The September 2010 issue of The O&P EDGE presents expert advice on providing patient care, nuts-and-bolts shortcuts for technicians or any clinician who fabricates, and suggestions on adjustments in basic tech-management philosophy. Bob Collins, CTPO, orthotic fabrication manager at Center for Orthotic & Prosthetic Care, Louisville, Kentucky, presents the following financial pointers as a supplement to that discussion. Collins supervises five other technicians in an operation that produces about 280 custom orthoses each month. He suggests economizing by looking for basic materials a little closer to home:
- We’ve looked locally to buy some of the products that we had previously bought from O&P distributors. We were paying $19.95 a bag for vermiculite, plus shipping charges. Now I buy exactly the same item locally for $7 a bag.
Similarly, I had been buying electrical conduit at $2.99 per ten-foot piece and paying a $115 delivery charge for 100 pieces. Shortly after we moved into our new facility, I noticed that a company across the street sold electrical supplies, including the conduit we needed. I was able to arrange to buy it at half the price we’d previously paid-and they delivered it across the street on a forklift at no charge!
- Don’t always buy from the same supplier out of habit. Other people also use the things we use in our industry, for other applications. For example, the sand screen we use is also used for finishing drywall in homes, and might be available at lower cost from The Home Depot or another home-supply store. Look at the bottom line, not the “gold level” loyalty discount you may have achieved because it may not save you as much as you think.
- Purchasing in quantity can make a big difference. I’m buying plaster from an Ace Hardware store in large quantities, and getting it much cheaper than I was before. When determining what quantity is reasonable, my rule of thumb is to buy only what I’m likely to use within two months. If I feel something is trendy or risky, I buy smaller quantities to avoid getting stuck with excess stock we’ll never use.
- Previously, we reinforced our molds with heavy pipe that we later salvaged for re-use by manually breaking up the old molds with a ball-peen hammer. By switching to electrical conduit at a cost of $1.67 for ten feet of conduit, compared to about $10 for each six-foot piece of water pipe, we are able to simply dispose of the mold with the inexpensive conduit in place, saving ourselves the time, effort, and risk of carpal tunnel syndrome!
- We supplemented our staff with an independent part-time maintenance man. This retired mechanic comes in regularly to perform routine upkeep like changing the oil in the machinery and keeping it running smoothly.
- Equipment failures don’t happen often because we maintain our equipment well, but when it does, it could be critical. On average, 18 braces a day go out the door, so if an oven goes down for four hours, that’s a huge problem for us. We built our new fabrication facility with worst-case scenarios in mind: We have two air compressors that are plumbed into the same line, so when one breaks, we literally switch a valve and turn the other one on. We also have another oven in another room, so if one breaks down, we turn the other one on-no lost time.
- Online ordering has really done wonders for us because I can comparison shop prices. Even if it’s a difference of only $5 on an item, when you order in quantity, those differences (and potential savings) can be significant.
- Be aware that buying pre-made items can be more economical than creating them yourself, depending on your volume. We buy our Velcro® straps pre-made instead of having a technician invest half an hour or more sewing a T-strap. They’re 80 cents each and availableâ€¦in any color. I buy straps 1,000 at a time, but that’s something people should consider based on their circumstances: Is it cheaper to purchase or make?
- If volume justifies it, check with the manufacturer to see if you can get a better rate than from a distributor who has already added his markup. Oddly enough, I have found that I can purchase some items for less money than I can directly from the manufacturer. I don’t know how that’s possible, but it is.