I can’t tell you how many times we’ve made phone calls to clients in an attempt to save them from unnecessary costs. That process can get lengthy when you have to drill down through various departments before you find the engineer actually responsible for the drawings. At a certain point, we run out of time to make those phone calls. This post is meant to be a simple road map to help any build to print customer understand the right questions to ask both your manufacturer and internally to ensure you get the best price.
note: I’m writing this specifically from the perspective of a specialty plastics and electronics manufacturer. If you’re interested in learning more about build to print, read our blog post What Exactly is Build to Print Manufacturing?
How much do cost savings really matter?
As silly as this question might sound, it’s a legitimate one. In many companies, usually larger ones, outsourcing product manufacturing is a bureaucracy of paperwork and precedent and sometimes even internal politics. Making a change to a drawing or product specifications can take an act of congress and isn’t always worth the time and effort required. You have to decide how valuable cost reductions/avoidances are to you within the context of your organization before you go down this road.
What affects price?
Lots of things affect the price of a build to print job. Some things are set in stone, but others can be negotiated. Understanding which is which can be key in getting the best price. Things such as tolerances and material requirements can sometimes be negotiated. Product application and material yields are pre-determined, but understanding how to maximize them can also save money.
Tolerances represent the amount of variance allowed by a client in product measurements. Some industries have very specific tolerance requirements, so when we get specs down to the triple digit decimal point, we assume those are imperative. That isn’t always the case. Many clients send over default tolerances that are very precise, but aren’t actually necessary. Unless your manufacturer questions your requirements, you’re setting yourself up for an expensive mistake.
For us in the plastics industry, our sheet stock suppliers are allowed a +/- 10% variance in the thickness of a plastic sheet. If your spec is for .5″ acrylic with a tolerance of .001, we have to order a thicker sheet ($$$) and precision cut it down to exactly the correct size. If the application of the product doesn’t require the tolerances you’re requesting, you’re paying a LOT more for material and labor than you need to.
Don’t get hung up on on a material that you’ve used forever or read about online. Let your manufacturer help you find the best one for you. SO many times, a material will show up on a drawing that is a brand name and has 20 identical competitors for half the price, but the client refuses to change their spec because it’s what they’ve always used.
Learn more about plastic trade names and how to tell the difference by reading our blog post Understanding Plastic Trade Names.
Your product’s application should be extremely important to your manufacturer. Knowing how it’s used could help them alter manufacturing processes, packaging, quantities, materials, etc. so that you can get the best deal.
Always be open to negotiating order quantities based on yield. The standard plastic sheet is 4′ x 8′. If your manufacturer can get 4 pieces out of 1 sheet, but you order 5, you will never get the best price. When you request a quote from a manufacturer, you should always ask for best yield quantities.
Yield doesn’t always have to do with material, for example:
When multiple pieces are packaged and shipped together, it might make sense to order based on best packaging yield. If your order requires a combination of various parts and components that are sourced in various quantities, there might be a magic number that perfectly utilizes every piece.
Moral of the story: communication
It’s impossible to list all of the possibilities to save money on build to print projects because each project is different. Communicating openly with your manufacturer about your product, and remaining open to their recommendations is the only way you can be sure that you’re getting the best price.
Always make sure you’re working with a manufacturer that you trust. If they aren’t interested in learning about your product and your vision, they probably aren’t going to keep your best interest as a priority.
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