2022 Guide: outsourced, just-in-time fabrication


By Mike Gilli

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Every customer wants their fabrication and machining faster, but few spend the upfront time to get it faster. Especially for jobs that require quick prototyping and testing prior to production, it’s important to find a fabricator who can meet deadlines and meet your specifications.


Understand critical vs. nice-to-have dimensions

Especially with machining, many engineers request unnecessary dimensions, which can add manufacturing processes. Likewise, missing dimensions can significantly slow down the process with requiring assumptions and approvals. Consider reading a recent article by our machining team on, “The top 5 questions to ask when designing for machining.”


Fit, form and function need to be outlined – design files aren’t enough

When design is required, ensure that you have fully outlined the fit, form and function. Our operations team recently described, “Tales of customers adding cost to their manufacturing project –and how to avoid.” A great question asked was, “How does the surface need to differ based on where it is on the finished piece and how people interact with it?” For instance, you may not need all sides ground, which will reduce fabrication time and cost.


Capabilities to match your short-run fabrication requirements

Let’s say you have a rush-job and your fabricator needs to figure out if they can do it. Labor shortages are very real so it can be hard to find more employees to do overtime.

So beyond labor, how can the fabricator reduce the amount of time to process the job during normal hours? If you were to request a one-piece laser job that is 2x4 in. and is required to go on a 48x96 in. sheet, you would only use a quarter of it. The rest of that sheet gets wasted. The manufacturing design engineer will put the jobs on the laser in queue.

Our laser operator finds a place with the drag and drop option on our 8000-watt, Trumpf laser for rush or small volumes.

Material requirements – flexibility is key

With materials coming back in stock and fluctuations in material costs, consider more flexibility in materials. One of my colleagues wrote, “How to overcome steel prices” and provided some nice ideas as well.

Shift to other materials

Things like gears or smaller components could be changed to a hardier plastic. Have you looked at your part to see if there are ways to slightly change your design without losing the integrity of the part? Maybe, you can use less steel or different sizes to decrease your needs and demands. I know this is the most radical but sometimes situations come up that make us think outside of the box.


Scrap metals for smaller parts

While these ideas might not work for you, if recent shut-downs, supply chain issues and lack of materials have taught us anything it’s that we must adapt to what is happening out in the market before the moment passes us by.


Inventory management planning is key

Inventory management programs can be helpful for tooling or other consumables- especially for customers who know what they need, not just when they are going to need it. This way, you do not have to worry about steel shortages and rising prices on a day-to-day basis. It is as easy as picking up a phone and saying we need these parts. The vendor will have them ready by already costing and building them on demand. See a case study of a customer who does this regularly.


Create flexible payment terms

Often times, if you need a rush project, vendor setups can increase turnaround times. Having a credit card available or pre-qualified credit terms with suppliers can reduce turnaround time for approval of credit applications. Consider a recent article, "Top 5 pitfalls: onboarding a new long-run contract manufacturer" if you are thinking about faster turnarounds on production work.


As a high mix, low volume production manufacturer of sheet metal and machined components, we’ve put into place lean practices. Additionally, we will be ISO 9001 certified by spring 2023. That means, we are much more nimble with just-in-time (JIT) orders.

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