Author Archives: Mark
Beckman Liquid Scintillation Counters No one works on those, they don’t make them any more!
Beckman Liquid Scintillation Counters
No one works on those, they don’t make them any more!
How Many times have you heard a manufacture say these words to you?
Lately we have heard this reiterated to us by our service customers concerning repair of their Beckman Liquid Scintillation counters. This was a manufacturer that still made a scintillation counter, telling a potential customer they needed to buy a new one from them. New equipment manufacturers need to sell new equipment. Typically they will not assist a customer in finding service for something they would like to sell them a replacement for. In many cases these perfectly serviceable instruments are sent to the scrap heap instead of being repaired. A search of the Internet would have revealed Tritech has the knowledge and the parts to keep these instruments running in top form for many years to come. Considering a replacement unit costs somewhere north of $50,000 it would be prudent to speak with an Independent Service Provider (ISO) ,prior to scraping a perfectly good LS counter. There are many service options across the country. Taking the time to research option rather than taking the advice of a partisan manufacturer could save you big on next years budget.
What Makes A Great Field Service Engineer
Supplying quality technical service is a simple concept that becomes very complex in implementation. First and foremost is finding qualified technical staff that poses good customer service skills. Generally, people fall into two groups. There is the sales person that is good at making connections with people and disseminating information. Then there are technical folks who like tackling complex service issues and have an innate understanding of how machines work. These two very different skill sets are generally not found in the same individual. It is the old left brain, right brain analogy. The key to finding a truly exceptional field service engineer is to find a person who posses both these traits naturally. To try and train someone in either skill set without any inherent natural talent is not something that I have ever been able to accomplish nor have I ever seen it done by any other service company or training organization. Through training, you can, polish and hone these skills. They cannot be transplanted into an individual that does not possess some level of these skills naturally.
The second key element is what has taken place over the last decade. A technology vacuum has occurred with respect to basic engineering training for the following disciplines, electronics, and mechanical engineering. They have fallen by the wayside replaced by IT, software engineering, web development, computer information systems, “engineering technology”, which turns out to be security camera, alarm and fire system technology. There is nothing wrong with these fields of study. It is just that they have replaced true electronics and mechanical engineering courses at least in the tech schools. One of the things I do when interviewing a potential job candidate for a field service position is to show them a schematic and a circuit board and ask them to identify various schematic symbols in the diagram. Prior to the interview I always give them notice that this going to be one of the key elements of the interview and if they are not comfortable answering these type of questions this is not the job for them. It always amazes me when a recent graduate of a two year program cannot identify the symbol for a transistor. Next I ask them to identify various components on the circuit board. Most cannot tell the difference between a capacitor and a diode. Most field service engineers are not required to fix boards to component level in the field, but they should have a good understanding of how they work and what other parts of the system they affect directly. The ability to trouble shoot with this level of understanding and convey the diagnosis to the customer in a manner that is clear and informative without being condescending is what makes a great field service engineer. Here is where skill set #2 comes in. Now it is time to switches hats and becomes a technical sales consultant. If the instrument he or she has been asked to repair is no longer cost effective to service they should now recommend replacement over repair and offer the customer some options on what is available in the marketplace. In this manner the customer is truly kept informed and can then make the decision that is best for their current budget as well as future technical requirements. It is a perfect blend of sales and service with the customer’s best interest in mind.
President/CEO Tritech Inc.
Initially I was as impressed as anyone with Jeff Bezos’s forward thinking in utilizing drones to deliver Amazon purchases to customers within ten miles of an Amazon warehouse. Finally, all that was promised to us by the Jetsons is coming true. Great stuff, right? Then I began to think it through. Technically I believe it could be done two to three years down the line, but do I really need a delivery of Grand Theft Auto V or a Bikini Trimmer air shipped to my door in thirty minutes or less? Innovative?; Yes. The practicality of it makes no sense. It amounts to using a cannon to swat a fly from ten miles away. You have to applaud the technical accuracy of doing so, but practically it is a gross misuse of a powerful emerging technology. Then there are the issues of drones flying through urban areas with marketable goods, dropping them at a GPS location without conformation of receipt. What about a kid with a slingshot taking a shot at the drone just to bring it down as a trophy to show his friends. The technology is expensive. As drones become more mainstream drone chop shops would pop up where these flying delivery drones could be captured by catapulted nets or even more innovative capture drones would whisk them away to be disassembled and sold for parts. There is a place for this technology but utilized for something that makes more sense. I am thinking about emergency hospital delivery drones that could deliver a special antitoxin to an emergency medical response team. Or maybe a diabetic patient that ran out of insulin could get a drop at his door. This would be a much better use of an amazing new technology and less susceptible to capture as they would not be as ever present as the swarm of delivery drones delivering some scotch tape to quell a late night gift wrapping emergency. Have you ever heard what these things sound like? Eight rotating blades generating enough lift raise a five pound package is not exactly stealthy. The thought of hundreds of passes a day in urban areas would considerable add to noise pollution of populated areas. This was not the goal of this announcement.
