How Can Robot Welding Help Your Fabrication Shop?

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Robot welding has been an important part of manufacturing for decades, and has continued to improve as technology has advanced. This technology has been used by high-volume production lines since the 1960’s, and has become more accessible to specialized fabrication shops in recent years. Robot welding can help fabrication shops in many ways, and provides many advantages to workers and clients. Let’s take a closer look.

How Can Robot Welding Help Your Fabrication Shop?

Robotic welding systems and other automated welding machines can help to protect workers, create more uniformity between jobs, reduce expenses, and more. There are many different types of robot welding machines, including those that require some assistance from people and others that require only basic supervision. Which type of welding automation system you choose will depend on the type of projects you’re working with, the volume of work your fabrication shop deals with, and how you’d like to scale in the future.

Filling Labor Shortages

Around the world, manufacturers and fabricators are experiencing a shortage of qualified welders. This is just one facet of a much larger manufacturing labor shortage occurring in the U.S and around the world as populations age, and skills training becomes more difficult or expensive. Many young workers also perceive manufacturing jobs as paying less and introducing more danger, unhealthy working conditions or unstable long-term employment outlooks compared to other careers, and are more reluctant to enter these fields.

Robotic welding systems can help to bridge labor shortages. Though these machines require some supervision or assistance, depending on the type of system and the job at hand, robotic welding machines can provide consistent, reliable welding services. These types of machines are especially useful for repetitive welding tasks that are often monotonous and dangerous for a person to complete.

Protecting Workers

Arc welding, a relatively recent welding type to be completed by machines, operates at temperatures as high as 6,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Besides high temperature, welding presents a number of other hazards, such as deadly arc flashing, inhalation of gases and fumes, damage to the eyes, and much more.

Robotic welding allows workers to take a step back from these dangerous conditions. A robot won’t be affected by exposure to gases and, even if it is severely damaged in some way, it can be repaired or replaced, but a person cannot. Numerous safety features, such as arc shielding, fencing, emergency shut-offs, and more also help to prevent dangerous incidents from occurring in the first place.

Exact Execution

It’s unrealistic to expect a person to do a job the exact same way every time. However, this is exactly what robots are designed to do. This also applies to robot welding, and makes repetitive processes much easier, safer, and more exact.

Once a robotic welding machine is programmed and set up properly, it will perform the job specifications exactly. As with any machine or device, malfunctions or damage can certainly happen, but they can be corrected by a supervisor or operator. With these issues detected and corrected, the machine will return to its regular function, and perform a weld to exact parameters.

Faster Production

A machine that performs the same job over and over not only reduces errors, but it won’t become fatigued or tired out, as a person would. The robot can work as much or as long as its construction and output allows, and it can stop when it’s not needed. Welders generally work at about 50% arc-on time, while a robot welder can work at 75-95% arc-on time, depending on the machine and the project. This allows robot welders to get the job done faster.

Less Waste, More Efficiency

Even though they’re able to work longer, robot welding systems can also save energy. Robot welding machines do not need to turn on and off as much as machines operated by people. This limits the most energy-intensive part of the process; start-up.

As long as the robot is monitored for damage or malfunction, it won’t produce defects that require corrective welding either. This means the welding machine isn’t wasting energy on extra welding jobs. This also reduces mistakes and reduces the amount of scrap.

Robot welding requires more upfront investment, but it also gives your shop more flexibility. During slow periods, you can simply turn the machine off, instead of trying to rearrange your workforce. These machines can also create a safer work environment, especially when you are working with repetitive, simple welds that can be monotonous and hazardous for workers.

Types of Metal Rollers and How They’re Used

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Metal rollers are an important part of every machine shop. Metal rollers, also called sheet metal rollers or metal roller benders, can create a wide array of arcs, bends, cylinders and circular objects. This equipment is also an important part of custom material fabrication. Which type of metal roller is best for your project depends on the dimensions and type of metal you’re working with. Let’s take a look at the types of metal rollers available and how they’re used.

Types of Metal Rollers and How They’re Used

Types of metal rollers can be divided into 2-cylinder, 3-cylinder, and 4-cylinder rollers. Each machine may also be equipped with additional features to make particular constructions faster or easier. Different metal rollers may be preferable for different jobs depending on the overall size of the object, circular vs conical rolls, the type of metal, and other factors.

2-Cylinder Metal Rollers

As the name implies, 2-cylinder metal rollers use two rollers to curve sheet metal into a desired shape. One large roller coated in urethane and another, smaller steel roller applies force to sheet metal to create an arc or curve. 2-cylinder metal rollers are ideal for smaller projects with thinner metals. These machines operate fairly quickly, so they’re capable of producing numerous components in a short time frame.

