulfill orders, my competition and I have been looking for other sources and substituting wherever we can. This is from sketchy suppliers to used parts on eBay. Now these people jacked the price up tenfold, and they are running out. New bids, which are mostly municipal, are getting a huge surcharge because we have no idea what something is going to cost or even if we can fulfill it. Many parts now have a six-month lead time. That means we won’t deliver, but we will be glad to take your money.

My medical controls experience is limited to a heart catheter surgical kit. It isn’t much, but I can’t change a fuse on the machine without a trail of paperwork, and don’t even try substituting anything. Major production companies will start slowing or shutting down because they are unable to get spare parts.

In the wastewater industry, most communities have 20-year-old equipment and older. That’s like 105 human years. Should one piece of this system fail, they may find replacement parts are just not available. When this happens, all you’ll hear on the news is there was a water main break. Here is an insider secret. It is almost never a water main break. It’s usually someone like me who hit the wrong key.

Other machines and systems are not so dramatic. But the problems are starting to add up and will soon hurt you in ways you will never know.

There's more at the link.

As if to confirm that Ricochet report, Matt Parlmer tweets (click either image for a larger view):

Again, I saw this coming a long way off.  (Experience in the Third World sure helps when it comes to current First World trends!)  Among other things, I've been ordering likely-to-need spare parts along with tools and equipment I buy.  Recent examples include:

There's nothing quite so useless (or irritating!) as a valuable piece of equipment that's sitting useless, gathering dust, because you can't get spare parts or consumables for it.  Rather buy them when you buy the tool.  That way you're protected against temporary shortages or supply chain logjams.

To illustrate, remember I mentioned some months ago that several small businesses in my area are spending thousands of dollars to recondition older vehicles, because they can't buy replacements due to current market constraints?  So many people are doing that now that some spare parts to rebuild engines, and some spare engines themselves, have become almost impossible to find.  A local workshop told me last week that they'd been able to locate a total of precisely three new GM 5.3L EcoTec3 L83 engines available at retail anywhere in the USA.  None of the dealers that have them are willing to sell them to anyone else at any price, because they know their own customers will need them.  The boss pointed to a rank of a couple of dozen pickups and work trucks parked to one side of his workshop, and told me that every one of them is immobilized, waiting for parts, and he has no idea whether or when those parts will arrive.  Apparently agricultural machinery like tractors or tillers have even worse parts shortages - not good news when planting season is coming up in a month or two.

I'm rather glad I have enough oil and air filters put away, and enough engine oil, to do three oil changes apiece on our vehicles when the time comes.  I have a feeling it may be hard to get those filters before long.  We also have one vehicle due for a major service soon, so we'll try to get that done ASAP, while the necessary parts for it are still available.



Susan said...

My hubby runs the only automotive parts store in our small town. He has been buying many parts on eBay, Amazon or anywhere else he can find them for his customers. But those sources are drying up. Freon or whatever the replacement is for recharging air-conditioners in vehicles is drastically rising in price so if you think that you may need that service best have it done ASAP. You may not be able to at any price this summer. Windshield wiper fluid is getting expensive and scarce. Ditto transmission fluid and oil. Tires may be unavailable by fall he worries. Automotive paint is through the roof already so if you have any repairs that need doing, get on it.

Those are just a few things he has mentioned.

Old NFO said...

Yep, shortages are really starting to get folks attention... and it doesn't bode well for any of us!

SiGraybeard said...

I had the Anti-lock Brake System module die in my '09 Ford Explorer back in September. The independent garage was unable to find a replacement, so I took it to the dealer. They told me it was sometimes as much as four months to get one. It's now just about five months.

Four solid months of an alarm at 80 dBa (about the sound level of a loud shop vac) for 30 seconds solid every five minutes. It has gotten really old. The car works fine, the anti-lock feature doesn't work, but the first 40 years I was driving I never had ABS.

Unknown said...

We bought a basic Whirlpool freezer in 2020. It worked fine, but would never defrost. After multiple service trips, the repair company admitted that they could not get the little processor board that operates the defrost cycle. And that there was no ship date in sight. Lowes refunded the entire cost and we bought a new Fridgidaire freezer. Stupid.

Tonerboy said...

Have an LG washer that needed the drum bearings. Found them at a reasonable price however, the old set cannot be removed from the housing due to rust. Seems to be a common failure in front loaders of all makes since one mfg makes most of the washers today.
Tried to find a replacement drum, have one on order from LG, again at a reasonable price HOWEVER, apparently, I am in the queue, along with hundreds, if not thousands of others. No delivery date.
I did get a local repair company to quote me on a fix, $1,600.

LL said...

Welcome to Brandon's paradise.

It feels like Russia in 1960.

BC said...

Hitting spare now? Try end hitting spares end of 2020 and people are just now noticing.

My industry standard lead times have gone from 6-8 weeks, to 22, to 54-56, to you get it if you get it...

MNW said...

Is the drum on that unit metal or platstic?

MNW said...

One thing to note: the vast majority of fasteners and impactvrated tools are made in Taiwan. If I were to guess it would be 80%. The majority if the balance is China.