Given the unprecedented success of Bezos and Amazon I would bet that this has all been thought through already. This three year premature announcement served only to bring attention to the world’s largest online marketplace the day before cyber Monday.
Once again, genius!
Why Managed Maintenance is the HMO of Laboratory Instrumentation Repair and Maintenance
Our industry has undergone some dramatic changes in the past few years. Managed maintenance developed as a way for universities and large laboratories to save money on the annual maintenance of their laboratory equipment. While this is an admirable goal and one that resonates with us all in these times of increasing costs and decreasing budgets, it has some of the same design flaws as the HMO model for health care.
Managed maintenance companies (MMCs) usually fall into two categories. Company A claims it has the technical knowledge to save clients “excessive charges.” An account manager is assigned to oversee the institution’s equipment maintenance program and to act as a liaison between the researcher and the maintenance contractor. Company B assigns technicians to the account full-time. They perform front-line maintenance and work closely with the service providers.
Company A markets its service to the institution’s decision-maker, who is persuaded by the argument that last year’s costs can be cut by 20%. Company A’s fee comes from what it can retain from the remaining 80%. Purchasing receives the directive to “make this work.” Researchers are told that “nothing will change” and that they can call any service company they choose when they need instruments serviced. Preventive maintenance will be carried out just the same as usual, only now it will be a time and material call. This is where the plan falls apart.
Now the researcher is responsible for tracking each piece of equipment’s preventive maintenance contract (PMC) schedule and then scheduling visits as appropriate. With the breadth of instrumentation in use in today’s laboratories, this is no small task. This is not the researcher’s primary responsibility and most researchers feel saddled with a maintenance administrative issue that they do not have the time or tools to handle.
Is it in the best interest of the asset management company to make sure that PMCs are completed? Of course not—the fewer service calls placed, the more money the management company makes.
Unintended consequence no. 1. Because they are not being regularly maintained, instruments become unreliable. After one or two years of this, depending on the age and type of equipment, some sort of costly repair is needed. The management company recommends replacing the unit rather than repairing it. The cost of this new equipment comes out of the capital equipment budget and there is now one less instrument to draw against the maintenance fund. The excess funds go right to the bottom line of the management company’s P&L. Because a new instrument usually comes with a one-year warranty, it does not appear in the maintenance budget for the next year. It looks like maintenance costs are decreasing, on paper.
Unintended consequence no. 2. The quality of service provided diminishes. Both the independent service provider (ISO) and the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) employ a staff of service personnel large enough to handle their contract base plus about 20%. No service company can afford to keep service personnel on hand just in case they are asked to perform a time and material call for an institution with which they do not have a long-term relationship.
A service provider stocks the parts and manpower to keep contract customers’ equipment in optimum condition on an as-needed basis. The primary responsibility is to those clients who commit for at least one year and pay in advance. In return, the service provider ensures they receive properly scheduled PMCs, quick response time, quality work, and a budgeted maintenance charge that does not result in hidden capital equipment replacement costs.
That is the downside of Company A’s customer “savings.” As for Company B, it provides a slightly different approach to managed maintenance with on-site technical staff to manage the account. The company also forms relationships with ISOs and OEMs prior to contracting with an institution that should ask to see those written agreements before signing on the dotted line. On-site technicians generally have a good understanding of what it takes to maintain the equipment. They schedule and track PMs for the researchers and maintain good relationships with the contractors by not second-guessing the parts they provide and by paying their bills on time. This method of managed maintenance can work if it is implemented properly.
But the devil is in the details. Most ISOs offer service agreements that are an excellent value. Over a several-year period, they should save the institution money. A managed maintenance company that is doing its job properly will look at each contract individually and make a decision whether to keep it or not.