2-cylinder metal rollers might be used for:

  • Filters
  • Canisters
  • Pipes
  • Tubes

3-Cylinder Metal Rollers

3-cylinder metal rollers are similar to 2-cylinder rollers, however a third, off-set roll creates additional bending power. This type of sheet metal roller is often used for sheet metal thinner than an inch thick, though they can handle thicker metals. The third roller provides more control over the final shape, so it can be used for tighter cylinders. When the metal sheet leaves the roller, it can then be welded into a completed cylinder shape.

These types of metal rollers can be used for a wider range of materials and mid-range size projects, such as:

  • Pipes
  • Tubes
  • Ducts

4-Cylinder Metal Rollers

4-cylinder metal rollers use an additional roller beneath the uppermost roller to apply constant pressure. provide even more control and precision over the rolling process. In addition to cylinders, these sheet metal rollers can also make square- and rectangular-shaped objects. These machines tend to be faster, more accurate, and they are capable of working with much larger objects and much thicker metals.

4-cylinder metal rollers can integrate easily with CNCs and automatic controls for additional accuracy, speed and efficiency. These machines can be used for a variety of applications, including much larger applications than the previous rollers. 4-cylinder sheet metal rollers can work with much thicker, tougher metals and construct much larger or more challenging items, such as:

  • Industrial pipes or tubes
  • Large shaft components or fan bodies
  • HVAC components

Other Considerations

Additional features will allow metal rollers to work with other materials and produce different or more complex objects. For example, different metal rolling machines are capable of working with different sizes, as well as different levels of complexities. Some metal rollers can also work at an angle, so they can produce conical shapes.

Some sheet metal rollers use overhead supports to work with lighter metals or larger constructions more easily. These supports prevent the cylindrical shape or arc from collapsing as it is rolled. Side supports work similarly, preventing objects with large radii from recurving.

Safety measures are also an important consideration, especially for machine shops working with pre-owned metal rollers. To keep workers safe, sheet metal rollers must be equipped with emergency stops, control circuitry, safety breakers and detached operator controls.

If your material fabrication project requires cylindrical or conical constructions, it will be important to choose the right sheet metal roller. With the right equipment, your fabricator can construct your components more quickly and inexpensively. Ask an engineer for more information about types of metal rollers, how they’re used and how these impact your project.

5 Tips to Optimize Your Custom Metal Fabrication Design

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When it comes to custom metal fabrication, the original design is extremely important.Your custom metal fabrication design will ultimately decide how your product is made and how it turns out. When you optimize your custom metal fabrication design, you can take advantage of shorter lead times, cost savings, increased durability, and many other advantages. Here are 5 things to keep in mind when optimizing your custom metal fabrication design.

5 Tips to Optimize Your Custom Metal Fabrication Design

1. Clarify Your Design

With more specificity in your design, your fabricator will have a better idea of what you are looking for. This helps to reduce errors that can occur when your project moves from design to fabrication. The first thing to specify will be your measurements and dimensions. Double check to be sure these are accurate.

You’ll want to specify the following in your drawings:

  • Tolerances
  • Locations and depths of any holes
  • Surface flatness
  • Radius of corners
  • Material thickness
  • Overall height, width, length

2. Simplify and Edit

With the essential elements of your drawings clearly marked, the next best way to optimize your custom metal fabrication design is to simplify. Maybe you’ve already pared your design down to the essentials. But if you haven’t tried an editing step yet, take a closer look before sending your designs to your fabricator.

Look for elements that don’t add to the function of your design. Are these aesthetic elements essential? Or, you might look for elements that are redundant. If, for example, your metal fabricated component will fit securely and maintain its function when it is attached with one screw, two screws might add unnecessary expense. You might also look for exterior elements that are overly detailed or overworked. For example, a right angle can simplify the cutting or stamping process, while a curved corner adds complexity without adding value.

3. Collaborate with Your Fabricator

Knowing how to simplify or optimize your design can be difficult if you are not sure what the ideal fabrication process looks like. Many different processes can be used in metal fabrication, including cutting, welding, machining, stamping, casting, and many more. And, there are different approaches and techniques for each process. By making small changes to your design, you may be able to substantially simplify the overall fabrication process. However, it can be difficult to know exactly how to do this if you are not familiar with these fabrication processes.

Once you’ve specified the dimensions and other essential elements of your design, and you’ve taken a hard look at the vital and decorative details, talk to your fabricator about how you can streamline the fabrication process. By making just a few adjustments to your design, expert fabricators can move your project through the most efficient processes.

4. Consider Your Metal Options

There are many different types of metal alloys. Different metal alloys are made to fill different needs and resist different types of corrosion, heat or force. Some applications require very resilient metals that can withstand temperature extremes, intense force or corrosive substances. These metals are also more expensive, and more difficult to work with. Other applications are not exposed to such extreme conditions, and can complete their function with more common alloys.

