The reasons for this cyclic availability are not hard to understand. Linear guides go into machines that are themselves subject to the boom-and-bust cycles of our economy. Making matters worse, linear guide suppliers rely on specialized supply chains that cannot react instantly to upswings in demand. After all, machining operations that can precision grind long pieces of steel to micron-level dimensional tolerances don’t spring up overnight.
Because it is so specialized, the supply chain for many linear guide products also tends to be concentrated and subject to disruption. The tragic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accidents in Japan without a doubt play a role in the current sluggish state of linear guide deliveries. So does high demand from China and the rebound from the economic slowdown of 2009-2010.
And sluggish is truly an understatement. By our estimates, delivery times for linear guides now averages four to six months. Your actual delivery times may be less than that in some cases. If you are one of the best customers of the big linear guide suppliers, you may get top priority. The longest lead times of all are associated with high precision guides. You even may find yourself waiting months for the best recirculating ball-style guides if you don’t buy enough product to warrant the best delivery terms.
All of this may sound like Economics 101, but the cyclic availability of linear guides has very real cost consequences. Few machine builders can afford to delay machine deliveries for weeks or months while waiting for a linear guide that’s in short supply. Those that cannot or do not deliver on time may also face the costs of a damaged reputation, which can also add up over time.
It may seem like linear guide availability is beyond your control, especially if you’ve tried to place an order in recent months. Yet there is a way around the supply crunch: With the right technical information and design strategies, you can substitute different linear guides more freely in your machine designs and take advantage of a wider supply base.