The Value of Curiosity

The Value of Curiosity

Although curiosity may have killed a few cats, it can be properly applied to winning a few sales. The key is to try to keep asking questions until the true picture of the “problem” at hand is revealed.

Of course, it helps to have your curiosity backed up by some knowledge – and enhanced by the willingness to do the work necessary once all the questions have been asked and answered.

“We encountered a situation that had problem and opportunity written all over it when we called on Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corp., USA in Maryville, Missouri,” Gary Foerschler of IBT Fluid Power reports. “The plant has a large number of hydraulic valves and had been struggling with finding replacements for them.

“The original equipment installed in the plant was largely from The Pacific Rim. Some of the applications were up to fifteen years old. The vendors were not necessarily available in the US but, theoretically, there should have been ample product from other manufacturers to replace valves that were worn or damaged.

“Unfortunately, finding the right parts had been a struggle. At least two full-service fluid power companies had shouldered the task and failed. The people who had taken a whack at it were serious and professional outfits.

“As a result, I wasn’t willing to go walking in there making promises about how we could do better.”

Meeting with plant officials, Foerschler and his IBT colleagues kept asking questions, investigating and seeking fuller understanding of the situation. Their goal was to capture the hydraulic valve replacement business as a step to becoming the one fluid power source for the Kawasaki plant: nearly three-quarters of a million square feet with nearly 750 workers.

Hydraulic valve applications require using the proper replacement. The specifications are precise and the wrong part can cause major problems. However, the numbers of variables are limited and understandable. The challenge in the Kawasaki case was determining the right information – then matching that with an available valve.

“The key situation we found, once we analyzed it,” Foerschler notes, “was the lack of a comprehensive system. Kawasaki had all their valves identified and properly cataloged and stored, based on the original manufacturer’s part number or SKU. But, to the best of our ability to determine, nobody had figured out a way to standardize the identification of the valves. If it had an original number from, say, Toyo-Oki or Daikin, that was how it was identified. So, replacing it depended on getting a cross-over number for a domestically available part – and that was difficult to do.

“The more we investigated, the more we came to one conclusion. That was to go into the original valve number, determine its actual specifications, and then find a replacement in one of our lines.”

That, apparently, was a daunting task. Literature from off-shore makers was available, if one looked hard enough. But, often the cataloging and literature from the time of the actual manufacturing date was hard to come by. Minor spec changes, part number supercessions, consolidations and other developments weren’t always easy to find or pick up.

“We were looking at a lot of work. With the number of apparently different valves to investigate, we didn’t assume it would be easy or go quickly. In fact, we told Kawasaki we would start on the process, but that, until we had completed the analysis, we weren’t interested in trying to sell them valves on a onesie-twosie basis. We would either develop the comprehensive systematic approach needed or take a pass on the whole process. I had no interest in being the third guy to try and fail.”

The more the IBT Fluid team dug into the situation, the harder they had to look to find the information needed. But, at one point in time, they began to see daylight. And, the daylight that they did see made them extremely glad they had pursued the investigation. It was an arduous journey. The team estimates that they invested more than 500 hours in research.

“A little to my surprise, but once I thought about it, not really,” Foerschler admits “the situation wasn’t nearly as complicated as it had seemed.”

Once the valves were all identified by specification variables, it became clear that there weren’t as many different types as it had once seemed. And, that problem being clarified, finding the proper replacement became that much easier. The starting census of valves was 133. The final count was just 66. More significantly, however, was in the most common valves. There, they started with 45 but were able to reduce that number to only twelve.

“When we got our arms around the situation, we were able to sort the valves by severable key variables: voltage, body size and spool type. We then could assign all the existing valves a consolidated identification number. And, instead of dealing with hundreds of different ones, the number was much more manageable. And, we could see how they all interrelated.

“Therefore, we were able to see what valve we needed to replace any existing one by using our own, newly compiled interchange guide. But, even more importantly, we have introduced a system that allows the maintenance people to go to any given valve, determine the specifications by using a few simple questions and rules of thumb, then go to the parts crib and pick the right one, first time and every time.”

As a final step, IBT Fluid Power provided a comprehensive training for the Kawasaki plant. Now, when there is a hydraulic valve that needs to be replaced, the maintenance staff can act quickly and with confidence. The right part – easy to identify, find and install – is on the shelf, right where it is supposed to be.

For more information about how IBT Fluid Power can bring their curiosity to your specific situation, contact IBT.


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