Choosing the right metal alloy can help to dramatically reduce costs and simplify the fabrication process. To choose the best metal alloy, it’s important to understand the product or component’s function, and the forces it will be exposed to. This might include any of the following:

  • Force: This includes many factors, including persistent bending, heavy impacts, abrasion, heavy weight, and much more.
  • Temperature: This includes heat, cold, and dramatic swings between these extremes.
  • Corrosive materials: This might include common elements as simple as air and water, or uncommon elements like acids.
  • Lifetime: the length of time your product or component is meant to last will impact the materials as much as the regular use conditions.

5. Consider Your Finishing Options

Materials are not the only way to ensure your fabrication project looks and functions the way that it’s supposed to. The right finishing option, such as powder coating, metal plating, anodizing, galvanizing and more can help your project withstand corrosion and extend its lifetime. These finishing options can also help your component or project look the way you want, with the right colors, textures, or shine.

Working with experts is the best way to optimize your custom metal fabrication design. Combine your industry expertise with the expertise of fabricators and engineers to perfect your design and create a durable, top-quality, cost-effective product. Get in touch with our experts today to get started.

Metal Finishing Options for Custom Fabrication Projects

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The right finish on your custom fabrication project can help to protect the metal, extend the lifetime of the project, and create a clean, polished look. There are many metal finishing options for custom fabrication projects. Which you choose will depend on what you want to accomplish with your metal fabrication project. Here are a few of the options available.

Metal Finishing Options for Custom Fabrication Projects

Powder Coating

Powder coating is a common metal finishing option for custom fabrication projects. This process not only provides a tough, durable exterior, but it can also provide any color or texture. With powder coating, the custom fabrication project can take on any type of gold, silver, brass or other types of metallic finish. The project can also be any color or shade, with glossy or matte finishes, and even different textures. Powder coating is also efficient and highly versatile. This provides many options for many different projects.

Metal Plating

In some cases, a custom fabrication project may need a different type of metal plating. Metal plating can help the project resist corrosion, especially from galvanic corrosion. Galvanic corrosion occurs when two different metals come into contact with each other and a corrosive electrolyte, usually water or salt. In these conditions, one metal is an anode and the other is a cathode. The anode corrodes faster, destabilizing the project overall. Metal plating can help to prevent or slow this process by interrupting the reaction. Metal plating can also be used to give a project more stability by using a tougher metal that will resist scratches or wear-and-tear. Or, it can be used to create a particular look, such as with gold or silver plating.

Anodizing

Anodizing is an effective metal finishing option particularly for aluminum custom fabrication projects. This process usually uses an acidic solution to strengthen the naturally-occurring film that helps aluminum resist corrosion. Anodizing metals not only resist corrosion, but they are also more resistant to other types of wear-and-tear, such as damage from UV. This process also makes it easy to dye the metal at the same time.

Galvanizing

Galvanizing or zinc coating is a popular metal finishing option for custom fabrication projects made from steel or iron. In this process, a layer of zinc is deposited onto the metal surface, usually through hot-dip galvanizing or through electrogalvanizing. The layer of zinc helps to prevent rust from forming on the metal’s surface. This process also creates a distinctive, spangled look. Since it is especially useful for steel fabrications that will be exposed to the elements, it’s common for automobile components, bicycles, roofing, nails and similar items.

Sand Blasting

Sand blasting is a different type of finishing option. Instead of covering the surface with a protective layer, this process wears away imperfections through friction and abrasion. Small defects can be eliminated, the process can produce a clean, smooth surface, or it can be used to prepare an item for painting or another type of finishing.

Polishing

Many metal fabrication projects are already made from a durable, corrosion resistant metal, and do not require additional layers. In this case, the metal may simply be polished to give it a clean, finished shine. Polishing uses gentle friction to eliminate minor scratches and imperfections, and give the metal a brighter shine. This simple process can be used for many different types of metal, from stainless steel to brass to chromium and many more, as well as metal-plated products and products with other types of finishes.

Hot Blackening

Hot blackening is another method for improving corrosion resistance in iron-based alloys, and also creating a distinctive look. This process uses black oxide to stabilize the surface of the metal and prevent it from rusting. While hot baths of black oxide are usually used to create this effect, the process can also be completed using a mid-temperature or cold bath. Once completed, the metal will have a distinctive black, matte appearance. THis process is commonly used for automotive parts, tools, and firearms.

This list includes a few of the most common metal finishing options for custom fabrication projects, though there are many others. If you are looking for a particular appearance for your metal fabricated components or products, resistance against particular threats, or you have other concerns with metal finishes, contact us. We’ll help you find the right finish for your project.

Benefits of Powder Coating for Metal Fabrication

benefits of powder coating for metal fabrication

Powder coating is a versatile, highly effective method for coating metal fabrication projects. For most finished products and components, powder coating is a more durable, more attractive coating than wet paint. It also has other advantages. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of powder coating for metal fabrication projects.

