I agree, the distributor should be liable for the failures. This reminds me of when I was working at a Mitsubishi dealership... There was an emissions recall for the automatic transmissions on some vehicles. Apparently the spring used in one of the check balls was too stiff delaying actuation of the lock-up torque converter. The factory authorized recall involved tearing down the transmission and replacing the torque converter and the valve body, but the dealer had other plans. They purchased a case of retractable ball point pens which had a spring in them which was similar to the spring in the factory replacement valve body so they used those springs in the original valve body instead! This allowed them to bypass transmission removal and repair by simply dropping the trans pan and R&R'ing one bolt (the spring cap). I refused to perform any of the "factory recall repairs" in that manner. It was the Parts Manager's brother who came up with the idea and provided the pen springs.
Beth, I guess it would also depend on the agreements between the distributor and the manufacturer and the distributor and the customer. It is really incumbent upon the manufacturer to vet the distributor and to train them. That is probably why the manufacturer only deals direct now.
I agree that the distributor should be held liable, but it is a problem of pocket depth. Many distributors have nothing but a cell phone and a rolodex. We could have taken everything this distributor owned and probably not covered the lost production cost for even one motor failure. (These motors were on yogurt packaging machines that produced 24 cups of yogurt per second 20 hours a day.) Hell, we could probably have put him in jail, but who does that benefit? It doesn't get anyone's money back and just ends up costing society to house and feed the miscreant.
On the other hand, I as the purchaser have a right to expect that a person who presents themself as a representative of a company is either going to be backed up by the company when he speaks officially for them (i.e. by accepting and delivering an order), or is going to be removed from the scene by the company they claim to represent. It was well known and accepted by all parties for years that this guy was in fact a distributor representative of the genuine manufacturer, and that is where the motor manufacturer's liability in this case arises - for failing to exercise due diligence over the conduct of their official representative. (In my opinion) And the manufacturer, to whom this whole problem is a small part of their total business, is much more able to make the damaged parties whole.
It could even be argued that I as the designer had ultimate responsibility for the suitability of the product for a particular purpose. (That arguement would certainly hold up if all of the parts had come from the proper source and had failed in a similar way.) The ultimate extension of this premise is that only the end user is responsible for any kind of failure arising out of a design feature and not an obvious manufacturing flaw. Many lawyers have gotten rich over just such cases.
I agree, Kim, that the ability for a distributor to pony up when substitution of standard parts becomes a problem. And I would imagine there has to be a lot of this going around given the counterfeit parts coming from Asia. Yet even if the distributor has shallow pockets, chances are there may be some liability insurance to help deepen the pockets.
I've got to wonder if the unit passed IP69 with the brother-in-law's cable or if the unit went to testing with the good cable and then when the unit went into production somebody started purchasing the cheaper cable.
It looks like the problem went beyond the manufacturers in-house Q.C. process. I am wondering why the motor, drive, and cable weren't sold as one unit to the distributor - that would have eliminated inadequate part swapping...
1) Being from a reputable manufacturer, I 'm confident the motors were actually tested by the manufacturer for IP69. I'm also confident it was tested with proper cables and not the bogus ones. In fact the need for that particular design feature probably came to light as a result of the testing.
2) I left the company before the lawyers got done with it, and don't want to rub salt in someone's wounds by calling around to see what the outcome was.
3) Motor, drive, and cables are not conveniently sold as a set because:
a) different applications call for different cable lengths or even styles (standard or extra flexible)
b) warranty and replacement parts orders would necessitate breaking up the sets, and it would then require an extra level of scrutiny to determine whether a user was 'permitted' to buy a component separately. If someone at the manufacturer looked at the distributor's orders as a group the situation then came to light when it was noticed that they were ordering a lot of motors and drives but few if any cables. But it is doubtful anyone would have noticed just by looking at the orders on an individual basis.
4) Yes, I would call it fraud, but the perpetrator would probably point to:
a) the fact that his cables, though nicely labelled with the genuine manufacturer's same part number, (probably) did not have the genuine or brother in law manufacturer's actual name on it anywhere.
b) the fact that the distributor sold parts from a number of manufacturers and probably did not have a contract that required him to give all parts of the order to the genuine manufacturer . "Oh, we assumed they wanted to save a little money by buying these 'third party' cables, like many of our other customers..."
c) had we asked the right question the distributor (probably) would have disclosed that the cables were made by others.
d) And, if they were smart in addition to being dishonest, the distributor would have arranged the invoice in such a way that sourcing the cables from another manufacturer could not be ruled out by the language of the invoice.
e) the fact that we did not say "... and we want genuine cables with this order, not any third party stuff that may be available."
By and large the cables were pretty good or the whole operation would have come to light sooner. For instance if we had had an electrical failure in any cable it would have been returned to the (supposed) manufacturer who would immediately identified it as bogus. Or if we had received any cable that was not as ordered, or if any shipment was delayed significantly we would have been directly back to the genuine manufacturer to follow up and the problem would have come to light. The fact that they got away with this for years and presumably with other customers as well is testimony to the fact that the cables were probably perfectly adequate for many users.
