Quality doesn’t cost. It pays. Here’s why…

BusinessDictionary.com defines the price of non-quality as the “aggregate of time, money, and opportunity cost losses resulting from doing things wrong.” You can get a fairly good idea of what that cost is if you consider a typical purchasing scenario in our industry: A company solicits bids from a number of shops that provide pretty good pricing and pretty good service. Ultimately, who’s awarded the job? It’s the shop that provides the lowest reasonable price. There may be some question as to whether the part is going to come in on time, or, for that matter, if the part is going to be manufactured just right. But, that’s why the company always keeps safety stock in inventory, their first added cost of non-quality. The cost of non-quality continues throughout the delivery process. The parts eventually come in and go to Inspection (inspection cost). Inspection is busy so it takes a few days (delay cost) to report back that there’s a discrepancy. A meeting is called with the design engineer, purchasing agent, quality manager, and the inspector to see if the parts should be sent back to the supplier, used as is or reworked in-house (material review board and dispositioning costs). There are other “costly” issues to consider as well, such as the adverse impact on production and delivery, whether and how much to compromise tolerances and their impact on performance, whether to screen the entire lot, whether to charge the vendor or absorb the costs, possible warranty and liability issues, and so on. I trust you’re starting to get the picture, and understand that there is a price to...

Bridging the Communications Gap: How to Achieve Optimum Performance—And Profit—When Outsourcing

When precision parts are manufactured in-house, it’s possible, even routine, for design engineers to communicate and consult freely with their colleagues responsible for manufacturing the parts. They have an understanding of the capabilities and limitations of the various processes, and can inform the manufacturing technicians about the part’s functional requirements and priorities. What ensues is a collaborative effort to “optimize” both the part’s design and its manufacturing process. But when the manufacturing of parts is outsourced, that critically important channel of communication is often broken. That creates challenges because many of today’s design engineers lack in-depth, hands-on experience with the manufacturing process. Accordingly, they don’t know how to best design and specify parts that will perform at the highest level and at the lowest total cost. Conversely, many shops don’t possess the engineering acumen needed to truly understand a part’s functional design intent. What’s more, some shops make manufacturing decisions solely with regard to their pro­ t, rather than the part’s performance. And that’s why a parts manufacturer’s ability to go “beyond the blueprint” is so critical. At its essence, a blueprint is an imperfect attempt to communicate a functional design intent. Its goal is to enable parts to be produced efficiently and function properly. When part manufacturers go “beyond the blueprint,” they make a commitment to: Understand from an engineering perspective the part’s design intent and functional priorities and use this information in planning the optimal way to produce the part Meet all blueprint speci­ cations, while ensuring that both the blueprint and manufacturing process maximize the part’s functional performance and value Challenge design features that add cost...

Full-Service or Specialty? Which EDM shop works best for you?

Considering that conventional milling and turning processes are several hundred years old, EDM is a relatively new, non-traditional machining process having been developed in the late 1950’s. As such it offers many advantages and capabilities that traditional machining processes cannot. (Click here to read my Dad’s “Rob Report.”) Since EDM is a specialty, many of the skills required for EDM success do not transfer well from conventional machining. For example, in conventional machining workholding and tool rigidity are typically given first priority. In EDM, rigidity isn’t particularly important because there are no physical forces between the work piece and the cutting tool (i.e., an EDM electrode). However, the flushing away of cutting debris is extremely critical, something not considered in conventional machining. Many of today’s EDM shops are specialists in that they only perform EDM secondary operations on customer-supplied material. These shops don’t have a wide range of machining capabilities, nor the associated equipment and expertise needed to make complete parts. That’s why it can be argued that there are significant advantages to dealing with a full-service shop that has EDM capabilities, rather than an EDM specialty shop. Consider, for instance: Convenience. The full-service shop offers the ease of one-stop shopping for complete, finished parts received against a single purchase order. When working with an EDM specialty shop, the customer also has to work with at least one, and often several additional suppliers for raw material, partially machined parts, and finish machining operations. Additional services may also be required such as heat treatment, passivation, outside inspection, plating, and so on. This requires multiple purchase orders and lots of tracking...

