Amidst the turmoil of the latest coronavirus pandemic and the recent downgrade of South African government debt to junk, I’ve begun to wonder whatever happened to traditional values like responsibility and discipline in this topsy-turvy new world of ours. Thinking about it in the context of our own manufacturing industry, suddenly the world has opened up and choice of supplier has become almost limitless. Thanks to the power of the Internet, companies are able to go online and purchase equipment from sources that carry no stock, and often do not even have any brick-and-mortar facilities. Due to the low overheads, equipment from well-known suppliers can be offered at prices substantially lower than the recognised regional distributors – with their higher cost overheads – can match.
All well and good until the equipment does not behave as it should and the purchaser suddenly discovers that they do not have the necessary in-house expertise to rectify the problems. What they do then of course is approach the bypassed local representative insisting on immediate after-sales support – after all, it is their principal’s equipment!
If people exercised a little bit of old-fashioned responsibility and discipline, they would realise that for anyone to be able to install, service and maintain the equipment that was bought, they should at least be familiar with that equipment. Automation has become extremely sophisticated and it is often a case of ‘plug-and-pray’, rather than ‘plug-and-play’, for people not experienced on that particular equipment.
Also, the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) representatives ensure that if an item is brought into the country they take the responsibility to ensure that not only do they understand how this equipment works, but that they know how to repair it if it fails. What end users should realise is that by purchasing equipment from unrecognised online sources and bypassing the local representatives, they have cut off all the support they could have had if they had stuck to the authorised channels.
Once again, it boils down to the misconception that the representative companies are out to make inflated profits off our local industries, when, in fact, there is more than enough competition among the OEMs in South Africa to ensure that this does not happen. Actually, bypassing the local representative often results in an increased cost of ownership over the lifetime of a piece of equipment, despite the initial saving on the purchase price. It reminds me of that old saying my mother used to quote: “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.”
The better option by far is to stay disciplined and responsible and involve the local OEM representatives so that the entire South African economy can prosper. The fact that our investment status has been lowered to junk does not mean that we should all start acting irresponsibly and let our manufacturing facilities degenerate into junkyards.
Take care and stay safe and healthy through these trying times.
Yours in automation, Johan Maartens.
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