What should you look for in a parts supplier? Chris Peat finds out
Parts aren’t all the same, as we all know. A component from one manufacturer might not match the quality of another so how do we ensure we are getting the best products? One way is to source them from a good, reputable supplier so what do we look for in a high quality parts provider?
Carlyle Bus and Coach
‘The best quality, the best price and availability,’ are what Keith O’Bryan from Carlyle Bus and Coach says should be sought after by operators looking for parts. This is certainly what the company strives to provide. He says they should also look for a supplier that can supply it ‘when they want it’.
Carlyle provide different product lines for various components, the intention being they can offer different price brackets. He finds that independent companies tend to look at products in the long term. Obviously, the safety critical items ‘you don’t mess with’, it always has to be the best items for this. Commenting on the extent of Carlyle’s range, Keith said, ‘If you walk round the outside of a bus and then, if it’s a double decker, you go upstairs, everything you see we will do.’
Keith notes this is a ‘poorly documented’ industry, in that there are not as many records of what parts are required as would be desired. However, this is not a problem for Carlyle, with Keith explaining the company has considerable amounts of industry knowledge and as such, does not always need the chassis number. This expertise emerged from the days of Midland Red as a 2000 vehicle operator, the supplier having its origins in that company’s central stores department.
One of its biggest strengths, Keith said, is its response to distress purchases, ‘Not the parts you change on an annual basis, but for when you get a brick through your window or a bent panel’. This requires them to deliver products quickly.
Heavy Duty Parts
Having perhaps one of the most well known names in the world of bus and coach parts suppliers is Heavy Duty Parts. The company was founded by members of the original team who introduced Neoplan into the UK in the early 80s, through the original importer Carlton PSV. It benefits from global supply routes, which have come out of the relationships it developed over this period. One of the aspects that sets the company apart is its focus on PSV components, specialising in this area.
The company stocks what it calls a comprehensive range from chassis and engine parts; exterior panels and bumpers to interior fittings and trim. It has the ability and resources to supply the component required using only the vehicle registration number.
John Hale runs Masterpart Truck and Bus, an all makes parts supply company, which is also supplying genuine Irizar parts for the UK. Commenting on what an operator should look for in a parts supplier, John said, ‘Quality parts at the right price delivered at the right time.’
What sets the company apart, according to John, is its attention to detail. In his words, it is about ‘Knowing the customer’s needs and fulfilling their expectations, supplying the right part first time.’
Being a genuine Irizar parts supplier, the company’s comprehensive range of components from this marque includes its most commonly supplied items. Mirrors and lighting products are especially fast moving and the good stock availability of genuine Irizar parts is essential for ensuring sufficient supply.
An operator should be ensuring all components being supplied are delivered ‘timely’, according to Moseley (PCV) Commercial Manager Parts, Philip Allen. They need to be with the customer within the timeframe they need them. He said you need to ensure the cost is reasonable and that the part will perform just as well as the item it is replacing. What separates his company from other suppliers is the quality of service, with Philip saying, ‘Service is what we pride ourselves on.’ There is also the fact if a customer requests a component from one of the marques Moseley provides, then ‘obviously we have intimate knowledge of these vehicles, with our service team likely to have fitted whatever part it is themselves.’
When it comes to the most commonly supplied parts, Philip identified three areas: steering, suspension and brakes. He said, ‘What I will say is it is always good to have original equipment parts rather than copies. There are some good copies out there and we do supply a few but it does keep the integrity of the vehicle if you do so.’
Optare’s parts department is headed by Head of Department Optare Aftersales Parts,
Dave Sellars. ‘Easy identification and quick turnaround of parts so that vehicles spend a limited time OTR,’ is what operators should be looking out for in a components supplier, Dave said. The manufacturer offers a free next day before 12.00 delivery service. It can also identify the parts that vehicles require based on the vehicle identification number (VIN), this information is also available through the exploded diagrams within its online parts portal that customers can register to access and also order parts directly from.
Optare supplies genuine OEM components and its online parts portal is designed to make it easy to look up vehicle parts by model type. The portal contains information such as servicing manuals and technical bulletins and recommendations. Dave said online ordering also helps when planning work around parts delivery as it shows stock availability. It is not completely tied to its website though, it has a dedicated customer helpline operated by its engineers to assist customers with fault finding and trouble shooting. Dedicated telesales staff also help with parts identification and ordering and Dave said the department currently operates at a 95.6% first pick rate.
Arriva Bus and Coach
Only OE parts are supplied by Arriva’s parts department. Commenting on the benefits of original equipment, Aftersales Manager, Marc Haley, said, ‘For me, OE provides the customer with the quality you would expect from a dealer.’
