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Supply Shortages Impacting Availability of Air Springs

Learn how one company has been able to withstand major disruptions to its air spring manufacturing over the last few years.

Episode 139: The pandemic has created a ripple effect of shortages in the supply chain of every industry. The trucking industry has been affected in many ways, including disruption to the movement of freight, the availability of new trucks and trailers, and the inability to source replacement parts to repair equipment.  

One category of parts where availability has been an issue is air springs a.k.a. airbags. But how has one manufacture been able to overcome this?

My guest today is Felipe Bumagny, the President at SAMPA USA. 

Sampa Logo, and Felipe headshot. In this episode, learn how one company has been able to withstand major disruptions to its air springs manufacturing over the last few years.

SAMPA is a global aftermarket manufacturer of heavy-duty parts.

Guest Website: SAMPA.com

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Transcript of Episode:

Jamie Irvine:

You are listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And this is the show where you get expert advice about heavy-duty parts that keep trucks and trailers on the road longer while lowering cost-per-mile. The pandemic has created a ripple effect of supply shortages and has in some ways crushed our global supply chain. And it’s really impacted everyone globally. But the trucking industry has been affected in many ways, including disruption to the movement of freight, the availability of new trucks and trailers and the inability to source replacement parts fast enough to take care of fleets and commercial vehicle owners. Last year was a difficult and challenging year. And it looks like in 2022, we’re going to be facing some of the same challenges as the year goes on. One category of heavy-duty part where availability was with air springs, also known as airbags. And we’re gonna talk to someone today who manufactures that product. And I’m really looking forward to understanding what they do to offset some of these issues with supply chain and the pandemic, how they make those air Springs and why it’s a product that people should consider. So my guest today is Felipe Bumagny. The president at Sampa USA. Sampa is a global aftermarket manufacturer of heavy-duty parts. Felipe, welcome to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. So glad to have you here.

Felipe Bumagny:

Thank you, Jamie. Nice to be here. Nice talking to you.

Jamie Irvine:

So what sets Sampa USA above, like what sets you apart above other aftermarket parts manufacturers that supply to the North American market?

Felipe Bumagny:

Well, one of the things that we decided early on when we came to United States a few years back was to only sell products that we make in house. So we do not rely other than sourcing raw material. We basically make everything that we sell in North America in house, in our 14 plants. So these 14 plants either will make a component for an assembly of different parts that turn into a product, or they’re gonna make finish products. And since we’re gonna be talking about air springs, air springs are made with several different components, usually using different technologies and different competencies. And we have all these in-house. So the only thing that we bring to America, our products that we make ourselves. And that is, I think one of the big differences between us and a lot of the other guys out there.

Jamie Irvine:

And that’s a big deal because a lot of people who call themselves manufacturers are actually having other people manufacture components, and then they sometimes assemble them or put them together and then they resell them. So in some ways they’re actually closer to a wholesale distributor than an actual manufacturer because they’re dependent on external manufacturing. Whereas what you’re saying is Sampa does all of this internally, which gives you greater control. So how does that impact things like reliability and servicing?

Felipe Bumagny:

So we manufacture both for the aftermarket globally, and also for several OEM brands that are present in every market today in North America. So the same plants that manufacture parts for the aftermarket are the ones that are manufacturing parts for OEM. And we, of course, we have to choose a quality standard not only in terms of raw materials, but processes and design and tolerances. And we have to of course, set the bar at the OEM level. So the products that we bring to America are basically at the same level of form fit or function as the original part that came with the truck when it left the assembly line. Okay. And that makes a big difference in product performance when it’s actually installed and on the truck.

Jamie Irvine:

There’s an expression OE aftermarket, or aftermarket OE, depending on which way you say it, but this is a big deal. And this is something where I see the independent service channel and the aftermarket moving more and more towards that. I remember when there was the introduction of a lot of what they, at one time called offshore products, then the quality was really hit or miss. Sometimes you’d get great quality from one supplier, other times, not so much. And when it comes to commercial fleets, they just can’t afford downtime. Uptime is such an important thing. It’s a factor that can be the difference between being profitable or not. So you’ve gotta buy parts that you can rely on.

