Wednesday, December 26, 2012


I suppose the kewl kids knew all about this all along, but I am just catching up with the concept of "original equipment manufacturer" --OEM.    Parsing out a tantalizing but somewhat disjointed Wiki, I gather it can designate at least two (mutually contradictory?) concepts.  One, as perhaps you might guess, is the "manufacturer" makes the "equipment," you know, "originally."  So far okay. But apparently another and more common usage is to designate the one guy who is not the "original equipment manufacturer," but rather the guy who assembles the components produced by others.  So Wiki: "Under this definition, if Apple purchases optical drives from Toshiba to put in its computers, Apple is the OEM."

Fascinating how this confusion may have come about.  Wiki (with a citation) says "It may derive from a Dutch phrase, 'onder eigen merk', which means 'under own brand.'"--which sounds like the latter use, rather than the former, and really doesn't sound at all like the English "translation."   My own guess: what we are seeing here are more of the confusion I was adverting to yesterday when I talked about the ambivalence about the  brand.  So you can picture Saralee explaining: well, yes, this particular piece of fluffed cardboard was manufactured in another country by people operating in a language that none of us speak and we just buy-for-resale from them.  But it's not real until we slap the Saralee label on it.  So we are the, like, um, "original."  Get it?

Well, maybe.  If it works here, I can see how it might also work for Hewlett-Packard, Nike, whatever.  And in a world where Bolivia maintains an international ship registry--even though it has not had a seacoast for 150 years--I suppose stranger things are possible.

Utterly vagrant afterthought: Saralee is a brander.  Hostess went bankrupt a while back in part because it could not cope with its own in-house labor force.   Is there a connection here?

Biblio: Gerald Davis again.  Wiki has a footnote to Tracy Kidder's Soul of a New Machine, which I read  (and much admired) some years ago, but if OEM is there, it flushed right out of my brain.

1 comment:

Ken Houghton said...

I'm thinking the distinction is in what you buy: if I go out to buy an optical drive, I buy the Toshiba. If I'm buying an iPad, I'm buying Apple, not Toshiba. (Similarly, if I send the computer to Apple for repair, it's an Apple repair. If I switch the drive myself, I'm buying a Toshiba.)

Recent history has created the Grotesque Parody of OEM: spinning a section of the Supply Chain (think car parts manufacturing: Delphi, Visteon) to pretend that it's independent of the company. This is the equivalent of the old economist's joke about the Village Idiot who the town hires to ring a bell in the town square and eventually buys his own bell and calls himself an "entrepreneur."

But it still boils down to: what are you trying to buy?