‘If you’re an operator, then you should expect expertise from a parts department.’ He emphasised there should be a rapid response in identifying and distributing items required. ‘Meticulously,’ is how Marc said the company stocks its parts.
Arriva can offer an imprest stock service, which sees a range of components kept in store specifically for individual customers. The management of this is down to a mutual agreement, which is often checked on a bi-monthly basis.
Despite the fact it is part of Arriva, it does supply parts to the other big bus groups, having contracts with some of them. It has a field service side to its business as well, which has won a tender to be the approved installer of equipment to bring vehicles up to ULEZ standards.
Established in 1993, Direct Parts initially specialised in supplying power steering and hydraulic fan equipment. However, its product range has further expanded to include front and rear axles, calipers, compressors, steering columns and linkages. Its website says vehicle manufacturers supply its range, which it claims further endorses its portfolio within the UK and beyond. All companies within the Direct Group are registered to the ISO9001 certification.
Last year, the company provided a number of large bus groups with training, as the team at the business felt there was a need with regards to the correct fitting of power steering, including limiter valves, and hydraulic fan equipment. After piloting the scheme over various depots across the country, it now wants to offer it to everyone across the UK and Ireland. A statement on its website said, ‘We are always happy to help our customers with after sales advice as we would like you our customer to get the best from our products, and with the safety critical nature of the products we supply, it is imperative that fitting is completed correctly. We have a highly skilled team with an abundance of knowledge and over 100 years of combined knowledge in power steering and on vehicle hydraulics within the bus and coach industry and feel that we are more than qualified to provide this invaluable service.’
PSV Transport Systems
An operator should be looking for a supplier that understands the products that they are supplying, according to Martyn King of PSV Transport Systems. He said, ‘There are many companies that supply parts with no real knowledge or insight of how the part works. They will simply put a part in a box and send it to an operator. That’s where their involvement ends. The operator should be looking for a supplier that can offer technical backup and expertise and trust that supplier to supply the correct part for them. The operator should be looking for a supplier with multiple links to OE brands so that the supplier is able to make an unbiased informed decision on which part to supply.’
It has its own fleet of vans that delivers into London daily and it constantly manages its stock profile to ensure it has ‘the right parts on the shelf to be able to respond quickly’. PSV has ‘always put emphasis on having an understanding of not only the individual parts but also the complete systems that they fit’, according to Martyn. He said the company has ‘unrivalled technical backup’. For starter motors and alternators, it has accounts with the main manufacturers, including Prestolite (PSV is the largest distributor in Europe), Bosch and Delco Remy. It also has its own remanufacturing workshop for these brands.
Having bought the intellectual property for Deans and Peters doors following their collapse in 2010, it now manufactures complete doors and ramps. It has over 2,000 powered ramps fitted to buses as OE in London (including every New Routemaster apart from the first six) and hundreds more manual ramps across the country. Martyn said, ‘Operators are specifying our systems partly because they are superior to other systems in the market and partly because of the support we offer in the aftermarket.’ In addition to this, it has a repair workshop for these products, in addition to its own electronic repair department. It offers refurbished electronic equipment, such as dashboards, speedos and gear selectors etc. Its sister company, J.Lewis Auto Electrical (www.jlae.co.uk), offers field support and backup for all the parts and systems it supplies.
Martyn said, ‘We are not just a parts supplier although this is a big part of our business, we are an engineering based company built around workshops that directly support the parts we supply. You will find very few suppliers that are able to offer the level of backup and technical expertise that we are able to offer on a product range as diverse as ours. This is what sets us apart.’
European Braking Systems
European Braking Systems (EBS) supplies into a network of distributors for its air brake components and systems. From the experience of its UK Sales and Marketing Manager, Andrew Blower, one of the key things to look for in a parts supplier is that they need to be consistent, whilst providing a quality product and value for money. Parts knowledge with ‘strong service and clear communication’ is important, as is a partnership approach. Andrew said, ‘You need your suppliers to deliver on time, or to be honest and give you plenty of warning if they can’t. The best suppliers will want to talk with you regularly to find out what needs you have and how they can serve you better.’
‘A strong relationship will benefit both sides. You want your suppliers to acknowledge how important your business is to them, so they make every effort to provide the best service possible. And you’re more likely to create this response by showing your supplier how important they are to your business.’
Andrew said EBS has ‘stood the test of time’ and is reliable, with a vast range of high quality products, which should arrive at the customer within 24 hours. Talking about the company, he said, ‘We have a good mix of technical people and business people in our company giving fast responsiveness and consistency to our customer’s needs.’
