Manufacturing Engineering

The Benefits of Utilizing Engineering Teams in a Collaborative Environment

Imagine a team of people working on a project who don’t really know each other. Sure, they know they’re all trained to do the job – but what are their strengths? Their weaknesses? How can these people, thrown together, best work together to get results? Now image a team that work together every day, on every project. They know where each member excels and who should tackle each task. They cheesily finish each other sentences. Which team would you rather be part of?

Manufacturing Engineering

SolidWorks: The Technological Brains Behind Manufacturing Brawn

Many drafting software applications are available to manufacturers and their customers, but Solidworks offers an excellent balance of powerful 3D modelling, ease of use, affordability and integrations with design analysis and CNC programming. Seasoned manufacturers work with SolidWorks because it provides them with powerful modeling capabilities, planning capacity and collaborative options.

SolidWorks: Power and Versatility

Although several competing applications can also produce strong 3D models, there are several reasons top manufacturers rely on SolidWorks. First, it is simply more user friendly than other programs in creating the 3D models that are so critical to the planning phase.

It is also a very broad application that performs additional functions not related to 3D modeling. SolidWorks has a lot of add-ons, including powerful CAM software that enables users to generate strong CNC programs. This allows manufacturers to integrate their modeling and CNC programming work into the same family of software. With both programs unified, they can intelligently remove materials and easily transition from the modelling side to programming side.

The program also offers strong finite element analysis, which helps designers with things like stress analysis and weld distortion prediction. If manufacturers choose to use 3D printers to create physical 3D models, SolidWorks can be used to create and export the right type of file for that application.

Continuity and Customer Collaboration

An added benefit is that many major clients and customers also use the program, which enables an enhanced level of collaboration. When both parties use SolidWorks, the manufacturer doesn't have to convert drafts or drawing histories from one extension or software package to another. This continuity reduces the risk of losing critical data, but it also has other benefits.

Generally, when a team converts 3D models from one software package to another, they tend to convert only the final surfaces. When both parties stay within the same software brand, however, they can maintain every feature that was originally created, including:

  • Individual drill holes.
  • Specific cut surfaces.
  • Assembly features, which can then be modified.

Manufacturers rely heavily on drafting software to create 3D models, generate CNC programs and share data with customers. A manufacturer who uses SolidWorks recognizes the importance of its versatility, compatibility, power and ease of use.

Manufacturing Engineering

When Collaboration Starts Early, Good Things Happen

In critical use projects, “chance” is not a good thing. A collaborative relationship between all parties involved means you go from leaving things to chance to a great chance you’ll work together in the future.

Manufacturing and engineering collaboration benefits both the vendor and the customer. By involving the manufacturer early in the design process, the client can limit risk, reduce cost and save schedule time. Equally important, collaborative relationships encourage accountability, streamline project management and give everyone involved a sense of ownership.

The Benefits of Early Collaboration

Instead of simply handing off designs for a manufacturer to build, customers should borrow their vendor's experience and thought leadership by asking them for design input. The best critical-use manufacturers can identify potential problems, waste or unnecessary processes, and then suggest alternatives during planning.

These cost-saving, time-saving and risk-reducing measures are only possible, however, if collaboration starts early in the process. If the vendor is excluded from preliminary planning, the project can mature to a point where significant redirection is no longer possible. Design cycles are long, tedious processes that can take months to complete, and even the best manufacturers can't steer planning in the right direction if they aren't on board from the beginning.

Accountability and Shared Reputation

A manufacturing team is never more motivated to get results than when they are tasked with bringing their own ideas to life. When a customer decides to move forward with a design that the vendor recommended, that vendor has an elevated stake in the project. When the manufacturer's input is accepted, the pressure is on that manufacturer to perform, to get results and to prove to the customer that they chose wisely by collaborating early.

Not only does collaboration provide accountability, but it gives the customer an extra bargaining chip when the project is finished. When a customer works with a vendor known for integrity and excellence in a specific area of expertise — such as titanium welding — the customer shares the supplier's credibility. With a technically recognized expert as a partner, the customer can better sell to their end clients.

