As cost pressures bite on suppliers to major industries, safety can often be the first casualty of cutbacks to operating costs.
In very price-sensitive industries, such as transport, vehicle maintenance and logistics, cutbacks can lead to contractors turning to non-OEM parts for systems vital to road safety and on-time performance of vehicles.
But the apparent savings on offer from non-genuine parts are often illusory for operators involved in safety-aware industries, such as mining and energy, quarrying, oil and gas, manufacturing, food and agriculture production and processing, construction and infrastructure engineering. Look-alike parts produce only minor and temporary gains in the short term but introduce major and ongoing risk of breakdown, accident and downtime, say major suppliers to the light, medium and heavy vehicle industry.
“Typically as prices go down with non-OEM parts, the margin for safety and reliability sinks with them. These products are not generally as good as the originals they imitate – quality doesn’t come free – and typically they struggle to offer the lifespan and safety margin of genuine parts,’’ says Air Springs Supply Pty Ltd, which is Australian distributor of the world’s top selling air springs for heavy truck suspensions, Firestone.
Of all the trucks on Australian roads today with air suspensions, many are equipped with Firestone Airide air springs. Airide air springs are sold directly to original equipment truck, trailer, and suspension manufacturers.
“Operators buying look-alike products are seldom making any saving at all really – they are just selling their risk management cheaply. Any small savings on products that don’t offer the same quality, performance and reliability as the genuine original can be wiped out in an instant by a single accident of downtime incident that puts a million-dollar truck off the road,” says Air Springs Supply sales manager Russell Chown.
Similar views are voiced by one of Australia’s most experienced specialist heavy brake companies, Australian Brake Controls (ABC) which produces transport, off-highway and industrial machinery braking systems engineered for optimum reliability and safety. ABC is also known for engineering systems for hydraulically braking of light and medium trucks so they can tow air-braked trailers.
“We know it is tough out there for transport and off-highway equipment operators and we are sharing the pain with them. But cutting corners with lower-quality parts is no way to extend the value and life of vehicles and machinery costing hundreds and thousands and sometimes millions of dollars,” says ABC engineer Vinh Lam.
Towing a heavy trailer around worksites can be a potentially hazardous, high maintenance undertaking – especially where vehicles have to cope with the slopes, loads, roads and surfaces encountered around mines, quarries, infrastructure and landscaping sites as well as farms. Trucks, tractors and specialised machinery can be subjected to loads that will place unusual stresses on standard components, including high demands on suspensions and braking systems in situations where operators need to selectively and powerfully apply stopping and holding power.
“Such demanding situations are no place for compromised performance,” says Mr Lam. “If you are going to do it at all, you have got to do it properly. Too much is riding on a vehicle’s suspension and brakes to cut corners.”
Suspension and braking risks also exist for lighter vehicles, says All Air Suspension, which specialises in air helper suspensions for vehicles such as 4WD, utes, vans, and other machinery used for on and off-highway jobs and for towing.