Ashtree Vision and Safety
‘Is their parts supplier giving them a genuine part or is it just something that looks similar?’ John Roper from Ashtree Vision and Safety asked adding, ‘The old adage of “buy it cheap, buy it twice” is still as relevant as it ever was.’
When asked what sets Ashtree apart from other parts suppliers, John said, ‘The scope of our ISO 9001:2008 approval is “The design and manufacture of mirror heads and arms…” It’s the design part that’s important. We don’t just make things, we listen to people and try to offer better solutions by design. Our twin lens CycleSafe mirror is currently very popular and people are beginning to understand the positive benefits of a mirror such as that. That’s an Ashtree design that we’re very proud of.’
When it comes to what the most common part he supplies is, he said, ‘Hard to say, probably our M714CE mirror but I wish it was the CycleSafe mirror as I genuinely believe that it makes buses safer.’
‘You want someone who knows what they are talking about and can identify your requirement,’ said PSV Partsmaster’s John Raddley. ‘We care,’ he said, ‘That’s what sets us apart from others in the market. We give a total service as well, we don’t let go from the initial enquiry right to the point of delivery, we look after them.’
John can look after any part on a bus or coach, with chassis components one area it most commonly provides. The company was set up 25 years ago, originally providing parts for Leylands. However, it has moved with the times and now provides parts for various makes and models.
Grayson Thermal Systems
Grayson Thermal Systems supplies components for bus and coach cooling and air conditioning systems. When it comes to specifying parts for these devices, General Manager at Grayson Thermal Systems, Richard Harris, said, ‘An operator should look for a supplier with a proven track record of delivering robust products that meet their requirements. It sounds simple, but there is a lot of things that go on behind the scenes to achieve this. For instance, staff will need to be F Gas registered/trained by law (an accreditation for working within the refrigeration and air-conditioning industry who need to meet the legal requirements for working with Fluorinated gases and other ozone depleting substances). They will need to have a broad understanding of the latest innovations and processes and should have significant experience of air conditioning systems. Possessing industry knowledge is also crucial as it helps you to understand the difficulties bus operators face and the importance of keeping vehicles on the road in all weather conditions.’
Grayson Thermal Systems also offers servicing and maintenance support to bus and coach fleets across the country. This is now expanding offshore to other parts of the world. It has worked with Thermo King for over 15 years and currently holds its ‘Dealer of the Year’ title, beating off competition from Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Richard said, ‘This has been achieved due to the level of service we provide our customers, with 40 service engineers on call at any one time, an industry leading training programme and warehouses strategically placed in the Midlands, South of England and Scotland to ensure a fast and efficient supply of parts. Finally, Grayson listens to its customers and has developed a flexible service offer, which ranges from a basic service to an all-inclusive package that includes parts and labour. This has proven extremely popular with clients who like to budget accurately.’
One of the most popular products at the moment for Grayson to supply is the Drivers Air Conditioning System. This is a hermetically sealed roof top air conditioning unit, which is fully electric and has a five year warranty for all parts. The only servicing required over this period is the cleaning of the filters.
‘All vehicles have what we call a problem bush,’ according to Polybush’s Anthony Kidd. These are the suspension bushes that wear first and are often fast movers from the company’s stock shelves.
The casting technique Polybush uses is what sets it apart from other suppliers of polyurethane bushes, according to Anthony. The company uses hand casting, as opposed to injection moulding, which sees the company mix the polyurethane in-house and pour it into the moulds themselves. This, Anthony said, helps reduce air bubbles in the substance. Testament to the quality of its castings is that they are used as OE by manufacturers as well as in the aftermarket. One of its most popular products into the bus and coach market are what it calls its ‘top hat bushes’, which are essentially two bushes that can be pushed together, enabling an easier fitment.
Engine protection and performance design engineering product supplier, Agriemach, is about to promote its AdBlue fuel storage and dispensers. David Kallmann from the company said the market for this product is now even bigger, with Euro6 meaning more vehicles use it. David expects more operators to start having their own AdBlue tanks. They are supplied to ISO standards, being ‘one of the few’ to supply products of this standard. Other products it supplies for this market are heat and sound insulation products, as well as offering a range of fuel filtration devices for combating diesel bugs.
Dave Miles at bus and coach pre-heater parts specialist, THHS, said the emphasis is on providing OE quality parts where they can. He said, ‘It’s all about trying to find the right product for the right customer.’ Next day delivery is aimed for by THHS, keeping ‘comprehensive stock’ to be able to do this. Its best selling product is heater motors.
What operators should be looking for is value for money, according to Truckapart’s David Law; that and reliability. Generally, good availability of components is something else highly sought after. David said his operation is part of an independent transport company, a family run business, which he notes is like many operations in the coach and bus world. It supplies a lot of brake discs and pads, as well as clutch parts.