I would guess that most biomed departments have a stock of spare parts; I know we have a room full of them. However, many of the parts taking up valuable space are from a couple of decades ago. As storage space has become a premium commodity at my facility, I am faced with the task of disposing of our old spare parts. What I struggle with is that some of the parts we have lying around were expensive. I cannot bring myself to just send them to the recycler. This situation has me searching for answers about why we have so many and what I should do with them?
To answer the first question, “Why do we have so many?” One must dive into the psyche of the biomed technician, a trip that could surely be scary for an outsider to our industry. Given the many years I have been in the industry, I recall a time when board-level repairs were common. This activity led to having many discrete components around like transistors, capacitors, resistors and regulators. This was to ensure a quick repair. It was common, in the past, that if you needed one transistor, you would order two or even three, in the event you cooked one while troubleshooting or just to meet a minimum order requirement. But now, what feels like almost overnight, these types of repairs are few and far between. Now, I am left with many little yellow ECG boxes of components that remind me of days gone by. We also have a good stock of PC boards. In our effort to provide superior customer service, we would purchase spare boards for equipment that has had a history of board replacement. However, over time, equipment is replaced, and these old boards are seldom purged when the equipment goes away. In the past, more equipment required parts to be replaced. Stylus pens, belts, transducers and springs are some good examples of things we used to have to keep around. Today all these items add up to a big room full of stuff that cannot be disposed of without a fight from the senior techs in the shop. They remember how much the stuff cost; they remember the good feeling they got by having the parts on hand to immediately solve a problem. It is hard to let go of something that was once very important. I have personally gone through our storage room. I have held parts in my hand that take me back in time like an old song on the radio. Some days it just feels good to remember. However, it does not solve the problem at hand.
To answer the second question, “What to do with them?” I have resorted to some creative thinking to avoid just sending all of the items to the recycling center. One of the first things I did was perform a Google search on surplus electronic part brokers. There are many, however most wanted more volume than I had on hand. Next, I reached out to a local college that has an electronics program; they were eager to take our discrete components but understandably did not want any of the medical equipment specific items. Finally, I asked our medical equipment reseller if they wanted parts but many were just too old. In the end, I have gotten rid of some things. However, I still have a fair amount of stuff sitting around on shelves. Little by little, we are disposing of these unneeded parts. Our salvager ensures us that the electronics are properly recycled.
However, the future is bright, because today we do not have to stock too many parts, we have adopted a “just-in-time” approach to part stocking. For our computer-based systems, we can get generic parts locally in most cases. Because of some standardization efforts, we have enough of the same equipment around to be able to have a substitute for a critical area. Finally, equipment just doesn’t break as much anymore. There are fewer moving parts, and the boards that do need to be replaced are prohibitively expensive to keep on hand. Also, overnight shipping is reliable in today’s world; we can get some parts in less than 12 hours with counter-to-counter delivery. I see storage to be less of a problem in the future.
However, putting some managerial effort in your parts stock may help you with any storage issues you may have. Switching to just-in-time ordering and purging the items that are no longer needed could reward you with the space needed to organize the rest of your operation.
Jim Fedele, CBET, is the senior director of clinical engineering for UPMC. He manages six Susquehanna Health hospitals. He has 30 years of HTM experience and has worked for multiple service organizations.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of TechNation or MD Publishing.
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