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Written by Paul Welsford, Regional Sales Manager - Flexitallic Ltd


In this new age of portable technology and computing devices we are left with the new burden of having to charge these super-machines regularly, daily in most cases. Therefore the easier and cheaper we can do this has risen up our priority lists steadily.


Being from the UK and living in Singapore means that I use the vastly superior 3-pin plug. Now, I'm a bit of an Apple fan. I'm certainly locked in their warm eco-system's embrace and it's going to take some pretty monumental shifts in the industry landscape for me to move anywhere soon. Apple's UK 5V USB Plug is brilliant because it somehow manages to maintain all the wonderful features of the UK plug whilst not being too big*. The only major issue I had was the price, it was around £15 just for the plug. So a few years ago, to try and save a bit of cash I decided to search around and managed to find a cheap alternative on Amazon, the same look and design, and was only £1.49 each - what a bargain! I could buy 10 of these and still be up a few pence compared to buying just one from Apple.


When I received them they looked like the real thing, just without the logo and the "Designed by Apple" on the underside of the plug. With a smug look on my face I plugged it into an 3-way extension on my desk to test it out, the phone buzzed and green battery bar popped up showing that all was right in the world. It was getting late so I decided to just leave the phone to charge overnight as I slept.


I woke up the next morning to find that my alarm hadn't gone off and I'd slept through. Damn. In fact the alarm wasn't even powered on at all and was unresponsive. A bit upset that the alarm clock may be broken I persevered and started getting ready for work. I put the kettle on but that wasn't working either. Nor the toaster. How was I supposed to have my breakfast now? It seemed all my appliances had suddenly decided to join an electrical suicide cult.


The fuse box in my study showed me that the switch for all the plugs in my home had been flipped. When I turned around and looked at my desk I knew exactly what had caused it. Up the wall was a scorch mark about 2 foot long above the plug extension. The new USB plug was now in pieces with the main plastic cover blown off and lying on the floor, the rest of the plug still in the adaptor, charred from the inside. My phone, thank goodness, was fine, it had 40% charge left so I figured the plug must've exploded shortly after I had plugged it in. The scary part is the desk the plug was on was a wooden table. Not a few inches away from the scorch is a poster on the wall. If anything I was lucky I hadn't burnt down the entire block of flats.


This got me thinking about my job and what it is we provide our customers. Our product - the gasket - is a pretty innocuous item for most people. Definitely considered a commodity, despite the high level of design, engineering and skill that goes into its production. And as with all commodities the price is often the main deciding factor when being purchased. Quality and standards do come into it, but in some areas these are very open and can have different interpretations with products made by different vendors technically meeting the specification but performing completely differently.


The thing is that the gasket, like a lot of these items, plays a vital role on a plant and in this case it stops all the precious and potentially dangerous fluids, gases, acids, alkalis, particles and chemicals from escaping where all the equipment connects together. Wouldn't you want to have the best possible part in there to make sure you


a) don't lose product

b) don't put your employees in harm's way 

c) don't put the environment at risk and

d) don't put your company's reputation on the line because of a leak?


After all, you're only as strong as your weakest link. So after my experience with the plug I now make sure if I need a spare USB plug I go straight to the Apple store,


One way to look at the purchase of items is the total cost of ownership. During a planned maintenance event you're going to have some basic idea of how much it costs your plant to not be running? The number is probably in the thousands of dollars, maybe hundreds of thousands per hour. Then there is the cost of people who are on site having to break open connections and tighten them back up again, and all the equipment needed to do that accurately and consistently. All of these costs contribute to the total cost of ownership of the product and are often missed when being purchased. When I bought that cheap plug I thought the £13.50 I was saving was a stroke of genius, but the ruined 3-way adaptor, the re-painting of the wall and the slightly disappointing looks from colleagues for not turning up to work on time cost me a heck of a lot more.


I don't want to sound like this is an advocacy for expensive items being the best, I wouldn't agree with that statement at all. What really matters is how much something is worth and how close the price gets to meeting that worth. Here's a few things I've noticed from companies which ensure they buy good quality products at fair prices:


- They look at the bigger picture - often budgets can be isolated to certain lines or areas of responsibility which can mean cost of ownership is hard to gauge.

- The companies which really save money are the ones which understand where these budgets overlap and influence each other.

- They have strong relationships with their vendors to the point where it's not just a basic product for cash transaction, it's about working together to achieve a higher goal. In my case that's to reduce leaks on site      and reduce unexpected maintenance costs.

- Specifications are clear and reasonable. Usually these have been developed over time and in conjunction with manufacturers and third party consultants.

- Safety truly is paramount to the running of a plant. Often this comes from companies which have felt the bite of a safety issues in both monetary costs as well as personal, brand costs


In the end it has to be an economic decision made based on the best long term interests of the company. All of us are guilty of making quick cheap purchases only to regret it later and end up spending more money than before. Predicting these issues is going to be important in all industries in the future, not just in manufacturing or energy. Now, time to write an app on my phone which can somehow do this prediction for me before the battery runs out.


* This is probably the only annoying thing about the UK plug in general, it's quite chunky and can take up a fair bit of space. That said, the new UK plug which was released by Apple with their Apple Watch is a thing of absolute beauty and makes this a problem of the past. It's an even more impressive piece of design than the watch in my opinion.

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