Staying competitive and profitable is a balancing act for industrial processing companies. Meeting market demand and shareholder expectation keeps the pressure for well-executed heat tracing systems on high boil. This makes choosing the right partner or provider for the job more critical than ever. Fortunately, it is not difficult.

The elements that make some heat trace companies great partners are simple. But, overlooking any one of them can jeopardize production quality, throughput, safety and profitability. It can damage relationships with customers, suppliers, distributors and investors and hurt your reputation. Problems caused by providers are your problems if you picked them for the job.

But, you can prepare yourself for better outcomes by doing a little up-front digging. A simple spreadsheet will help you compare heat trace partners based on your qualifiers. Compare potential suppliers by asking these 10 questions.

1.  CAD Drawings: Are They Done In-House?

Because the installation drawings for your project are the blueprint from which your system will be built, it is imperative that they be complete and accurate. They also need to include any revisions made during the drawing process. Will the manufacturer provide drawings for your heat trace project? If so, will they be created in-house or by a third party?

An advantage of in-house engineering is that the partner can make revisions in real time. This helps ensure the system is correct before the order is placed. Being able to have all participants meet spontaneously may help to expedite resolving issues and revising drawings.

How important is this criterion? Ask yourself: How critical is your project timeline? Can you afford a delay for revisions?

2.  Customer Service: Is It Live and Responsive?

Any project manager or system installer who has spent an inordinate amount of time waiting on hold or, worse yet, had no access to a live person for help during an installation, knows that customer service representatives are important at all stages of a project. They help expedite drawing changes, BOMs and shipping of parts. They can quickly clear up billing, inspection and warranty issues.

Check out company policies for returns and restocks of both standard and custom products. Emergencies happen. Live access to quick technical answers means a crew will not be standing around on the clock waiting for instructions. Industrial giants like food manufacturers, oil-and-gas or nuclear power plants rely on swift resolutions to problems. If a potential partner cannot provide this, it is worth your time to keep looking.

3.  Reputation: Theirs Can Become Yours

You may be saving money on the front end. But what is the cost per day of a production shutdown at a pharmaceutical or food processing operation? What warranty does your heat trace provider offer? What does the warranty actually cover? Does the company have a reputation for solid performance and standing behind its products? What happens to your reputation and your bottom line when the company you chose to design the system fails to meet the needs of the customer?

4.  Does Closer to Home Equal Closer to Budget?

Having a local provider can save time and money, especially for ongoing expansion projects close to home. How much time and angst can you save with a trusted provider located close by? If you anticipate the need for technical site visits during the installation, a local heat trace partner offers advantages. For instance, same-day pickup and shipping help keep labor from waiting on the clock for parts or direction. Convenient product training is another advantage for both you and your customer.

Not every local heat trace will be a fit for your project. But if other criteria are met, proximity can bring a higher level of support and comfort to both you and your customer.

5.  Define Experience

When you talk to prospective heat trace partners, dig deeper than their date of incorporation. A long history is good. Also, ask for currently operating examples of solutions they have created for applications like yours. Though they may have been around for decades, they may be new to your type of project.

Look at breadth of experience too. Does the company have a track record in all the applications it offers?

6.  Design Assistance: Is It One-on-One?

Industrial heat tracing systems are not one design fits all. Every project starts with the needs of the end user. Even when goals are clear, there may be more than one way to accomplish them. Drawings and specifications evolve through discussion until the right solution is reached. Working with a manufacturer that fully understands the capability of each system component is both efficient and convenient and makes communication and document integrity easier.

Ask about design assistance. If you prefer to do the initial drawing, find out if they will assist you or bring in another party for the project.

7.  Lead Time Is Money

Lead time is also productivity and reputation. It is good to ask about it. What does it depend on? Will components be coming from a number of locations to be assembled? Does the company keep an adequate inventory on hand? Does it manufacture its own components?

8.  Consider Complete Systems

There are advantages to using a heat trace partner that offers complete systems. Because the project is coming from one source, there is better visibility between engineering, manufacturing and shipping. And, often, team members share a common goal — the timely installation and success of the system.

Also, companies that produce complete heat trace systems have built-in component compatibility. They have experience with all aspects of the system: cables, controls, panels, accessories and the requirements of multiple production environments.

9.  Is There a Sufficient Product Offering?

Good heat trace system partners will offer choices and configurations that fit your needs because they are interested in designing the best way to achieve the goal. You’ll recognize them by the number of questions they ask before they offer a solution. Rather than trying to shoehorn your system into their product offering, they will honestly assess the situation, suggest alternatives and then recommend a solution.

10.  Is Installation Support Available?

By offering pre-installation consulting at the site of the upcoming project, a heat trace partner can answer any installation questions and demonstrate kits and controls. And, should a problem arise during installation, making on-site troubleshooting personnel available can make a big difference in ease of deployment.

Hourly and travel fees notwithstanding, a site visit can still be a bargain if it keeps the project on track. However, it is good to know in advance what you’re paying for. Will the technical advisor look at the system as a whole to locate the problem or simply check to see that his company or product is not the problem and walk away?

In conclusion, the true cost of a project will ultimately be determined long after installation. While the proposal cost is an important consideration in industrial heat tracing, it is not the only consideration. The best scenario is a partner that is committed to the system success before, during and after installation. By taking time to find that heat trace partner, you can rest assured things will flow smoothly.