What are the best methods to locate a hard to find replacement part?

Conducting academic research on supply chain resiliency in the maritime industry. When something breaks on a ship, how do you find/order that replacement part?

Tell the ship manager to get it.

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Where does the ship manager search for the part? Does he have to call around or is there a site that hosts spare part inventory?

If something really important breaks on a ship then usually specialist third party service engineers will come and fix it.

They will either come themselves to do a damage inspector or ask ships crew to take lots of pictures and videos so they know what parts they need to replace.

Ship’s engineers can often only just do routine maintenance, the complicated stuff has to be done by specialists service engineers from the manufacturer or third part comapany.

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It really depends on the part and what it goes to. It doesn’t become a commentary on supply chain resiliency unless you and your company are ill prepared.

If it’s a consumable, critical spare, or even many non-critical but important parts, you’d likely carry the spares onboard. If you don’t, and your ship is part of a company fleet of similar vessels, either one of them will have it or ideally your company has a shoreside warehouse for shared fleet spares.

Next up, contact the OEM or in some cases a company that makes suitable alternatives. Then you rely on the supply chain.

In a pinch, if you have the material and skills, you make the part in the machine shop.

And in a real critical long-lead time clusterfuck, I’ve even reached out to a competing shipping company to see if they had what we needed and would sell it to us…not ideal.

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Usually by calling a specialized marine parts agent like the guys at http://www.allmarinespares.com/

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It helps if the company has a forward thinking policy and maintains a good supply of critical spares, not just for the engine side but deck machinery and cabin services too.
It saves a lot of grief when it hits the fan and you need bits urgently or you don’t sail.

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If you don’t, and your ship is part of a company fleet of similar vessels, either one of them will have it or ideally your company has a shoreside warehouse for shared fleet spares.

Is there a program most companies use to find out if there is a part on another ship or in a fleet warehouse? Or is this a manual process? How long does it typically take to find a spare part once you determine you don’t have it onboard?

And in a real critical long-lead time clusterfuck, I’ve even reached out to a competing shipping company to see if they had what we needed and would sell it to us…not ideal.

Not ideal at all. How often have you had to resort to this? Is the competing shipping company open to doing this?

Are there other sites ship managers use? Which one is the most popular in the industry?

Thanks, John! Looks like the only option to purchase parts is to contact them directly…is this the industry standard?

in a pinch, most my customers usually call western towboat…

Yes you have to call them.

A lot of the better, Publicly listed companies use them but the small cheap companies often make you source (or fabricate) the part yourself.

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A hard-to-find replacement part is hard to find precisely because it has eluded all databases.

The guy in charge of finding parts (call them the port engineer) works by a Rolodex file (mental/ literal) of experts he calls to find the part for him, and cronies to call when the experts can’t find it, because it’s not on a database.

Example: The PE needs a Cat part. They call NC Machinery, a worldwide organization. It’s NC’s job to find the part. If NC doesn’t have it locally, they check their worldwide system. But even that might not work. So, the PE consults their rolodex (mental/literal) for all the people the PE called in the last twenty years when they needed to find an obscure Cat part. Often, the guy they sold old engines to in the past. Pure detective work.

The point is, if NC can’t find that Cat part–one of the most documented categories of items on the planet–websites are useless. You’ve got to do the legwork. Call people. Don’t have it? Do you know who would have it?

We used to run a few ships with direct-reversible Deutz engines. Odd ducks, in the States. Only guys to talk to in the USA about Deutz parts is Hugo Stamp. Mostly, the Fort Lauderdale office. If they didn’t have the part you talked to Deutz in Cologne. Not the parts department–Hugo Stamp already did that. You talked to the plant guy who just kinda knew what ship operator might have the part lying around in Rotterdam or Bremerhaven…

At the same time we would call a Peruvian guy who bought our old engines for the South American market. He knew where every Deutz was between Panama and Patagonia. He would call up his compadres looking for the part (and charge you plenty for it).

It’s always legwork. If the part was on a database you would have found it already.

As hard or harder than finding the part can be getting it to the ship. Once, I was part of a crew getting a ship ready to move from Tampa to Seattle. A Deutz engine. Needed a cylinder block. Hugo Stamp said they didn’t have it at first. So we called Cologne. Heinrich or whoever starts calls up all the North Sea places he knows, while we worry about how to get a 800lb. crate air-shipped to Tampa in less than a week.

But Hugo Block comes through. No problem. Just pick up the part in Fort Lauderdale. Easier than flying one across the Atlantic, right? Easier than shipping up a part from Seattle to Dutch in February, what with storms and volcanoes, right?

The chief engineer volunteers to drive and get it. Trouble: no trucks to rent. Tourist season. What CAN we rent to haul it NOW? A Cadillac. Because of the huge trunk space: can fit three or four mobsters in there, easy. OK Rent it. Lay down some carboard or whatever. The chief drives from Tampa to Lauderdale, has the 800lb. cylinder block put in the trunk, and ties the lid down. Front wheels hardly touch the ground now, but he’s rolling. Mission accomplished.

He’s barreling down I-75. Alligator Alley. Hits an alligator on the highway. No traction on the front wheels. Swerves. Ends up in the swamp. A day is gone waiting to tow the Cadillac out. Then the chief quits because of the mental strain of waiting for the alligators to take revenge on him, while he waited for the tow truck. So now, more wasted days looking for a replacement chief. And a trashed Cadillac.

Getting an obscure part, hard. Getting it to the boat, sometimes an adventure.


I have run into some difficulties finding obscure parts, but never drove a Cadillac into an alligator filled swamp. Sometimes it’s good to have perspective.

Again it really does depend on the company. Don’t remember the name of the program MSC used. The last company I worked for had their own Oracle based inventory platform. I could search the program for any part, any ship, any warehouse in the company and see a quantity, last ship to use one, last price the company paid, etc. With the PO number I could have traced where we bought it from too and what container ship it it traveled on to get to me.

We were lucky enough to have a robust logistics arm so all I had to do initially was order the part in the system. A buyer in the office would figure it out from there. If they couldn’t find it then I’d have to get involved again. If it was critical and the inventory program said one of our other ships had it I’d be on the phone to those Chief’s begging them to box it up and ship it, then figure out the paperwork.

But for most of our major equipment, generators, propulsion, deck gear, drilling package, etc, we had contacts at each of those companies. Back when I worked for MSC one ship had Caterpillar aux generators, we had a dedicated Cat Rep. I’m sure he got enough of our business to always pick up when the C/E called.

Maybe twice in my career. The answer both times was “No”. The first because they didn’t want to give up their spare, and so instead we had to charter a cargo plane ($$$$$) to fly an incorrect version we had and modify it upon arrival. The second time the other company didn’t have the part, but I had to ask cause it was a generator crankshaft and if we hadn’t been able to repair in place it would have been a reeeeeeally long time waiting for a new one to be manufactured. Luckily I got to witness my first in-situ crank repair (and it worked!).

I have definitely never dealt with Alligators. But I’ve sure seen some supply chain f-ups. I once received a crate of rusty cylinder heads for an engine type we didn’t even have. That’s the type where you carefully box it up, back away slowly, and put it right back on the boat to shore.