Does your organization have a good sense of the overall value in your manufacturing suppliers? Are they making a difference in your product development and speed to market? If the answer is no, you need to find a new supplier.
Consider working with a supplier that consistently looks for different ways to help customers adapt product designs to manufacturing processes, while identifying associated cost drivers.
Following are 10 areas of concern that pertain to product-development work, each of which can help lower your costs.
Early involvement of suppliers. You need to understand design-to-development processes to determine how to quickly get to a successful design that can be manufactured. Learn about your supplier’s experiences, growth and values, and determine whether they align with your needs. You should enter into strong partnerships with the suppliers that are willing to work with you to produce the best components.
Why it matters: Your supplier should bring value to you and your team during the product-development stage, providing guidance on materials, processes, and design tolerances. This can save money, time and frustration.
Manufacturability. Keep in mind all manufacturing processes during the design stage. Understand how one process can affect others. Be open to alternative product-development processes, such as plastic injection molding, aluminum extrusion, casting or machining. And understand which shapes and features are possible with different processes.
Why it matters: Your team members are smart. But do they have in-depth knowledge of the many different manufacturing processes available for the component they’re attempting to produce? It can be nearly impossible to be experts in all areas. Select suppliers with broad expertise who are willing to go through the entire product development journey with you.
Material selection. Be open to alternative materials, such as different aluminum alloys, ferrous metals, plastics or different brands. Think through surface finish and wall thickness needs to support your product’s functional requirements. And understand material aging, heat treating and hardness tempers.
Why it matters: Design engineers sometimes believe they chose the right aluminum alloy for their extrusions, or the best plastic injection molding material. They may not know of comparable materials that will produce similar or better results. Keeping an open mind to alternative options could save you money and produce even better results.
Near net shape/reduced operations. Incorporate screw boss or screw chase features in your extrusion profile to reduce machining. Incorporate assembly features, such as a hinge or circuit board grooves, to reduce fastening and machining. Incorporate mating features to easily combine parts, which reduces welding and assembly. And consider chemical finishing options, which reduce mechanical finishing.
Why it matters: Secondary processes take time and add costs. An option can be to add features in an aluminum extrusion profile to reduce the need for secondary operations. When you select your manufacturing suppliers, understand the importance of their questions about mating parts, end use and finishing requirements.
Multiple services/one supplier. Think about ways to lower administrative costs and time. Determine how to reduce lead-times. Consider methods to resolve design challenges quickly. Think about using one supplier to simplify freight logistics, reduce P.O.s, trips, time, freight damage, shipping costs and (re)packaging. And consider ways to reduce inventory and work in progress.
Why it matters: Price drives many decisions. But there should be a dollar value assigned to peace of mind and ease of work. Think about the value you gain from selecting a supplier that provides multiple, complementary services. When using multiple suppliers, consider the time it takes to determine where, when and how a product defect happened. Now think about having one supplier doing many services and getting your work done right, or making it easier to identify and correct errors that may occur.
Tolerances. Determine critical-to-function (CTF) tolerances. Determine capability requirements using the product part approval process (PPAP). Evaluate geometric dimensioning and tolerancing. And define inspection methods in advance, to ensure that both parties use the same processes and tools.
Why it matters: You want the best component possible. Does it require many or all of your tolerances to be critical-to-function? Your supplier should work to assure that these tolerances are consistently attainable.
Having tighter CTF tolerances than you need or can consistently achieve can increase costs. Be certain your design requires the tolerances you declare as CTF.
It’s also critical to define your preferred inspection types and processes with your suppliers in advance, from the method to the specific processes and tools used to measure component quality. Using different processes can produce different results.
Surface requirements. Consider expectations on exposed or visible surface needs. Think about the protective finish to apply. Understand differences between surface roughness versus surface defects. Understand unavoidable process conditions, such as extrusion run-out surface, injection pin, or racking marks. And understand handling and packing requirements and methods.
Why it matters: Some surface requirements demand special handling or packaging, or generate more scrap. Will your component go inside another component or device? If so, how important is a shiny, blemish-free surface? On the other hand, if your component goes into building a jewelry display cabinet, the surface finish is clearly important. Consider the level of surface requirements your components truly need given their end-use environments.
Finishing. Think through finishing requirements for product end-use needs. Consider the impact on tolerances and dimensions after finishing. Determine racking requirements. Understand why plugging threaded holes is necessary. And determine masking requirements.
Why it matters: Adding a finish to your component can extend its life and enhance appearance. Understanding the component’s needs and end use are key to selecting the best finish for your product. Often there are different ways to accomplish the same result.
Packaging requirements. Think through shipping location and unloading constraints. Understand packing material constraints. Determine the shipping method (whether common carrier or supplier’s truck). And understand the impact on surface requirements.
Why it matters: The best components are only as good as they look when they’re unpacked at your location. Finding packaging that works for your product without going overboard is a challenge. The right packaging might require flexibility and adjustment.
Lot sizes/ship quantities. Think about optimal lot sizes and packing quantities. Understand extrusion batch, machine build, and chemical finishing racking sizes. Understand fluctuations in lot sizes and ship quantities. And think about inventory costs.
Why it matters: Manufacturing the best components requires suppliers to scrap or recycle product that doesn’t meet their quality expectations. Smart suppliers allow for this waste. This means there’s a possibility of over- or under-producing your order. Each manufacturing process also has its own optimum build lot size. The goal is to get as close to zero as possible to help lower inventory costs. Be open to plus-or-minus ship quantities.
Rodney Floding is managing director of customer service and estimating at Alexandria Industries.
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