Failure to Collaborate

If the manufacturing team is, for some reason, excluded from early planning they should still notify the customer if they find a tweak that could have helped the project — even if it is too late to implement. This is not to patronize or say I told you so, but to plant the seed for next time.

Even though the planning is too far gone to change, the customer benefits by learning what could have been done differently. The customer should consider it free advice for a future project with similar challenges.

In the rare case that either party refuses to collaborate or shuts down lines of communication and creative input, the other party should simply walk away. No one benefits when the free exchange of ideas is stifled.

By including the manufacturer in early planning, customers can save time and money while reducing risk and creating accountability. When all stakeholders are involved in the initial design, all parties are unified, motivated and driven by a sense of ownership.

Manufacturing Engineering

Find True Value in a Vendor That Serves as a Partner

When starting a new relationship, all qualities of the partner in question should be reviewed. Cost considerations are, of course, an important part of the bidding process — but price can become a dangerous distraction. When choosing a vendor, it is important to remember that price is not the only component of value. Flawless functionality, not cost, should be the priority of critical-use manufacturing work. The right manufacturer will double as an partner to solve problems and provide solutions.

Cost vs. Value

When evaluating vendors, clients should be wary of manufacturers whose responses focus solely on cost recommendations and money-saving strategies. This is an indication that the vendor may not have the project's best interest in mind, and is instead trying to win the bid by undercutting.

The best vendors are those who add value not by slashing costs, but by eliminating unnecessary manufacturing efforts. A manufacturer that has the skill and experience to work as a partner can reduce expenses by simplifying the process and making it more efficient.

The value-centric vendor reduces cost by identifying waste and unnecessary complications, and then finding ways to reduce or eliminate them.

Risk Identification and Mitigation: Key Components of Value

No matter how low the cost, no value is added if the hardware does not function.

This reality separates low-cost vendors from high-value vendors.

No manufacturer can remove all risk and still maintain a reasonable price. The best vendors identify this risk and develop a plan to mitigate it. Value-centric manufacturers pride themselves on being upfront with their customers about potential risk, and working with them to find solutions as the project progresses. These elite manufacturers will not take a project past a point where recovery is impossible without first knowing what the results are going to be.

Communication: A Warning About Low-Cost Vendors

For customers who allow themselves to be wooed by a low bid, buyer's remorse often sets in when it becomes difficult to get their vendor on the phone. No news is not always good news, and when status updates become vague or infrequent, there is reason to worry and probe the situation.

Stalled communication could be indicative of a problem the manufacturer does not want to reveal to the customer. The key signatures of value-centric manufacturers are open dialogue, transparency and frequent updates.

The highest-value vendor is not always the lowest-priced vendor and the lowest-priced vendor does not always offer the most value. When evaluating manufacturers, builders should consider a potential vendor's past relationships and return business as closely as the cost of their bid.

Manufacturing Engineering

A Good Request for Proposal is Based on Dialogue, Transparency, Clarity

Just as no two projects are exactly alike, there is no one right way to submit a request for proposal. An RFP is a process that signals the beginning of a larger conversation. Some RFPs are very formalized and inflexible, while others are more of an open dialogue to discover the details needed to develop a proposal. No matter the format, a good RFP is one that clearly articulates the customer's requirements and leaves the door open for two-way dialogue.

Requesting Best Practices

The purpose of an RFP is to convey the details of a project to the manufacturer. Customers should thoroughly articulate their vision by including:

  • Complete drawings of all parts (or any incomplete ones you have!).
  • An explanation of the manufacturer's role in the process. Will they making just a few parts? Will they be conducting assembly? Will they be providing raw materials? Will they be working on hardware that was partially finished elsewhere?
  • A detailed schedule. This allows the manufacturer to determine if a more aggressive manufacturing schedule is necessary than their regular timeline permits.
  • Any special requirements, such as witness points or heightened quality control standards.
  • Flexibility — customers benefit when their RFPs are open to suggestions and alternatives.