And what you’re saying is because you control the manufacturing in-house, you are involved in OEM manufacturing, as well as aftermarket you’re providing a product that people can and count on. Price is always a major factor in the purchasing decision here at The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. We’re always encouraging people, don’t just look at the purchase price, look at the total cost of operation. Does this product help you to lower cost per mile? So how are you able to provide a quality product at a competitive price and does manufacturing in-house like the way that you do have an impact on that?

Felipe Bumagny:

Every time that you need to buy a component from a third party supplier to assemble a fully finished product, you’re paying somebody else to, uh, for an edited margin, right? So we take that out of the equation. So we already know what the product needs to, to perform, like what, uh, what, what the raw materials need to be, what the process needs to be so that the product will basically match the performance of the OEM part. That is one of the components that allows us to bring a product to market that will take the guesswork out of the equation when it comes to the end user to install the product on the truck.

As you said, cost of ownership today is one of the, or cost per mile, is one of the most important considerations when you’re operating a fleet. And in today’s day and age, when you have a lack of drivers, you have a lack of chassis’. You don’t have a bench, basically you need to have every unit on the road for as long as possible without having to take it off the line to do maintenance, whether it’s preventive maintenance or corrective maintenance. So by offering a product that is consistently at the same high level as the OEM product that came with the truck, allows the fleets to rely more on the performance of that vehicle.

Jamie Irvine:

Right? And I mean, if the supply chain chain issues with the access to replacement parts have taught us nothing, it certainly has put a big spotlight on what it actually costs a fleet to have a truck sit, or a piece of equipment sit because we’re missing one part. Like it’s just, I’ve talked to so many fleets who have said that, you know, the repair technician shortage was such a big focus for them. And this whole issue with supply chain that has come up with the pandemic has just put a big spotlight on making sure that they can keep maximum visibility of parts, making sure they have the right parts available because to have a truck not be able to go and earn money for them because of one part, it’s really worst case scenario for them. So we’ve seen these shortages in every category, air springs have not been insulated in anyway. The air spring shortages have been an issue here in North America as well. For someone who might be considering an alternate supplier, what would you say to them about considering Sampa as that supplier for the air springs?

Felipe Bumagny:

There are many reasons and many different levels of quality that we’re bringing to bear not only in terms of product manufacturing, but also service and support, right? Again, we are an OEM supplier of air springs. So we know how an air spring is supposed to perform. Like we use the same design and testing protocol, validation protocols, as we do for OEM projects. Again, we are totally verticalized. So when we talking about an air spring let’s dissect the airs springs components, right? So we have, of course the develop, which is the rubber membrane that actually inflates and deflates that is not only rubber there’s several different layers of rubber. There’s also something called mesh, which is basically the skeleton of the airbag. And that’s where the difference starts. So our rubber is a proprietary compound.

We use a mesh, which is nylon as opposed to polyester which is vastly more popular among aftermarket manufacturers out there just performs better. It lasts longer, it adapts better to changes in temperature. It will just hold its original state for a much longer period of time than then polyester. Our top legs for instance, are four millimeters thick as opposed to three or below, which is very common also in the aftermarket that gives you an extra resistance against buckling or caving, which happens quite a bit because of overloading or surface quality on the road. Our pistons are all made inhouse, whether it’s plastic or composite steel or aluminum, we make them all inhouse. So we control the raw material. We control the process, we control the forming of the product. And then when all these components are available are put together, we test every product, every unit of air or air spraying that comes to market against leakage. We’re making sure that everything is sealed properly. And not only that, it’s not only when we test the performance of that unit, we are constantly reevaluating our material, our processes to see if there’s anything better than we can do today. So I can say that.

