Every job has a bill of materials. Telephone or network jobs only need a handful of suppliers. However, AV jobs get materials from everybody and their brother. There are enough quality manufacturers to fill a convention center — it seems they may even do that again soon.
There are some lessons to learn here. The first one is that parts come from all over the world at different paces. There is always some last-minute, urgent job that needs the order placed right away. My warehouse has taught me to pay attention to what time zone the supplier is in so I can get requests in before they close for the day. Last-minute orders aside, I am really trying to uncover when all the material will be on-site and when the job can start.
Tracking the equipment’s arrival is the goal. Here are the things to check:
- Correct equipment order.
- Correct address.
- Estimated time of arrival.
Some projects have time to complete. Some projects are urgent. The tighter the timeline, the more monitoring required.
Each AV integrator has tools for gathering this information. These include forms from purchasing, the warehouse and info from the suppliers. The delivery tracking numbers will come from FedEx, UPS and other delivery services.
All these different sources of information have to be aggregated and tracked. I create a Microsoft Excel sheet for each job to track and update it as I go.
I’ve gathered questions to consider as the equipment is on its way.
Confirm the Order Is Placed Correctly
The purchasing department places the BOM order with the suppliers. A day after the order is placed, the project manager can follow up with the suppliers to ensure the order was received and is on its way.
Every new person who touches this information introduces a chance for error. Check the part number, double-check the quantities and colors. Part numbers can change in the supplier’s catalog. Maybe the new part has identical features to the original — but often, they do not. Consult the designer to confirm that the replacement part is OK to use. When it’s approved, change the BOM to show the correct part and get a customer’s signature before making the change and ordering parts.
The supplier may tell you that the part is still available but will take a long time to be shipped to you. Never present the new part number as an alternative until the designer confirms it is a viable choice. Take that information to the customer — so they can decide to go with the new part number, and things can keep moving.
Some customers don’t care if a part number changes, but military and government customers almost always do. They will need a signed change order specifying the old part number and its replacement. Create documentation to explain why the part number changed and how the new part fulfills the previous part’s requirements.
Customers can change the BOM after parts are ordered — the project may need a change in functionality or scope so that a part could be altered or even deleted. Changes must be documented and include the customer’s agreement. Get this confirmed before you place the orders.
Most suppliers have a return policy. If you return the part unopened and within a return time window, you could get a full refund. If not, there is usually a restocking fee. However, let’s say you’ve gone past the point of no return. If the customer wants to return a device after the return window, you should inform them that there will not be a refund or that the refund will be less than the restocking fee. Document these so you can contain expectations. Tracking these will protect your profit margins and provide answers to any questions once the bill is presented.
As previously stated, AV equipment comes from many sources — and it comes in dribs and drabs. Packages come in at different times. Sometimes a box will have more than one part in it, and other times one part will come in more than one box. This is why it is common and almost expected for the AV integrator to have all the equipment delivered to the warehouse and shipped complete as one delivery to the install site. The suppliers should be given the warehouse as the delivery address.
I recommend an exception to this practice: Deliver displays directly to the site. Displays are sensitive pieces of kit, and the less they are moved, the better. If I can confirm with the customer that they can safely and securely store the displays at their site, I deliver direct. Displays are large enough not to be misplaced, and the customer will have the responsibility to keep them from being stolen.
Sometimes the delivery address question is harder to answer than it seems. Integrators do a lot of new construction and renovations so that the delivery can be confusing. The customer might be moving from one address into a new one. They can get it confused when telling the project team. If there is proof that they gave the wrong address, we can pass it on to the customer to pay, but if the integrator got it wrong, the integrator would have to pay for it.
Estimated Time of Arrival
The goal of all this tracking is to have all the right equipment at the install site. Once the customer confirms that they can store the equipment securely and safely, the entire shipment can be sent. That way, displays and the equipment staged at the warehouse can be sent and received at the install location.
Tracking numbers, packing lists and BOMs are all be used to confirm the equipment’s ETA. I have to coordinate with the installation team to be on-site and start working when the equipment is there. It’s normal to project the arrival and schedule the installers based on the tracking numbers.
That sense of relief I feel when all the kit is in the warehouse sometimes makes me forget I still need to give the order to ship the staged equipment to the customer’s site for installation. I win if I can place the delivery order in enough time to use standard shipping instead of overnight.
The AV industry has done a magnificent job of tracking all the equipment for our many projects over the years. The dance all the players use to coordinate equipment delivery for each project involves effort from a massive cast of characters. The effort often goes unnoticed. I celebrate it here.
I have great respect for the numerous people who keep track of the mountains of information and the stressed-out teams and customers to keep it all going. All of us need each other. This is how the work gets done.