The Necessity of Verbal, Two-Way Dialogue

Customers are not bound by any specific style, and pretty much any format is acceptable. An RFP could be as basic as a napkin sketch or as elaborate as the 3D models that some customers submit.

What all great RFPs have in common, however, is verbal communication — on its own, even the best written statement leaves too much room for misinterpretation.

Ideally, every RFP would be discussed in person, but face-to-face meetings are not always possible. A simple phone call, however, can go a long way to helping the manufacturer understand the details needed to properly develop a proposal and a quote. Two-way dialogue gives the manufacturer's proposal team the opportunity to:

  • Ask questions about the customer's needs and requirements.
  • Seek more information about design constraints or other unique technical challenges.
  • Ensure they didn't overlook a detail that was unclear in the written RFP.
  • Offer alternative recommendations to solve potential problems.

It is important to note that some discussions involve potentially touchy subject matter, which is best handled in a direct, frank discussion.

For example, the manufacturer will want to know if the customer has produced the part before with a different supplier. Maybe the customer is shopping around for a new manufacturer after encountering problems with quality or price the first time. These difficult conversations should not be left to written correspondence.

There is no magic formula for the perfect RFP. They should include as many details as possible and leave room for adjustment. Most importantly, direct, two-way dialogue is the surest way to avoid miscommunication and ensure the customer and the manufacturer are working toward the same goal.

Manufacturing Engineering

Project Documentation: As Critical as the Work Itself

A powerful tool in risk mitigation, accurate documentation helps ensure that a part won't fail and can serve as a breadcrumb trail leading to the source of a problem, should one occur. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to ensure the integrity of both contractual and technical engineering project documentation throughout every aspect of every project.

Types of Documentation

The type of required documentation depends on the project, and may include:

  • Material certification: This type of documentation is required in virtually every project we take on.
  • Inspection records: These records often include things like dimensional inspection records and non-destructive testing reports for welds.
  • Testing certifications: Required virtually any time testing is performed. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to determine what testing certification is needed, but in some cases, the customer may require supplementary testing and corresponding documentation.
  • Alloy identification: An independent check that confirms the alloy installed in an assembly is the right alloy as outlined in the design plans. This testing reduces the risk that a correct material is swapped out for a substandard material.

Short-Term Liability

Strong documentation provides accountability and assigns liability in both the short term and long term.

An example of short-term liability would be a case in which missing documentation precluded a customer from selling or delivering hardware. The manufacturer would then have to start over with documented materials. If the manufacturer cannot produce documentation to prove the parts are right, the buyer must conclude that they are wrong.

Another example of short-term liability would be a buyer accepting a part with missing documentation and attempting to deliver it to a government client, who would then reject it. This rejection arises when the client knows there will be long-term liabilities. In this case, they are essentially stopping the liability before it gets worse, which is why the documentation exists in the first place.

Long-Term Liability

Long-term liability involves equipment that does not perform correctly in the field. In these cases, documentation can prove or disprove that a part was built the way it was designed. In the wake of a failure, investigators use documentation to determine whether liability lies with the design, raw materials or manufacturing process.

This enables responsible parties to change processes, alter designs or track all other parts built with the same materials to remove those from the field and prevent further issues.

Although tracking the source of a problem is critical in cases of failure, the primary function of good documentation is to prevent failure in the first place. Good documentation instils confidence in both builders and buyers that the part will perform as intended. That confidence is especially important in critical-use applications, where failures can be catastrophic and human lives depend on the product performing.

Manufacturers in critical industries are held to the highest standards regarding their handling of contractual and technical documentation. It is critical for manufacturers to make no assumptions and review everything they receive from producers and suppliers. Good documentation provides accountability, assigns liability, and ensures quality.

Manufacturing Engineering

More Than Just A Contractor: You Need A Strategic Partner

We like challenging proposals that match our core capabilities, that share our engineering vision and that stoke the passion for difficult, imaginative work. We like clients that let us do this even more. In addition to receiving boundary-pushing work, clients can save money, reduce risk and set themselves up for success by treating a subcontractor as a strategic partner, instead of just as a welding and machining shop.

