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Repair Parts Supply Chain: Getting Better, but not Good

A few months ago, supply chain woes were all over the news. People had money to spend, but a lot of things— lumber, cars, cream cheese — were hard to get. Events have pushed supply chains out of the headlines, but that doesn’t mean supply chain woes are completely healed. Indeed, the commercial kitchen equipment industry continues to struggle with parts shortages.

According to Dan Dibeler, president of K&D Factory Service out of Harrisburg, Pa., and an executive board member of the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association (CFESA), components that had six-month lead times earlier this year are down to three or four months in many cases.

While an improvement, this is still not a good situation, and it impacts the way K&D does business. While the company prefers to use original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts, “right now it’s wherever we can get the part. That’s the way we are operating. If we can get a generic part, great.”

While this works for some customers, it can present a problem for warranty work. Even with multiple-month lead times for their own components, factories continue to resist using non-OEM parts for warranty repair. In these situations, Dibeler can try to escalate the issue to speed up the OEM component or encourage operators themselves to reach out to the manufacturer. Often, though, nothing can be done to get the OEM part sooner. It’s also notable, he says, that lead times for new pieces of equipment can sometimes be shorter than repair parts.

This fact impacts how operators make repair/replace decisions. If it’s a non-essential piece of equipment that can easily be worked around, operators will often wait for a repair, Dibeler states. But if an essential unit goes down, “[operators] are going with whatever is faster. If the new equipment lead time is shorter than the parts time, they are probably replacing the equipment. And vice versa if the parts lead time is shorter.

This approach may be necessary, but it can still be painful. Dibeler has worked with operators who chose to purchase a new piece of equipment for more than $3,000 because the part needed for a $600 repair wasn’t available.

Dibeler doesn’t think this is the new normal, though. Supply chain challenges will eventually work themselves out. That point may be easier to reach because of what he sees as the current challenge. “I think the biggest problem is not necessarily the production of the parts, but the logistics of moving them,” he says. “Everybody is trying to hire and nobody’s looking for jobs. I think that’s where the dam in the water is. It’s not necessarily the factories making the parts, it’s the parts getting shipped to us and just the lack of people overall in the workforce.”

That workforce shortage, Dibeler adds, leads to another backlog for repairs: There simply aren’t enough field technicians to meet demand. In fact, based on pre-pandemic surveys conducted by CFESA and his own read of the situation, Dibeler estimates the kitchen equipment repair sector today could use to hire 20,000 new technicians in North America.

The lack of technicians often means operators have to wait days for a service call. “The biggest supply chain issue for us is the supply of technicians we’re trying to hire,” Dibeler says.

That kind of staffing shortage is startling, and a challenge that will likely outlast the current parts supply chain issues.