Benefits of Powder Coating for Metal Fabrication

Full Coverage

Powder coating is applied through a different process than wet paint. As the name suggests, powder coating is first applied to the product or component as a dry powder. This powder is electrostatically charged, so it sticks to all exposed surfaces, including even the hardest to reach places. Then, the powder is heated in an oven, where it melts and sticks to the surface. This process allows powder coating to cover the product completely and smoothly. There’s no need for additional coats and there’s no risk of unsightly drips or runs.

More Efficient

Powder coating is also a more efficient process than other types of painting or coating. Since the powder sticks to the surface electrostatically, there’s no excess paint lost during the process. There’s no dripping and also no drying time needed. While wet paint may require several hours to fully dry, powder coated parts can be fully cured and cooled in as little as ten minutes.

Any Color or Texture

Powder coating gives you unlimited options for the final appearance of your product or component. In addition to a wide range of colors and shades, there are also many different finishes available, including flat, satin, glossy, metallic, clear, iridescent, and even glitter. This can help you achieve the final result that you’re looking for, without extra expense. A shiny metallic finish can help the part or component keep its high-quality appearance while still protecting it from damage, or a matte yellow finish can help meet safety requirements. There are many, many different options available.

Protection from Corrosion

Corrosion affects all metals. Corrosion can occur simply through contact with oxygen in the air, resulting in oxidation. However, covering the surface of metals can help to protect from oxidation and corrosion. Powder coating completely covers the metal surface, preventing the air from contacting the metal and thereby preventing oxidation from occurring. Powder coatings can also help to prevent other types of corrosion, such as corrosion from acids or bases that come into contact with the product. The powder coating layer forms a protective covering that can help to extend the life of the product.

Improved Durability

Corrosion isn’t the only damaging force that can affect metal fabricated parts and components. Scratches, abrasion and regular wear and tear can also damage metal fabricated parts over time. This is another benefit of powder coating for metal fabricated parts and products. The powder coating forms a protective layer over the component that helps to resist scratches and friction. This keeps the product looking like-new, longer.

Attractive Appearance

Besides added durability and corrosion resistance, powder coating is an easy way to give your part a finished, attractive appearance. Powder coating doesn’t require multiple coats like wet paint does. It goes on once and produces a smooth, uniform, clean appearance across the part or component. The curing process works quickly, so your part or component is ready for shipping or assembly fast.

There are many benefits to powder coating for metal fabrication projects. Powder coating is highly versatile, with many options for colors, finishes and textures. This process also works on all types of items, from large finished products to small components and everything in between. If you have questions about powder coating for your metal fabrication process, contact us. We’re happy to give you any information you need, and help you find the ideal powder coating for your project.

 

Choosing the Right Alloy for Your Custom Fabrication Design

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Choosing the right alloy for your custom fabrication is the first and, often, the most important step in creating a high-quality product or component. There are many factors to consider when choosing a metal alloy for your fabrication, and there are many different alloys available. In this blog post, we’ve included a few of the most widely-used alloys, though there are hundreds of others.

Choosing the Right Alloy for Your Custom Fabrication Design

To choose the right alloy for your custom fabrication design, it’s important to know the task the component or product will be fulfilling, the environment it will be working in, and stresses it must withstand. Here are a few of the factors you should be aware of, though this is not an exhaustive list.

  • Temperature: Many metals will warp or freeze up at high or low temperatures. Temperature considerations are especially important if your product or component will be working outdoors, or if friction or coolant will cause temperature swings.
  • Corrosion resistance: All metals corrode to some extent, though some alloys are much more resistant to corrosion than others. If your product or component will be in contact with moisture, salts, acids or alkalis it’s important to consider an alloy that will resist corrosion.
  • Durability: There are many different types of durability. For example, some alloys are highly resistant to bending or warping, but will snap past a certain threshold, while others are made to bend under pressure. Consider the amount of force or weight that the alloy must withstand, as well as the type of force it will face.
  • Weight: If a component in a machine is too heavy, it will require the rest of the machine components to work harder. It’s important to know just how heavy the component or product can be before it becomes impractical.
  • Fabrication process: Some alloys are more difficult to weld, machine or form, which will complicate the fabrication process. Knowing how the product will be fabricated can help to choose the right alloy.
  • Cost: Materials cost is always a factor. If finding the right alloy means overextending your budget, you’ll need to reassess. Keep in mind that cost isn’t limited to the initial cost of the materials themselves, though. Cost may also include a component’s upkeep or cost of replacement if it’s corroded or damaged.

Many of these factors involve a balancing act. For example, metals with high durability tend to be heavier and more expensive. Metals with high temperature thresholds or corrosion resistance can be more difficult to work with, and more expensive and time-consuming to fabricate. This is why it’s helpful to be specific about how you need the alloy to perform, so you can balance all of these elements together.

