Partnering in today’s manufacturing environment

While there’s no shortage of ballyhoo regarding the stress associated with global competition in manufacturing, there’s fruit to be harvested for all. But success requires careful planning, communication and alignment. Precision, details and an understanding of all processes that go into the complexities of modern manufacturing are key.
Manufacturing relies on many stakeholders to succeed, including working well with partners who drill the holes, weld the steel, bend it and help the manufacturing and fabrication process run. So, what are some best practices?
1. Alignment. Prior to project award, we analyze designs and configurations of the part that’s to be manufactured. In parallel, we look at other processes needed to implement the designs and project requirements. This helps reduce miscommunication and potential errors upfront and ensures we’re aligned with customer expectations.
Alignment should be incorporated from end to end throughout the manufacturing process. Simple as it sounds, it’s often neglected. Focus on alignment, and manufacturing flow is more efficient and effective.
2. Share processes and information. Planning is fundamental. It begins with shared information between the OEM and its partners on all processes associated with production. This includes a project kickoff that covers demand forecasts, lead times, economic order and release quantities, required capacity for inventory, e-commerce requirements, quality assurance and checks, and supply chain requirements.
Share this information early, clearly and with an organized approach, and all parties reap the rewards and dividends.
3. Smart, collaborative prototyping. Spend time and attention in the prototype phase. Remember the adage — Measure twice, cut once. It’s appropriate to all facets of manufacturing, but especially prototyping. Take advantage of prototyping by being collaborative with partnering firms, but also be smart about it. Refine your requirements for design, materials procurement and production prior to collaboration to restrict unnecessary resource consumption.
4. Tool up, roll out, monitor and correct course. Once production begins, there are inspections, customer approval and the submittal of related paperwork and data with the shipment. As the process rolls and finished goods flow, more information is gathered. Once manufacturing is fully rolled out, feedback is received and the process adjusted. This feedback loop is critical. It allows in-process inspections to be improved and results in better quality and reduced costs.
5. Use lessons learned. A solid deal between a customer and its partners means using the feedback loop to not only adjust the in-process operation but to enable production monitoring to improve.
Use it for long-term resource planning and forecasting. Future demand and forecasts may be matched to production capacity each month, which aids strategic blanket purchase orders and material acquisitions. In addition, project performance is assessed periodically via plant visits.
The art of the deal in manufacturing means partnering with firms attentive to every detail in the process: alignment, prototyping, operations, feedback and continuous improvement. Then a fabricator, to a manufacturer, isn’t just a vendor, it is a strategic partner that adds discernible value.

It’s imperative that all stakeholders in the oft-complex equation of manufacturing success build strategic partnerships with companies led by critical thinkers. It becomes a partnership of mind and matter.

Eric D. Miller is president of Miller Fabrication Solutions. Eric represents the third generation of Miller family leadership. The Brookville, Pennsylvania-based company is a metal fabrication partner for innovative OEMs with a global presence.