The first year with an MMC should go just fine. But managed maintenance makes its money from the service not provided and the calls not made. After about a year, instruments begin to experience more problems and more costly repairs. This poor performance is blamed on the age of the equipment or the shoddy job done by the service provider. This author is aware of a few instances in which an unprincipled MMC pillaged a budget, disappeared after 2–3 years, and then started up again under a new name selling the same old shell game.
This happened to the author’s company, which had to refund all the monies paid to it by the MMC during the past 90 days so that the bankruptcy judge could redistribute it as he saw fit. The company provided quality work done correctly at a major teaching institution. Because the institution had paid its bill to the MMC, it was not possible to go back to it for reimbursement. The MMC was in bankruptcy—no recourse there. The author’s company was out the money for parts and labor.
The piece missing from both MMC service models is the technician with in-depth knowledge and ready access to parts when the repair requires more than a simple reset or fuse change. The biggest problem in these modes of service is the long-term effect on the actual service providers, whether they are ISOs or OEMs. Destabilizing the workload causes talented service personnel to find work in another, more consistent market segment such as homeland security or process instrumentation. It is just bad business for an ISO or OEM to stock parts for equipment they are not under contract to service. In the end, an experienced technician must be there to turn the screwdriver and replace the part. Otherwise, not much shine will be left on that 20% savings from the first-year maintenance contract, and the scarcity of parts and talent will ultimately drive the price of service through the roof.
Instruments that are maintained properly give the researcher many years of quality operation. Premature obsolescence is avoided and the capital equipment budget can be used to purchase new instrumentation that expands the laboratory’s capabilities. Institutions need to understand that proper equipment maintenance cannot be shortchanged and that, in the end, it is less expensive and more time efficient to manage their service needs independently and deal directly with the service providers.
Tritech acquired rights to distribute Hanil Science and Industrial products in the US.
Tritech recently acquired the rights to distribute Hanil Science and Industrial products in the US and Canada. After signing the agreement I flew to Seoul Korea to visit the factory and meet the nice folks from Hanil. After a tour of the city of Seoul the next day we drove west to visit the new factory. It is a state of the art manufacturing facility in an area designated for Biotechnology. All parts for their instrumentation are made on site. The quality is top notch, world class. Tritech Will be introducing these products to the US market at Pittcon in March. Look for us at booth #3884.
President / CEO
How many revolutions are on that centrifuge?
Customers purchasing a used centrifuge often ask the question,
“How many revolutions are on that centrifuge?”
The number of revolutions on the counter is an overall number of how much usage the entire centrifuge was used as a system. (Maybe)
The revolution counter is an electromechanical device that can fail and require replacement. This renders the overall counter number useless for assessing the total usage on the instrument.
Within that centrifuge are sub assemblies, such as the drive assembly, vacuum pumps refrigeration compressors. Each drive has a serial number, on a L8, L8M or Optima this could have been changed any number times, or it could be the original drive from the factory. Typically, there is a service card inside the instrument that the service engineer uses to log these drive changes as well as the revolutions on the counter at the time of a drive change. This is a much more accurate representation of the usage on the drive in the instrument. A seller should give you this information. The original log book is another source of useful information. These log books show how long the runs were and what type of rotors were used. The seller should provide this information for you if it is available. These questions are important if you are relying on the past usage an indicator of reliability. They are not important if the instrument has been rebuilt to original equipment standards, or truly is refurbished.
There are two refrigeration compressors in an L8 or L8M, (one for drive cooling and one for can cooling). These assemblies could also have been changed at any point in time.
To make a judgment or even a guess on how long this should last without putting gauges on the compressors and measuring its performance characteristics is just not possible.
The vacuum system consists of a mechanical rough pump and a diffusion pump.
The main vacuum pump is a mechanical device that has been manufactured with tight tolerances and requires periodic maintenance to continue working reliably.
Without seeing the service history no one can tell how long you can expect this unit to last. One tube leak during a sucrose gradient run that is not cleaned and flushed immediately will cause the pump to fail prematurely.
This is why Tritech always rebuilds our centrifuges before selling them. That is why we can offer a one year onsite warranty. There are plenty of instrument brokers that will sell you an instrument at a very low price. Make no mistake it is a gamble, you may win or you may loose, but you are gambling just the same. You should ask these questions of any company you are considering buying an instrument from?
Tritech is a service organization first and foremost. We know these instruments inside and out. We will be there long after the sale.
The Tritech purchase experience will make you a customer for life.