Types of Alloys in Metal Fabrication

There are hundreds of different types of metal alloys. Combining different metals in different amounts will yield different results, and new alloys are being developed all the time to take on complex challenges. The most commonly used alloys in metal fabrication generally contain steel (which is itself an alloy of mainly iron and carbon), aluminum, and nickel.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is an additional extension of the steel alloy, and it is one of the most popular metal fabrication materials. There are many different types of stainless steel. Stainless steel may contain additional chromium, nickel, tungsten, titanium, molybdenum and many other metals. Some very specific types of stainless steel used in military applications even contain depleted uranium. These additional metals help to determine the unique properties of each stainless steel type.

304 Stainless Steel

SAE 304 stainless steel, also known as A2 stainless steel or 18/8 stainless steel, is the most common type of stainless steel. It’s made from chromium, nickel and steel, and has a number of versatile characteristics that make it suitable for many different applications.

304 stainless steel has a clean, shiny appearance, high corrosion resistance, decent durability and it’s easily formed and welded. This makes it a go-to alloy for custom fabrication, appliances, food processing equipment, consumer goods, pipes, fasteners and many more. There are a number of sub-types of 304 stainless steel using varying amounts of carbon, which can change its temperature resistance, corrosion resistance, and tensile strength to meet the needs of specific applications.

316 Stainless Steel

SAE 316L stainless steel, also known as A4 stainless steel or marine grade stainless steel, is similar to 304 stainless steel, but with some differences in composition and function. This steel alloy contains molybdenum in addition to chromium, nickel, and steel, as well as small quantities of silicon, phosphorus and sulfur. These additions make it more resistant to corrosion.

Just like 304 stainless steel, there are different sub-types of 316 stainless steel which contain varying levels of molybdenum, carbon and nitrogen. These differences change the strength and corrosion resistance of each alloy. This type of steel is ideal for environments with high corrosion, such as chemical refining, textile bleaching and coloring, surgical implants and applications near or in seawater.

Aluminum Alloys

Aluminum alloys are another popular choice for many metal fabrication products and components. Like steel, aluminum alloys can be mixed with many other metals, including nickel, magnesium, titanium, cobalt, lithium, and many more. Each unique alloy presents different advantages and disadvantages.

The main advantage of aluminum alloys is their lightweight composition. This makes aluminum alloys a preferred choice for many automotive and aerospace applications. Aluminum is also relatively inexpensive and it can be used in extrusions, adding flexibility in the manufacturing process. However, there are some drawbacks; aluminum alloys are generally not as durable as stainless steel, and they’re more sensitive to stress and heat.

Nickel Alloys

Nickel alloys also present unique benefits for some custom fabrication work. These alloys most commonly contain metals similar to aluminum alloys and stainless steel alloys, like chromium, molybdenum, iron, copper and titanium, among others.

Nickel alloys are used in some of the most demanding applications. They are very resistant to thermal expansion and electromagnetic interference, which makes them ideal for sensitive measurement instruments and electromagnetic shielding. Many nickel alloys are also highly corrosion-resistant against common corrosive substances like seawater and even uncommon, highly corrosive substances like hydrochloric or sulphuric acids. This high resistance to temperature extremes, extremely corrosive substances, and mechanical force puts many nickel alloys in the category of superalloys.

There are many more unique alloys used in all types of different applications. Stainless steel alloys are often the right alloy for custom fabrication work, though not always. If you are working with a challenging application with high temperatures, corrosive materials, weight constraints, or other obstacles, there are other metal alloys that can meet your needs.

How to Find the Best Contract Manufacturing Partner

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Outsourcing some aspects of your manufacturing can help you meet demand, speed up your process, simplify designs and much more. There are a number of benefits of subcontracting manufacturing, but realizing these benefits means finding the best contract manufacturing partner available. This contractor must be able to work with your team and produce high-quality work that meets your specifications. Here’s what to look for and what you’ll need to find the best contract manufacturing partner.

How to Find the Best Contract Manufacturing Partner

To find the best contract manufacturing partner, it’s important to know about the manufacturer’s capabilities and facilities, their process, and it’s also helpful to have as much information as possible on the project that you want completed. When you know what you’ll need to complete your process, you’ll be in a better position to assess whether or not a contract manufacturer will work well with you.

The Manufacturer’s Facility

One of the most important aspects of finding the best contract manufacturing partner is assessing the manufacturer’s facility and equipment. A manufacturer with a wide range of welding, cutting, forming, machining and other fabrication equipment will give you the most flexibility.

When your manufacturing subcontractor can perform many different tasks, you can rely on one business instead of looking for different subcontractors every time your needs or projects change. Also, a manufacturer with an array of technology may be able to help you lower production costs or utilize a more effective process. For example, laser cutting may be faster, but it adds heat to the process, which can be a concern for some materials. A water jet is slower, it may be a better option in some situations.

Drawings and Design

The drawings and designs behind your project are the foundation for all future work. It’s helpful for these drawings and designs to be as detailed as possible. This will help to reduce errors as your subcontractor turns your design into a repeatable manufacturing process, and finally into a finished product.