 And that’s one of the reasons why we offer the same warranty on our airbags as the OEMs do, right? So for on the road, just as rule of thumb for on the road applications, we offer three years, 300000 miles warranty for airbags. The vocational application’s a little bit different, but the main brand names, that supply OEMs in North America today offer basically the same warranty that we do, or we offer the same warranty they do. So we can do because of that verticalization that we talked about a few minutes ago, we can do that at a fraction of the cost. Actually we are the only manufacturer in the world. And that’s very important, in the world, that makes a hundred percent of the components that are used in its airbags. So of course the big names they might manufacture some of the plates, some of the bumper stops, some of the pistons, but they do not manufacture a hundred percent of all these components and we do, and that helps us control costs, control, availability, control, process control, quality, and we can offer a product to the end user that is very similar to the OEM at a fraction of the cost.

Jamie Irvine:

We’re just gonna take a quick break to hear from our sponsors. We’ll be right back. Don’t have a heavy-duty part number and need to look up a part? Go to parts.diesellaptops.com or download the app on Apple or Android to create your free account. Looking for high quality fuel injection for heavy duty applications? Having one supplier for fuel injection allows you to better serve customers by providing them with a complete line, which increases your sales and profitability. Learn more at ambacinternational.com/aftermarket.

We’re back from our break. And before the break, we were learning all about how Sampa is a manufacturer, the only manufacturer in the world who manufactures a hundred percent of their airs springs in house and controls all of that. I was curious Felipe, you haven’t been completely insulated from all of the supply chain issues either, but you’ve maintained great inventory levels, especially on air springs. How are you able to accomplish that? Despite all of the challenges that we’re facing globally?

Felipe Bumagny:

We do very good planning in terms of securing raw material, right? And we have long-term agreements with all the basic suppliers out there or the primary suppliers of the raw materials that we use for our manufacturing that allows us a lot more flexibility than if we had to go and buy parts or components from other vendors. There is a lack of capacity for stamping of the steel plates necessary for the top plates that affects everybody. We actually have been approached by several known names and brand names out there with requests, for supply programs of these top plates for their products because we’re very busy. We’re growing very quickly, not only in North America, but in other parts of the world, we don’t have that added capacity that we can share with other manufacturers out there. But this has been one of the most important obstacles for supply continuity that we know of with any brand out there, including major brands that are, that have been traditional suppliers in the North American market, right. North American made product, of course, because we manufacture the plate inhouse and we can, we just buy the raw material we can plan a little bit further ahead and kind of insulate ourselves against this kind of problem.

Jamie Irvine:

That makes a lot of sense. It just shows you how important it is to control every aspect of your business. For those who are tempted to focus on price and finding the lowest priced airs springs out there, why is it so important that vehicle owners use high end air springs?

Felipe Bumagny:

Price versus cost, right? So you pay for a product, but you’re not only buying the product itself, the widget, but you also buying the service, the reliability, the trust that you can actually put on that product. So talking about air springs, let’s say the air spring doesn’t perform as it’s supposed to on a vehicle, you’ve got issues with vibration. You’ve got, because the suspension’s not gonna insulate the vehicle from the imperfections on the road, you have the problems with premature tire wear, right? And that gets expensive real quick. You get problems with driver fatigue. And of course, if you, if you look at a truck or a trailer from an organic perspective, this is an assembly of several subsystems. One subsystem is not working correctly, or a component of that subsystem is not working correctly, you might have failures propagate to other components of that subsystem, or even to other systems altogether.

And if you have a truck that is not well balanced, that does not have a well-functioning suspension, you might create other issues such as the premature tear of the road service that has all kinds of environmental implications. So it’s very important, and it’s not only applicable to air springs. We’re talking about anything that works, whether an engine component or an electrical component, or a transmission component, all these subsystems work in tandem. They interface with each other, and if one doesn’t work properly, others might start not performing the way they should. So I don’t know how sensitive people are to the issue of quality versus cost. And I think that the professional fleets, the larger operators, they’re beginning to understand that they might save up front a couple dollars here and there on a component, and then have excessive downtime or maintenance bills and costs that will render that upfront saving kind of irrelevant.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah. I absolutely agree. I think of how, for example, if you have an issue with your drive axle suspension, you can impact your front end steering. You know, you wouldn’t necessarily think that’s a direct correlation, but it is directly correlated to what’s happening in the rear drive axles. And you’re having problems in the front end of the of the truck. So that’s just one example to illustrate your point. And another thing is we were just discussing like I’m in Northern Canada yesterday we were the third coldest place on the planet where I live at my over minus 50 degrees Celsius, you’re in Texas and it’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit. You might be operating in North America and your trucks are going everywhere, and they’re gonna be experiencing all kinds of different environments. So high quality products perform well in those larger ranges of things like temperature and other environments, whereas low quality products, they’re just not gonna stand up to that kind of a swing environment. And that’s just gonna cost the vehicle owner, nothing but money on the back end. So definitely I see your point of looking at the whole picture.