There are a few US manufacturers, but $$$

I avoid China stuff as much as possible. I've seen new 12x130mm socket heads so bent they could not be tightened in the bore, numerous ones with split heads, improper heat that on 10.9 and 12.9 leading to failure, and other issues. Taiwan is the primary source to get any quality in quantity at a cost that is acceptable to the higher ups and customers for decades - decades!

Hightecrebel said...

So many people have "smart" heating systems controllers, lead time to replace those is in the months for some of them. In some cases it's cheaper (not to mention much quicker) to just replace the whole thing.

Tonerboy said...

MNW The drum is metal, which is enclosed in a plastic housing. The bearings are in the plastic housing with a molded-in metal insert. The gasket leaks and water gets into the bearings, rusting the race to the housing. There is no real easy way to "press" the bearings out. I'm sure it can be done with proper equipment and set-ups. It's not like pressing a bearing race out of a brake drum.

Tonerboy said...

I've talked to several repair companies and all of them just replace the whole assy and don't even attempt to press the bearings out.
All of the Youtube videos show just using a punch or rod to "knock" them out. Yeah, not so much...

The Freeholder said...

Son-in-law is an auto body tech. He said lead times on parts can be weeks. As you noted, paint is extraordinarily expensive, and getting more so. Expect to see these rising costs showing up in auto insurance premiums.

Son is a fabricator and welder in a production shop. So far, they haven't had any shortages that he's seen, other than competent help.

Daughter is an accountant, and sadly there is no shortage of government paperwork to complete for their clients.

For the most part, I'm decently stocked on most things I need, although the amount of stock is in now way sufficient for a decade of shortage. I switched to K&N filters on a couple of our vehicles, and I guess I need to switch the other two as well. Probably should pick up some spare cabin air filters too. And I need to get one vehicle in for AC service, so I'll go ahead and get that this week. Thanks for that heads up.

This isn't how I figured I'd spend my "golden years". It's a heck of a situation.

MNW said...

I was going to reccomend heat if it was all metal, though LG means that was a long shot.

I've put together a tool with waters and a long bolt and nut and a brake rotor of all things to press them out, but it would take some fabricating.

I had a similar issue with my whirlpool last year. They don't make them easy to service without tools.

Do your self a favor and dump the crappy Chinese bearings and get some decent FEG, NSK,SKF, etc. They are worth the extra $$.

tomtcos said...

Don't forget to also stock a few replacement automotive bulbs.

Francis Turner said...

Parts for bikes (human powered) have been screwed up for at least a year. Globally.

Will said...


If you get the old bearings out, talk to a bearing specialty house about finding a version of that bearing number with integral seals. You pay more for a sealed bearing, but in your case it would make sense to try to fix it for life, more or less.

Will said...


Consider cutting the harness that connects that alarm, or filling it with spray foam to attenuate the noise, if it does double duty for other systems.

Jonathan Bennett said...

Sounds like it's time to find a buzzer and dike it out of there. It can't buzz when it's in the trash.

Eric Wilner said...

Supplies of various electronic components had actually been getting iffy for a few years; even back around 2015 I'd sometimes design in a part that was available at the time, only to find a month later, when it was time to build a prototype, that the part was now out of stock and had a one-year lead time.
Now it's vastly worse. Many of the usual (not even specialty automotive-spec) microcontrollers have been unavailable for well over a year, and recently I looked at low-end FPGAs, which turn out also to be pure unobtainium with lead times showing as about a year, assuming the vendor keeps to the planned schedule and somebody else doesn't buy up the entire supply before I can get the few that I need.
One of my clients from the before-time is having quite a scramble to build additional copies of boards I designed in past years (and variations on them that they've been designing since them). They have the extra special complication that most of their customers insist on all components having documented provenance, so they can't deal with random brokers, eBay, etc.
(That F-35 that went into the drink? Maybe we need to recover it for spare parts. From what I've been hearing, the mil/aero supply chain has lots of Just-In-Time optimization these days, meaning there's little or no reserve inventory. For systems with 20- to 50-year working lives, this is nuts.)

Paul, Dammit! said...

My employer keeps an extensive parts inventory, since they own something like 60 tugboats and 90 oil barges. The tugboaters, a pragmatic and conservative lot, are suffering with playing musical boats, as the shortage of personnel AND spares is causing the company to cannibalize boats for parts to keep other boats running, and then ordering spares to fix the cannibalized boats to have them standing by (because there aren't enough bodies in the company to run all the boats) until the next boat breaks down.
One of my friends has one of our oldest boats, and the advantage there in driving an ancient dinosaur with its vintage Vietnam era-Detroit Diesels is that when something breaks, you can either jury rig it or fab your own replacement parts. The new boats with their two million dollar electronic controlled engines, OTOH, if you look at them funny they shut down and a factory geek has to fly out from one of the square states with a dongle connected to his briefcase to come start it.

R. Douglas said...

Love the Detroit Diesels. Worked as an engineer's mate on a boat with a pair of their inline 12s. We had a complete spare pulled from another ship (not ours, a decommissioned sister from someone else) in our shore inventory. Never needed it while I was onboard, all we ever replaced were injectors.

Unknown said...

Another issue is the quality of parts is lower as well. I've seen more than several videos of a mechanic or parts store clerk complaining how, that part they just got broke quickly, or was broke when they opened the box.

Brake discs/drums that weren't machined right was common.