Ask about the subcontractor’s CAD files and their engineers’ experience with different types of files. Will the engineers be able to confidently work with your drawings? If your engineers’ file types, programs, or experience are different than your subcontractors’, it can create problems. Understanding the design and engineer process, or taking a look at example CAD files from a project similar to yours can help you find the best contract manufacturing partner at the start of the project.

Skills and Knowledge

Working with an experienced contract manufacturing partner increases the chances of receiving high-quality products in a timely manner. This includes the company’s engineer staff and salespeople, as well as welders, machinists and fabricators. Ask about the subcontractors’ experience, and that of their staff.

In addition, it’s helpful to know the variety of skills that the subcontractor can offer you. Do they specialize in mechanical fabrication only, or can they also offer electrical engineering? Can your products also be painted and finished at the location? In addition to a variety of skills, it’s also important for your subcontractor to be aware of applicable codes and regulations, especially for electrical engineering.

Ability to Make Changes

Computer aided manufacturing (CAM) allows manufacturers to create highly repeatable parts at a high volume. Combining CAD files with CAM can make the manufacturing process easier, more consistent and more efficient. When using CAM, in many cases, the parts are tied directly to the drawing files. This means that the parts are generally more consistent, but it also means that it’s easier to make changes down the road. Asking about the manufacturing process as well as the design process, and how they are connected, can help to improve consistency and prevent costly changes later on.

Clear Directions

As previously mentioned, clear directions and detailed drawings are some of your best tools in finding the best manufacturing partner. When you know exactly what you’re looking for, you’ll be able to easily see which subcontractor is right for the job.

Here are a few of the things that you should know before you speak with a subcontractor. If your project is relatively simple in scope and design, you may not need all of this information. However, if your project is complex, it’s best not to leave important elements to chance.

  • Up-to-date and detailed drawings
  • Accurate bill of materials
  • Weld specifications
  • Manufacturing practices

If you don’t have this information, your subcontractor may be able to help fill in the gaps. Ask about the fabrication process beforehand, so there aren’t any surprises when you receive your products.

Choosing the best contract manufacturing partner can help to ensure that your project goes smoothly. Consider these aspects, as well as your own design and documents, and you’ll be in the best position to find a reliable manufacturing partner.

6 Questions to ask a Manufacturing Subcontractor

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Working with a manufacturing subcontractor can help you meet demand during production spikes, shorten production lead times, and even expand into new industries. Finding the right manufacturing subcontractor means finding a business partner that you can rely on, while the wrong subcontractor can cost you. When looking for a manufacturing subcontractor, consider the following.

6 Questions to Ask a Manufacturing Subcontractor

1. Who Are Your Previous Clients?

This is one of the most important questions to ask a manufacturing subcontractor. Ask for a client list and contact their previous clients. Ask the previous client about their experience working with the subcontractor; were the products delivered on time? Was the quality up-to-par? Did they have any concerns about the subcontractor undermining their contract? Answers to all of these questions can help you steer clear of subcontractors that can’t deliver—or, worse, take your contracts for themselves.

2. What Industries Do You Work In?

If you are fulfilling a contract for a food manufacturer, working with a subcontractor who manufactures equipment for chemical processors might not be a good fit. Look for a manufacturing subcontractor that works in industries similar to yours. This way, they will be aware of good manufacturing practices (GMP), safety procedures, regulations or common pitfalls that can affect finished products in the industry. For example, a manufacturer working primarily with chemical processors probably won’t have a high level of experience with GMP in food processing, which could result in faulty components.

3. What Machines Do You Have?

The right machine can save hours of time and thousands of dollars, while producing a better result. Ask a manufacturing subcontractor what equipment they have, and how this might impact your project. The latest equipment does not always mean the highest level of quality, but this is a good place to start when looking for a manufacturing subcontractor who can handle detail, complexity, large production runs or large-scale products.

Depending on the scope or complexity of your project, it may also be important to know how broad the manufacturing subcontractor’s experience is. Are they familiar with electrical and mechanical systems? Do they know the codes and regulations associated with each? Can they demonstrate their performance with each?

4. How Many Similar Projects Have You Delivered?

While every manufacturer has to start somewhere, you probably don’t want your project to be a subcontractor’s first. Ask a subcontractor about similar jobs that they’ve delivered. This will not only give you an indication of their overall experience, but also the experience of their staff. If you are working with complex welding or machining, this may be especially important.

A manufacturing subcontractor experienced with your products or industry may also be able to help you cut costs and avoid problems. For example, laser cutting may be faster, but adds heat to the process, while water jet is slower, it may be a better option if heating the metal is a concern.

5. What Is Your Expected Turnaround Time?

A subcontractor can help you reduce production time, but only if they can deliver their work on time. Ask about their turnaround times, and any complications or delays they predict could change it. Make sure you have enough time to complete your project, even if your subcontractor overestimates their speed.