Work Together – Every Step of The Way

The earlier a customer brings a manufacturer into the fold, the more likely it is a project's timeline can be shortened or costs reduced — especially if that manufacturer approaches projects with an engineering mindset.

Designs typically present manufacturing challenges. A strategic firm can often mitigate some of those challenges before the customer is too far along in the design process — but only if they're involved from the beginning.

Many customers get started with an end result in mind. They know what their part needs to do, but they don't know exactly how to design or build it.

This is where an engineering and manufacturing firm excels – if they are worth their salt.

If brought in early, engineers and manufacturers can steer planning toward a design that is:

  • Physically manufacturable
  • Less costly
  • Less risky
  • Less time consuming
  • In line with the realities of raw material availability
  • Aligned with the intent of the design

Multiple Services Under One Roof

Customers should keep as many services in one place as possible. Look for a firm that provides quality control, assembly and functional testing, instead of just the machining and welding.

It is always more expensive for customers to conduct testing at end locations like shipyards. Working with a company that can test in their own facility means teams can quickly make adjustments, replace parts and ensure that everything is perfect before it leaves the facility. The bigger the role the manufacturer plays, the more unified and streamlined the project is likely to be.

Expert planners can spot problem tolerances, challenges with raw materials or unnecessary schedule drivers before they impact a project's timeline. This is only possible if those planners have the chance to identify issues from a project's earliest stages and make the appropriate adjustments. Clients set themselves up for success when they get a partner firm involved early and place as much of the project under their management as possible.

Manufacturing Engineering

5 Reasons Why Success Depends On Uniting Manufacturing And Engineering Services Under One Roof

Bold, innovative manufacturing and engineering teams can only push the limits of what is possible if they work together under one roof from start to finish. When segments of a project are divvied up between outside contractors and vendors, communication is difficult, potential problems are easy to miss, and creativity is stifled. Manufacturers gain five critical advantages by handling everything in house.

1. Close Collaboration in the Manufacturing Sequence

Collaboration is much simpler and more direct when all services are performed in house — especially when every project is different.

Auto parts manufacturers, for example, can conduct basic research and development, create a prototype, use it to test their process and then toss out the mock-up when it comes time to produce the real parts. But big thinkers in critical-application operations don't have the luxury of a practice run. The components are big, expensive and take a long time to build. There can be no do-overs.

When the engineers, planners, and manufacturers are all under one roof, different teams can work together throughout the process. Everyone knows the goal and what needs to happen to achieve it.

2. Real-Time Feedback: Planning for the Knowns

When all teams are working together in the same place, they can perform controlled, preparatory experiments as a project progresses. By controlling a feature to much tighter tolerances than necessary, for example, the team can study the results and then apply their findings to a feature with trickier, tighter tolerances later in the project. If work is scattered among outside contractors, this strategy is not feasible. Far-flung teams are not able to work together to perform an experiment on one feature and apply it to another.

3. Quick Problem Solving

When all services are united under one roof, machinists, welders, assembly technicians and other manufacturing personnel can raise a flag when something doesn’t quite go according to plan or when they meet an unanticipated challenge. Sometimes a part doesn't meet specifications. Other times a team falls behind schedule because they encounter a barrier that slipped through early planning. When unified teams work together in the same facility, they can meet unforeseen challenges early, solve problems, and recover quickly.

4. Communication

People who work on large, unique, critical-application projects form a bond that is difficult for outsiders to understand. They make specialized, single-use parts that have never been made before. After years of meeting the unusual challenges associated with this kind of work, they develop a familiarity, trust and common language that outside teams — even very good teams — can simply not pick up on right away.

5. The Ability to Push Boundaries

When manufacturers rely on a network of subcontractors, they are limited by the creativity those contractors bring to the table and their willingness to push their equipment and processes to the limit. When a company uses its own people and resources, wild ideas can become a reality.