Frankly the term 'piracy' never came to my mind in this case, nor was I particularly upset or feeling personally cheated when the circumstances came to light. I took it as just an amusing look at the relations between a manufacturer and their distributor, but then none of the costs came out of my pocket, and those costs were surely significant to everyone involved. But in fact piracy is exactly what it was, and as usual with piracy the consequential costs just to the end user alone for lost production exceeded the value of the (quite expensive) cables by several orders of magnitude.
Substution is almost never done except by prior arrangement or explicit communication. While there's always exceptions, I'm going to say every purchase order released has manufacturer and part number listed on each line.
There's one exception that I know of that happened all the time to me, and I could never get around it. Ball bearings.
I hold the opinion that SKF bearings are superior, and ordered them for my projects. I routinely received instead a Japanese or Chinese equivalent instead. That substitution happened with almost every bearing ordered, without permission.
Yes, bearings are a big problem - at least the ones you received were obviously 'equivalents' and not what you ordered. I spent some time talking with an SKF sales rep on a plane one time, and was amazed at the efforts that they have to make to prevent counterfeiters from stealing their business and reputation.
Bearings were the first target of government level counterfeiting - first country C develops a machine tool industry and begins counterfeiting the components because they find that other brands sell better than their own (regardless of whether there is actually any quality difference). Then a decade or two later they are in the electronics business....
A few of these outfits who start out making 'knockoffs' or counterfeiting eventually go on to develop leading edge technology of their own, but that is rare. There is a difference between a knockoff and a counterfeit - a knockoff is readily identifiable as a copy. With a knockoff they steal your design but not your good name.
While I personally have never had a problem with items substituted @ the distributors' discretion, this article is definite testimony that there are numerous cases in business relations & law addressing this very situation. And, not being a licensed attorney, I can only add from the "cheap seats" that I hope the company who suffered the loss of production was able to seek some sort of compensatory relief. HEY! If people can sue McDONALDS for a hot cup of coffee and win, WHY couldn't this company get relief for something far more serious??
The one complaint I've had over the years is that legitimate, national components distributors will sometimes automatically substitute a specifically ordered part for an equivalent. For example, I've had situations where I've ordered a certain manufacturer's end mill from the distributor's catalog. Yet, when the order arrived, that end mill was substituted by another manufacturer. Now, in my case, it wasn't critical, BUT the point is still the point! IF I order Brand A, then I SHOULD receive Brand A, NOT Brand D!
The author explained earlier why selling the items as a kit is not really an option. If I was sitting on the jury I would say the fault lies with whoever bought and suppied the substandard cables if they were not to a spec. If they were labeled as being the proper cable, then the producer of the cable should be held at fault. The depth of pockets should never be an issue when replacing blame. Sometimes we buy things that do not perform, but to go back up the food chain to the biggest wallet is not only wrong, it is immoral.
I was involved in a dispute with a heat treat source in which he destroyed about $7500 worth of components. The order was given verbally and without any written proof to back me up, the heat treater said he did what I ordered. Fortunately, my boss believed my side of the story and I came out with my job intact and learned a valuable lesson called, "Get it in writing." I have never used that vendor as a source in any subsequent jobs and was eager to tell anyone who wanted to listen about my experience.
No one's mentioned the 'clever' use of a pin location in an electrical connector as a vent. Forgive my ignorance with this particular field. Was this documented in the data sheet for the motor? Is this a common technique to vent a sealed motor, or is this the first & only use of this technique anyone's seen? I'd consider these important questions to ask when attempting to assign blame.
A few years ago, my in-laws asked me to repair their desktop computer, from computer manufacturer 'Big D'. The power supply was dead, so I unplugged & removed it, replacing it with a generic replacement. Upon power up, the magic smoke was released from the motherboard *and* the new power supply. A trip to the internet then revealed that 'Big D' had elected to re-arrange the pins in the industry-standard motherboard main power supply connector on their motherboards and power supplies.
You can bet that I'll never buy another computer from 'Big D'. (Maybe this should be another 'Monkeys made ______' episode.)
You have just illustrated why some manufacturers specify, "Use only genuine XYZ parts." I agree with your attitude towards the computer manufacturer, but if the pump company referenced in this article had done that, the suspect cable could have never been used, or at the very least the blame could be properly placed.
I do not think the computer example is an unusual situation. It boggles my mind how many different cell phone chargers my family has accumulated over the years. New phone: new wall charger and new car charger. But on the other hand, I am not sure I would not do the same thing if I had control. Which of us would not want our customers to be repeat customers? In retrospect, as professionals, I think most of us would prefer that we win with superior service and performance rather than trickery. That is one of the many things that separate us from marketing and bean counters.
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