File:  screw-the-customer.html

Date:  4/1/03

Subject:  Why vendors abandon older products.

From:  Rod Nelson


Never jump from a dead horse to sick horse!


Recently major vendors have announced that support for certain scanning and optimization products will terminate.  The reason given is that the electronics can no longer be supported.  The announcement is always combined with an offer to upgrade your “un-supported” system.  The price of the upgrade cleverly includes a discount to make it seem like a good deal.


Most often, these announcements follow the merger of two vendors.  The merger results in duplicate product lines and a decision is made to abandon one of the lines.  For some reason the product line that gets abandoned is always the one you own. 


Don’t be fooled.  Electronics does get old and more difficult to support.  But generally, there are substitute or used parts that can be drawn upon to keep a system running.  What the vendor’s announcement really means is that “supporting your older system is not very profitable”. 


Electronics has a short product life


That is why the good vendors and smart customers are looking for simpler, more reliable, and less expensive systems.  If you have the spares and the system rarely fails you do not have to be pressured into an upgrade.  If the system payback takes 3 months, a short product life is more acceptable.  If the system only takes 5 spare parts, keep enough in stores to last.  You do not have to be held hostage by a vendor.


Older system needed to use custom electronics and low volume commercial components and software.  Today, it can all be done with common PC computers, Window’s operating system and Ethernet based scanners and PLC’s.  You do not need:  VME bus, with custom electronics, custom servo controllers, Real-Time operating systems or supervisor computers that are different than the optimizer computer.  It can all be done with common, readily available products.


Scan Head are Custom (and custom is bad)!


Yes, scan heads for the sawmill industry tends to be unique, but that will change.  Just like custom servo electronics, custom light curtain sensors and custom position sensors, custom scan heads will become history.  That change will accelerate as major vendors announce more abandoned products.   Reasons:


1.      Systems using third party scan heads have a longer product life.

2.      Repairs by scan head vendors are profitable.

3.      Scan head vendors have not gotten into merging (yet).

4.      Scan head vendors do not make money if they announce that a product is going to be abandoned.

5.      If the scan head is never abandoned, it is difficult for the optimizer vendor to say that a complete system upgrade is necessary.


These are some of the reasons why NBE has ceased developing lineal scan heads and now buys the lineal heads from JoeScan and the transverse heads for LMI.  All NBE systems consist of standard PC computers, common network components, commercially available PLC’s and third party scan heads.  Our income comes from software and support, not hardware.



Discontinued Product Support?


Why does a vendor announce, “Discontinued product support”? 


It seems like the honorable thing to do.  “We can not continue the high level of product support that we have provided to date, so we feel obligated to warn you of the impending doom.”


At NBE we have the same problems.  New computers do not accept old peripheral cards.  New computers do not support the older MS-DOS systems.  Replacement cameras and laser are not available. NBE offers upgrades, but rarely do our customers upgrade.  I guess the customer never wants to buy an upgrade that looks and feels newer, but cannot guarantee a recovery improvement or increased production.  Maybe we are lucky, since we have always found a way to support the older systems.


All vendors feel responsible for what they develop.  But when two companies merge, the feeling of responsibility quickly fades.  The people who developed the product get laid off and the cost of train new technicians can never be justified.  It is much less expensive and in fact potentially profitable to abandon the product.  Sure, many of the customers will get pissed-off, but some will buy the highly profitable upgrade. 


To summarize:  The industry is bad, vendors merge to survive, products get abandoned and vendors wring the last dollar from a distressed industry!   It is another WIN for Marketing.