Unifying services under one roof removes restrictions and boundaries. Teams are free to approach plans and ideas from any angle, and have the luxury of using their equipment for applications beyond the scope of their original design. When the teams doing the work also own the tools, they can elevate themselves beyond small thinking and typical off-the-shelf processes.

Communication, real-time feedback, planning, problem solving, and imagination are all smothered when a project is scattered among outside contractors and vendors. When the teams and their equipment are located in-house, on the other hand, problems are anticipated, communication lines remain open, and the process is driven by freedom, creativity and bold ideas.

Manufacturing Engineering

3D Printing: How An Engineering Prototype Can Be A Great Communicator

Even if a manufacturer doesn't use 3D printing to produce deliverable parts, the technology can still be a powerful tool for communicating ideas. 3D printing illustrates discussions between both internal and external stakeholders, enabling manufacturers and engineers to communicate better with both their teams and their customers.

3D Printing as a Unifying Communication Tool

By using a 3D printer to create an engineering prototype, a manufacturer creates a physical rendering that can be used to communicate ideas far more efficiently than any two-dimensional drawing. These models are excellent tools to get multiple parties on the same page, especially when they have different specialties and areas of expertise.

There are numerous benefits of creating 3D printed prototypes for everyone on the team including:

  • Machinists or welders will understand where they will face limited access to a feature. This enables them to plan in advance for special tooling or techniques prior to production.
  • Engineers can use a small plastic model of a large metal part to strategize how to manipulate, move and lift the part with cranes.
  • Planners, machinists, subcontractors and customers can hand off the same 3D printed model from team to team during different stages of long-term projects, which can last for years.

3D Printing Enters the Mainstream

3D Printing is common enough now that clients expect manufactures to speak the language of the technology, and vice versa. It is not uncommon for clients to create their own 3D models and then bring them to the manufacturer to communicate their ideas, desires, concerns or proposed changes.

3D printing can create models that unify employees, contractors and clients from the beginning of a project to the end. There is no substitute for physically pointing to a spot on a model to articulate exactly which area needs to be changed. Even if they don't create useable parts, manufacturers are finding that 3D printing streamlines planning and improves communication like no other resource can.

Manufacturing Engineering

3D Metal Printing: Poised To Change The Manufacturing Industry

Described as the final frontier of additive manufacturing, 3D metal printing has the potential to create intricately designed metal parts faster and less costly than could ever be possible through traditional machining methods. This new, exciting technology has the potential to radically change the manufacturing industry, but it also requires continued research and experimentation to push the limits of what is currently possible.

What is 3D Metal Printing?

3D metal printing follows the same additive manufacturing concept as regular 3D printing, only it creates objects by depositing layers of metal instead of plastic. Commonly used metals are aluminum, cobalt derivatives, stainless steel, titanium, and even gold and silver.

Manufacturers have several techniques at their disposal.

In some cases, the device deposits finely powdered metal and layers of binding material, and then treats the resulting mass with heat. The result is a solid metal object that matches the exact dimensions of a design created on a computer.

The Potential — and Limitations — of 3D Metal Printing

3D metal printing technology has made great strides in recent years. It can be incredibly valuable in creating durable, realistic prototypes that could not survive testing if they were made of plastic. If a team wanted to validate the design of a new exhaust manifold, for example, testing would subject the prototype to temperatures that would melt plastic. In this case, 3D metal printing could give the team an actual metal rendering able to tolerate high-heat testing.

3D metal printing, however, is not yet suitable for the high standards of critical-use applications. There is little doubt that in the near future, 3D metal printers will create parts that achieve the same integrity and strength of traditionally machined metal. But for now, manufacturers and engineers in critical-use industries are limited to prototypes. The most ambitious among us are actively planning to incorporate 3D metal printing into their processes as soon as the technology catches up to industry standards.

3D metal printing offers the speed, ease and low cost of 3D printing combined with the strength and durability of metal. It is not yet reliable enough for end use, but it is an excellent tool for creating prototypes in high-stress applications. With each technological advance, the industry gains more and more trust in the process. Its status as a mainstream tool is on the horizon, and cutting-edge manufacturers are already experimenting and planning for future use.