Felipe Bumagny:

And also let’s also consider the design part of this whole process, right? Not only the manufacturing, but how we could our design together, because we have these OEM relationships. We can derive a lot of information from them and to be applied on the aftermarket programs that we offer out there. We are in 160 countries, I mean, our products are in 160 countries, and we service OEMs and we supply products to OEMs, different types of products, and they never know where their trucks are gonna be sold. They could be sold in or they could be operating in the Northern tier of North America, but they could be also in Southern Mexico or into Sahara or in Saudi Arabia and so on. So they designed the products and the trucks to withstand all these variations in operating conditions and we just follow suit. Everything that we do, because we don’t know where that air spring is gonna end up. I had a customer once in Australia that told me that they needed to change the oil in the shock absorber because of cavitation, because the temperatures were so high in certain parts of Australia, that the shock absorbers just stopped working. So this is only one example of what we need to account for when we are putting a product together.

Jamie Irvine:

And then it might come to Canada where sometimes we have to snow in July. So you’ve had a great deal of success in North America. We know supply chain issues are gonna continue in 2022. What steps is Sampa taking to expand your ability to support the trucking industry in 2022?

Felipe Bumagny:

So right now we are operating one warehouse, in North America, by the end of 2022, we’re gonna have four warehouses. We have another one in Illinois being commissioned right now. We are very confident that warehouse is gonna be fully operational by end of February, beginning of March, that includes inventory. And we’re gonna be able to ship from that location to our customers, though that gives us a little bit more flexibility and added capacity in terms of inventory management here in North America.

And by the beginning of Q3 and the end of Q4, we’re gonna have another warehouse on each coast. So we gonna have a warehouse on the east coast and another warehouse on the west coast, we are already looking for properties. And we are again, very confident that we’re gonna have those warehouses fully operational by the end of 2022. So that gives us more capacity for inventory. And because we manufacture everything that we sell here, we can hold more of that product. We can plan further ahead. So we can insulate ourselves against issues such as availability of containers or congestion at any given import in North America and so on. That gives us a lot more flexibility, and we are gonna be a lot closer to our customer base, which is very important.

Jamie Irvine:

Well, and I was just gonna say, this is going to affect the people at the end user level, who end up buying your products from your distributors. And, and really these warehouses are gonna be strategically placed to give, added support to your distribution network. So that is going to be, I’m sure very welcomed by your distributors who are succeeding with your product.

Felipe Bumagny:

Yeah. And we’re not stopping there, right? So we are experimenting with all these different kinds of models in terms of projecting buffer inventory for the most popular part numbers. And we are not afraid of investing in inventory. And again, that is a little bit easier for us because we make everything with sell. We don’t buy from third parties, right? So we don’t have to deal with the issues of the supply chains that our suppliers might have. And we try, and we do really, really long term planning ahead in terms of raw material or the only thing that we actually buy from finished products are hardware like nuts, bolts, washers and stuff like that. But having that added inventory capacity at a reduced cost because we are buying from ourselves, if you will, that makes it a lot easier and a lot more convenient for our customers.

Jamie Irvine:

You’ve been listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And today we’ve been speaking with Felipe Bumagny, the president at Sampa USA. To learn more about Sampa visit sampa.com. Links are in the show notes. Felipe, thank you so much for being on The Heavy-Duty Parts Report.

Felipe Bumagny:

Oh, you’re more than welcome Jamie. It was a pleasure.

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