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When Cheaper Isn't (a cautionary tale)

Gosh, it's been a long time, been a long time, been a long lonely lonely time since I last posted anything here. A lot of things have changed for me and my little company, but one thing that has not changed one iota is our belief that using cheap materials will inevitably lead to poor results.

Save now, pay later! Here's an example we just experienced with a client we hadn't heard from in years. About 5 years ago we installed a new projector and cabling for a house of worship a few towns over. In our business, no news is good news, so that we hadn't heard anything from these good people was not a worry. It means that we installed top shelf parts and that they were still chugging along happily. Like all projectors of yore, they eventually need to have their lamps replaced. The client made a budget minded decision to replace the lamp with an inexpensive aftermarket lamp from the web. A new lamp from a projector manufacturer can run in the $300-400 range - not chump change by any means. The after market lamp was purportedly only $50 (!). Now, most of us were raised under the mentality that if something seems too good to be true, that it probably is, right?

It gets better.... The client replaced the lamp with one of their cheap lamps and the projector ran as expected for about a year and then the lamp failed. The client then replaced it with a new lamp (same source) and the lamp blew out in a couple weeks. They then replaced it with another cheap-o internet special and the lamp basically blew immediately. They decided to call us in to assess the situation. The machine was full of glass shards from the exploding lamp so we need to bench the machine and clean it out and then I told them we would not use an unauthorized replacement lamp for any reason. The client agreed and we got a factory fresh lamp and installed it.

It didn't work.

We contacted the repair center and explained the situation. After the tech on the phone stopped groaning, he told me what was wrong with the machine. Because the cheap-o internet special lamps are not engineered to any specific standard, they are often mismatched to the projector they are supposedly a perfect match for. There are a number of things that can go wrong if the lamp is not correctly matched: the ignition wire to the lamp can fail and/or the ballast can go kaput. The ignition wire is self-explanatory and the ballast is like those found in fluorescent fixtures - it's the device that strikes the lamp in the machine and brings the light forth. In this case, the mismatched lamp had caused them both to fail.

And then it gets worse... The ignition cable costs about $50 and the ballast is around $250 then on top of that is the service labor to do the work which is about $350. Add to that the cost of shipping the damaged machine to the service center, the cost of using a couple bargain lamps is going to cost the client in the range of $800 or so.

Total savings of cutting corners on a cheap lamp? -$1000 (includes the cost of the original cheap-o lamps and service labor). Totally worth it right? Now a new machine like this one would be in the $4k range so it is worth repairing but the client will be without their projector for about 3 weeks in the process so they are renting a machine for now which is an additional $300 bringing the total loss to $1300!!!

And the moral of the story is.... I think we've made the point here. Like most things in life, you get out of them what you put into them and my experience is there is no value in cutting corners and it often costs more to "save money" than it does to just bite the bullet and do it right the first time. That's the Norseman way.

Skål! -gundy

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