FTM 164: When can I substitute product?

Fastener Training Minute: Episode 164

This edition of the Fastener Training Minute with Carmen Vertullo was originally published May 12, 2021 as “When can I substitute one product for another product” during episode 164 of Fully Threaded Radio.

Well, hi everybody. This is Carmen Vertullo with your Fastener Training Minute coming to you from the Fastener Training Institute and the AIM Testing Laboratory in beautiful, El Cajon California.

If you’ve been paying much attention out there in the fastener world, you probably have noticed that there is a shortage of some products. Good Distributors and suppliers are adept at dealing with these shortages without disappointing their customers too badly. There are a few technical strategies that you can put into play to help you be better at dealing with shortages and one of those strategies is substitution. So when we return we’re going to talk about two very important words in our industry right now and those words are shortage and substitution.

Today we’re trying to help you deal with what has become something we all expected to happen sooner or later, and that is periodic shortages of certain specific Fastener products. Just in case you’re listening to this sometime in the future, we are in the beginning of May 2021 right now. Some have been seeing shortages for some time and some haven’t, but kind of like right now is when I’m starting to find out about it because I get clients who call us asking whether or not they can substitute a certain product for another product, which is not available, or at least not available as quickly as they need it. So, from a technical perspective, here are a few things that you need to know about substituting one product for another in order to deal with a shortage of the desired product.

The first thing is, don’t do it without telling your customer. Almost always you might get in some trouble for that in order to give them informed consent.

Let’s say you need to be able to technically present your case about why you would like to substitute Product A for Product B. Sometimes the case may come along with a price, so if you want Product A, you have to wait longer and pay more money. If you’re willing to take Product B, well you might be able to have it for a better price and you may not have to wait.

Those usually are the things that the customer likes to hear. Beyond that you then have to explain to them why, based on their own ability to make a technical decision, you think it would be all right to make the substitution. So, here are some examples where you might be able to make a substitution of product, because something is available. And the other thing is not.

Let’s start with stainless steel.
In almost all cases, there is no reason you cannot substitute 316 stainless for any other 18/8 stainless steel material. Now obviously it’s a little bit more expensive but it’s available. The customer may not like it because, oh, now you’re sucking me into 316 stainless and that costs more, and I’m going to have to use it forever. So be sure that you don’t make them think it’s a permanent substitution. But, I will tell you this, you should be looking at all of your 316 stainless steel products, especially those products that have not moved for a while, and consider selling them as 304, 18/8 303, 302HQ, whatever, in the areas where you may see some shortages of that product. Now obviously, if it’s product that moves and it has a place in the market, maybe you’re sacrificing one thing for another. So be careful about that.

But I can tell you for certain that back in the day when I was in distribution, we solved many problems by being able to give someone 316 stainless steel in a large bolt, for example, because it was available and sometimes we were able to move some old product that had been sitting on the shelf for a long time. So that’s one area of strategy.

Now let’s take a look at hex nuts.
In almost all cases, it’s okay to substitute a hex nut of equal or greater proof load for another hex nut of a different grade. So, for example, we already know it’s very common to substitute ASTM A194 2H heavy hex nuts for a ASTM A563 DH heavy hex nuts. That’s a pretty common substitution, shortage or no shortage. That’s something we do all the time. But you can also substitute a Grade 5 or Grade 8, hex, nut for a Grade 2, and you can substitute a Grade 8 for a Grade 5. Again, with the informed consent of your customer. Obviously, there may be some pricing implication with that, but you have to have product to build your stuff and you’re going to take what you can get. You can also substitute a Grade 8 bolt for a Grade 5 bolt in most cases. There are some cases where you cannot do that substitution, and we’re going to talk about that if you attend the Fastener Training Institute’s upcoming class called Fastener Basics Like Never Before. One of the things that we’ll talk about in that class is why you can’t always substitute a stronger product for a less strong product.

Another area of course is washers.
You can almost always substitute a hard washer for a soft washer. And obviously again we have a cost implication.

Now let’s look at plating.
Sometimes you may have the product that has a certain plating on it, and they want some other plating. It’s not that hard to strip and re-plate product: we do that all the time in the normal course of business. We just have to get a little bit more used to being flexible in doing it under these conditions of shortage.

Another area on the manufacturing side would be the raw material that the product is made from.
You might be used to saying, hey, we got to make this part out of 10B21, that’s what we’ve always made it out of blah. Blah blah. Oh crap. We can’t get the wire. Well you probably can make it out of 1035 or 1018 or some other wire that maybe do not have the same amount of friendliness in the manufacturing process, but it still works fine. So just be aware that with those raw material wire shortages, a little bit more flexibility will help you provide the customer with the product that they need.

Now, there are lots of other examples we could talk about maybe later on, in one of these Fully Threaded Radio segments will have a big powwow about shortages and substitution. But I just wanted to let you know that in times of shortage, it’s time to get a little bit more creative about how to substitute products and how to do it without creating risk on your side or on your customer side.

Well, I hope this helped you out. This has been Carmen for to do with the Fastener Training Minute. Thanks for listening.

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