6. What Does Your Process Look Like?

Ask about a subcontractors production process in detail. Consider preliminary processes like design, set-up and product testing. Ask about the manufacturer’s engineering staff and compatibility with CAD files. If your engineers can work with your subcontractor’s engineers, your design process will run much smoother.

Testing and quality control are also important considerations. If you are able to test or inspect your product or component before a full run, you’re likely to save time and money. If you are not happy with the deliverables, or if there are a number of mistakes, ask about how the subcontractor would remedy this. Or, if you need to make changes to your original design, how quickly can these be implemented? Manufacturing subcontractors integrating their CAD design with computer aided manufacturing will be able to make changes more easily.

Knowing the right questions to ask a manufacturing subcontractor can help you find a reliable, ethical business partner. With the right subcontractor, you’ll have the flexibility to take on more projects, while still focusing on what you’re best at.

Scaling Your Manufacturing Operation: Purchasing and Hiring vs. Outsourcing

Welding

If you find yourself taking on more jobs than usual, expanding into new industries, or facing long lead times due to an increase in demand, you may wonder if it’s time to scale your manufacturing operation, and how to go about it. Should you expand your facility, workforce and equipment, or focus on outsourcing or licensing? Any of these can be viable options, with the right considerations.

Scaling Your Manufacturing Operations: Purchasing and Hiring vs. Outsourcing

Equipment Costs

As you consider how to scale your manufacturing operation, you may repeatedly run into an equipment bottleneck. Perhaps you don’t have the machinery necessary for a particular job, or you’ve had to make due with equipment that takes much longer to complete the job. You can add the new machine to your operation, or you can outsource to a manufacturing partner. The following considerations can help:

  • Your Facility: Do you have the space and electrical output to safely run the machine? If not, outsourcing is a better option until you’re ready to scale your operations to a bigger facility.
  • Talent: If you add the machine, will someone be able to use it effectively, or will you have to add new staff? If you don’t currently have an operator, your machine will be unused until you find one, or it may be misused by an inexperienced operator.
  • Safety Requirements: Do you have the right safety equipment and protocols in place to run this machine? Consider personal protective equipment as well as equipment like dust management systems or fire suppression equipment.
  • Use: If you add this machine, how often will it be used? If contracts requiring these machines are infrequent, you’ll save money and reduce risk by outsourcing. However, if you’re frequently slowing down operations or losing business because of lacking equipment, this may be a good time to scale your own operation.
  • ROI: How long will it take for a machine to pay for itself? Does this make sense with the level of demand you have? Be careful to forecast accurately using the sales data that you have.

Training and Expertise

Many manufacturers are experiencing a skills shortage. Deloitte estimates there will be over 2 million manufacturing jobs unfilled between 2018 and 2028. Before scaling your operations, assess whether or not you will be able to find the workers that you need. As you consider how to grow your staff, or whether this will present a significant obstacle, consider the following options:

  • Employment programs: Are employment programs, such as job skills training or retraining programs, available to you? Could you form a partnership with these organizations and attract new talent?
  • Apprenticeships: Do you have talented staff that could effectively train others? In this case, an apprenticeship program may be highly effective in obtaining new workers.
  • Temp workers: Could you grow your workforce slowly using temp workers in the interim?
  • Competitive payment: Do you offer competitive wages, a positive work environment, and are you located in a desirable location? Consider all of these aspects, especially if you are recruiting workers from distant locations or looking for experienced workers, when advertising your job openings.

If these strategies aren’t viable for you and you’ve previously struggled to grow your workforce, outsourcing your manufacturing can help you scale your operations in the meantime. Ask your manufacturing partners about their staff, and the skills and experience that they bring to the table.

Safety Procedures

Though workplace injuries and deaths in manufacturing have declined in recent years, manufacturing is still an industry with high occupational injury and death rates. When considering scaling your manufacturing operation, it’s important to consider if you can do so safely. If not, outsourcing with another manufacturer is undeniably the better choice. OSHA fines are costly enough, but losing a worker to preventable hazards is far more costly.

When considering whether or not you can safely expand your operations, consider the following:

  • Slips and Falls: slip and fall accidents are among the top causes of workplace injuries and deaths. This encompasses everything from catwalks without handrails to faulty ladders, slippery surfaces to stray electrical cords, or a lack of fall protection equipment when working from heights. If expanding your operation means introducing slip, trip, or fall hazards, it’s important to take great care in preventing these.
  • Electrocution: When working with high-powered equipment, electrocution is a possibility. Ensure that a new machine is installed by a professional and regularly inspect electrical cords and outlets for damage. Be sure that your facility is securely grounded, especially in areas with sandy soils.
  • Dust Fires and Explosion: Some dust and dirt is inevitable, and usually not a problem. However, if you are working with processes that frequently produce lots of dust, a dust containment unit is essential, not only for workers’ respiratory health, but also to prevent deadly fires and explosions. If dust is a problem at your operation currently, do not scale up operations until this problem is addressed.

