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Top 5 secrets: partnering for long-run machining/fabrication

By John Cromika

We’ve all been there.

Internal capacity/capabilities have been stretched to their breaking point, customers are complaining about lead times and delivery delays and are calling you every hour for updates. Your on-time delivery score is going to take yet another hit and the boss is not happy. Every production planner, production manager and plant manager’s worst nightmare, right?

Well, it doesn’t have to be provided you do the due diligence and partner up with a value-add machining supplier that can help alleviate the stress and pressure of meeting your machining production demand requirements.

Long gone are the days of consistently reliable manpower levels. You know the story because it plays out every day at every company. HR struggling to get people to come to work, constantly reviewing and upgrading hiring incentives in an attempt to attract and retain the resources you require. Diluting down policies and rules in the hopes of finding a happy medium that will be accepted by management and not create fairness issues within your existing production team.

What if I told you that a lot of this headache can be avoided? Note that I didn’t say “all” of this headache can be avoided as there is no “silver bullet” for this dilemma.

Focused search

  • Focus on those suppliers that are set up and capable to do long/extended production runs. There are a lot of suppliers out there that will promise you the world only to deliver you another headache. Many machining suppliers specialize in certain types of machining on certain types of metals and alloys, so be careful with your search parameters.

  • Flexible processes, flexible people and a collaborative mindset are all critical inputs to be considered. Finding a machining supplier with this diverse mix can be challenging but is worth its weight in gold.

  • Don’t waste your time salivating over a supplier’s customer list. You know the ones that plaster big logos and icons across their homepages. Rather, make the inquiry (web, email, phone) and ask for data, references and real-life machining production information that can help you make a good decision. I see you rolling your eyes over there saying that it’s hard to get that information from suppliers; all the more reason to cross those vendors off the list and move on. Your time is valuable too!

Capability and performance

  • Ask the machining supplier if they can actually perform the production service that you need. Again, many machining suppliers specialize in certain types of machining with certain types of metals and alloys. Most are not set-up for long/extended run machining production.

  • If you have tight tolerances, special material requirements and/or process needs, ask the question. Do you require special tooling or fixturing? Ask the difficult questions so there are no surprises later.

  • Ask the supplier how they manage skill level and skill attainment for their people. Given the inconsistent state of the labor pool, this could be a very challenging question for a supplier.


  • If you need milk run capability or direct to your customer shipping, ask the question. If you have special packaging/dunnage requirements for your product, make sure your prospective supplier can support it.

  • Often overlooked, simple things like shipping and receiving hours /days are often the cause for late-night phone calls that lead to headaches and awkward moments during the morning production update when the plant manager is glaring at you.

  • If your prospective supplier will be responsible for actually delivering the product to a specific location, do they have properly licensed drivers and is their vehicle fleet reliable?

Solutions and problem-solving capability

  • Are the resources available to not only run the production, but if there are problems, do they have resident solution providers and problem solvers to make sure your production is not jeopardized?

  • Maintenance response time and engineering support management of are key indicators of a supplier’s ability to not only identify a problem, but also to provide a quick and sustainable solution.

  • Machining can be a very delicate and precise process. Having skilled resources to design, program, trial, prototype, and mass produce product is critical to the supplier and the customer's success.

Quality and cost

  • If you require it, ask the supplier if they have a certified system.

  • ISO, QS, IATF or any other number of acronyms and standard numbers exist in the quality world today, but what do you need and what do your systems require?

  • Supplier audits are very common and are typically required in most certified environments. Ask about the supplier’s openness to a quality audit.

  • The supplier should actively practice visual management and be able to provide evidence that they can actually perform continuous improvement activities.

  • The supplier should be able to provide all of the documentation you and your systems require for outsourced production activity.

  • All things considered; cost being one of the bigger things- what value does the supplier bring to the table?

  • Being careful and selective when it comes to the cost/benefit question is extremely important. The old adage of “you get what you pay for” directly applies to this item.

  • Don’t be swayed by low-cost carrots on a stick. You’ll quickly learn that the hidden costs within that low-cost model will easily consume any benefit you may have anticipated.

Having said all of that, there is just one question to ask. Do you want to continue to beat your head against the wall and search for new and better excuses as to why you can’t meet your customer's demand? Or do you want to stop the insanity and partner up with a reliable, extended-run machining supplier? Choice is yours of course, so choose wisely…



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