Go with the flow!

The surprising benefits of one-piece-flow-manufacturing Suppose you’re not 100% certain of your part’s design, and you could make minor adjustments quickly, with minimal cost or downtime. And, what if you could have samples produced the next day, and, if tested and approved, these changes could be incorporated into all future production with almost no waste from previous revisions stuck in the pipeline? All this is possible if your supplier has a Multi-Axis Mill-Turn Machining Center which performs one-piece-flow (as opposed to traditional batch) manufacturing. Many times our customers request a special variation of an existing part, which might be for a new design or an improvement to an existing one. With traditional batch manufacturing, we have to start the process from scratch, and run it as a small lot, standalone job. Naturally, this small lot drives up costs since those few pieces absorb all the setup time. A further drawback is the long lead time, since there are typically several operations, each requiring its own setup. It’s a totally different story when using a Multi-Axis Mill-Turn Machining Center. In most cases, all that is needed to make the special part is a new CNC program, and possibly some additional cutting tools. The new program is simply a modification of the existing one, and the only setup required is for a few new tools, if any. Once the new program has been proven out and a first piece inspection has been completed, the remainder of the parts can be run off, usually in a day or two. So the lead time is reduced from several weeks to just a few...

The Power of Partnerships

If you’re not partnering with your suppliers, you don’t know what you’re missing. True partnerships produce exceptional results. Today’s price-cutting pressures have made the need to work together more important than ever. Here’s an amazing story of how a true partnership turned a pricing disparity into a win-win situation. One of my clients, a manufacturer of automatic electronic assembly equipment, does most of their tooling in-house. But about once a year, when they got overloaded, they would send us about 500-1,000 rough-machined and heat-treated parts for finish grinding. Although they weren’t happy with what we charged, the fact was we never did well on the job because it was so infrequent and we had to relearn it each time. Then one day they encountered a huge rush order, and needed us to finish 3,000 heat-treated blanks. Based on prior experience, I raised the price to cover my costs. My quote—for finish grinding only—turned out to be almost 2X more per piece than they said it cost them to manufacture the entire part in-house! Instead of challenging the quote, my customer did something unexpected. He invited me to their shop to brainstorm with their foreman on ways to reduce costs. First, we reviewed the blueprint to determine the cost-drivers. It turned out that my shop was holding tighter tolerances than necessary for the part’s performance, and we marked up the print accordingly. Then, the foreman took me inside their shop, and showed me exactly how they manufactured these parts in-house. This gave me some insights that enabled me to develop a new, innovative method of production that greatly streamlined our...

Rob Report Subscribe via RSS More Lessons Learned from the Power of Partnerships

As my previous Rob Report confirmed, true partnerships create bridges instead of barriers. Here’s another example: One of our longest partnering relationships began when a global aerospace leader was seeking a new precision parts manufacturer because their former supplier couldn’t consistently deliver a part with Sinker EDM operations requiring an extremely tight tolerance. They awarded the job to RS Precision, and everything went smoothly for about a year. Then one day we started receiving rejection notifications indicating that a feature was 50 to 100 millionths of an inch over the high limit. Talk about a tight tolerance! What went wrong? We had been using a raw material subcontractor who finished that feature. Naturally, we checked the parts when they were received. But what we were not aware of was that our incoming inspection procedure was incapable of detecting such a slight deviation. So, we instructed our customer to send back all the parts they had in inventory. We then developed a new inspection procedure that could reliably screen for this condition. Once the situation was resolved, our customer informed us that they wanted to schedule a face to face meeting to review what had happened. I didn’t think this was necessary, as we knew what the root cause of the problem was and had initiated corrective action. It was a moot point, however, since their ISO procedures mandated they pay us a visit. That day came, and naturally my team and I were somewhat anxious about what was going to transpire. Among their group were a purchasing manager and a Six Sigma Blackbelt manufacturing engineer. At the beginning of...