Flexibility

Working with a manufacturing subcontractor can give you flexibility; you can expand operations when demand is high, and scale back during low periods. Permanently scaling your own operation generally means committing to a set production amount. If this production level isn’t met, it can mean losing money and overextending your resources.

If you are frequently getting more contracts than you can handle, it may be time to expand your operations. However, if any of the following are true, you may benefit more from outsourcing your manufacturing instead.

  • Demand swings: Seasonal demand or sudden demand spikes can make it seem like business is booming. However, scaling up operations to meet infrequent demand can leave machines and staff idle and losing money. Increasing production with a manufacturing partner as needed will give you more flexibility.
  • Unique jobs: If you sometimes need a machine that you don’t have or you’re facing a complex project, you’ll benefit more from outsourcing rather than buying expensive new equipment and training new workers. Until or unless this becomes a regular requirement for your operation, you’ll avoid risk by outsourcing.
  • Unique markets: Working in new industries with new clients often means leveraging relationships with materials or components suppliers. Work with an experienced manufacturer as you enter these markets, though make sure you have clear partnership agreements that protect your new business.

Ask these questions as you consider scaling up your operations. Remember that it’s possible to slowly scale up as you expand your workforce or facility, and work with an outsourced manufacturer in the meantime.

How Outsourced Manufacturing Can Shorten Your Production Times

Welding

If you’re looking at a tight turnaround time and a big project, you may be wondering how to shorten production times. An outsourced manufacturing partner may be able to help. Outsourced manufacturing can help you tackle large, complex projects faster, or work through unique obstacles as you enter new industries, and ultimately shorten production times.

How Outsourced Manufacturing Can Shorten Your Production Times

Producing More Units

In some cases, the sheer number of units may be more than you can produce alone. Some products or projects experience a high level of demand volatility or seasonal demand spikes, which can be difficult to forecast. If you find yourself in the middle of a project requiring more units in a faster time frame than you can deliver, outsourced manufacturing can help you make up the difference.

There are a number of ways to go about this. You might outsource one part of the project, such as a particular process that presents a time-consuming bottleneck at your shop. This allows you to continue producing more units faster at your own facility, assuming your outsourced manufacturing partner can also keep up. Or, you might outsource a number of starting or finishing processes. Contrastingly, you might subcontract complete production for a specific number of units that exceed your production capacity. This strategy can be risky, however, as it may introduce competitors to your clients.

Reducing Complexity

A job that is particularly complex can create long production times. This might come down to a single process that requires particular experience, attention, and care, or even requires a specific machine. In this case, instead of trying to add a specialized machine on short notice, or make due with those that you have, it’s better to outsource this work.

Machines that are made for the job can complete the process in a fraction of the time, and often do a better job. This allows you to focus on your strengths and avoid over-extending your resources or staff. You can also significantly increase production times by outsourcing a particularly complex part of the fabrication process. If you know that a new contract will require particularly complex, elaborate, or detailed work with a machine that you don’t have on hand, such as laser cutting, waterjet cutting, CNC machining, large-scale powder coating or other custom fabrication processes, outsource these manufacturing tasks to complete the contract faster.

Expanding Expertise

A new, inexperienced welder or machinist can get a difficult job done, but it will probably take them longer than an experienced one. Working with a manufacturing subcontractor can give you access to individuals with more skills and experience. This gives you time to grow your workforce accordingly, or fill in skills gaps as needed.

With some estimates showing a jobs skills deficit of 2 million workers in manufacturing by 2028, this is becoming a more and more common reason to outsource manufacturing. While outsourced manufacturing can help to fill skills gaps presented by uniquely complex contracts, this may not be a long-term solution. If you foresee needs for experienced welders, machinists and other fabricators occurring often in your future contracts, a manufacturing partner can help you fill in the gaps and shorten production times while you work on training or attracting new talent. Consider working with nearby colleges or job skills training programs to bring in new talent, or presenting more competitive job offers for experienced workers.

Accessing Materials

Different manufacturers bring different types of knowledge, expertise and business relationships to the table. If you’ve recently obtained a contract in an industry that you don’t have much experience in, it may take time to grow the supplier relationships you need to obtain the right raw materials or components. An outsourced manufacturer with prior experience in the industry may already have these contacts, and can help you jump into the industry faster.

For example, if you are newly working with a chemical company, you may need access to materials or components that are resistant to corrosion, fire, or explosion. For food contracts, you’ll need to work with food-safe metals or coatings that resist adhesion. Your contract may require that components be resistant to cracking or warping under stress, or produce low electromagnetic interference for sensitive instruments. Working with an outsourced manufacturer can help you shorten production times by satisfying these specific requirements using existing relationships.

If you are considering outsourcing manufacturing to shorten production times, choosing your manufacturing partner carefully. Ask about their experience, staff, machines, and their own production or lead times. With the right manufacturing contractor, you can expand your operations and shorten production times without overextending your resources or taking on more risk