Very often commercial and industrial decision-making whether to outsource or not is governed by the time value of money, cost savings, and potential for productivity increases. But what if we look at another dimension, that is the opportunity to explicitly buy time? Who doesn't want more?!
Back in the 70s when I graduated with an engineering degree, a large percentage of the new graduates went to work for manufacturing companies. A certain percentage went on for advanced degrees and ended up in research positions and academia, but much of the research was carried out by private companies building their own IP portfolios. The exception to this was civil, structural and architectural graduates who might end up working for private engineering and design firms.
Each year we that we offer web handling training to our clients, we hear their stories of why they decided to take the class, and later, how they applied what they learned in their plant after they left. Pete Sherer writes up a fictional story, based on our own customers and their feedback:
When manufacturing companies in the processing segment are faced with having to solve their varied production problems and challenges, they may find due to resource constraints within their own organizations that hiring in some outside help is required. Manufacturers in these situations frequently have qualification steps to go through to ensure that the potential supplier can provide the level of service necessary to solve the problem at hand. This is equally true whether the company in need requires replacement of a failed part, regulatory guidance for a new chemical to be introduced, or installation of a new piece of process equipment. The varied disciplines within a process based company that may be serviced by contractors is broad and varied. Businesses that look to suppliers for assistance should be able to understand and verify the skills and capabilities of their suppliers, on a project by project basis, to ensure a successful outcome.
Say you are a manufacturer with an aging production infrastructure, faced with the opportunity to sell more of your goods (if only you could up your output from your existing equipment). As you begin your investigation into your options to increase your volumes, and consider the possibility of a capital investment, you may then be faced with the need to deal with parts of your existing system which may have to be brought up to current code. The modifications you may desire for your current machinery, which will enable the integration of new equipment to give you the added production you are seeking, are also now mandating certain regulated updates (this can happen to electrical components and wiring, and can also drive necessary improvements to guarding for operator safety).
In today’s rapidly changing manufacturing landscape, many companies that produce consumer or industrial products have evolved to a staffing construct that is lean and cost effective. These companies have found that they can’t afford to carry a technical staff to support all aspects of both their manufacturing platform and their plant infrastructure. So, out of necessity and competitive pressure, they prioritize where to make their staffing investments, and then look to outside help for assistance that can be funded on a pay-as-you-go basis when specific problems or challenges arise. Generally, companies that have focused their technical staff on nurturing their Intellectual Property (either product formulation or process methods) then allow contract engineering firms to partner in the technical space outside of their proprietary domain.
Additive Manufacturing (AM) remains a hot topic, offering tremendous benefits to manufacturers, especially for complex parts. Inroads are being made in newer and more sophisticated applications than previously thought possible by most users. 3-D printing was the domain of small plastic parts, rapid prototyping, and some rapid tooling. Now the technology offers a very wide material set and is on the brink of becoming commonplace. That would however understate the promise that AM offers today's manufacturers. Global names like General Electric (GE AM), Moog (Moog AM), and others are investing into this in a big way with much research and development effort and funds into this promising technology.
One of the challenges that technology driven startup businesses face is how to package their invention into a product platform that will be well received in the market, is operator-friendly, robust, and reliable (just to name a few of the desirable attributes that drive sales). Many times, these small companies are focused on staffing to develop their proprietary know how and associated process equipment. Unfortunately, they do not necessarily have the engineering resources to actually design and build a production worthy system that will embody their new technology and have the needed features and performance for use out in the general manufacturing environment.
In our ongoing discussions about executing capital projects in the Process Manufacturing segment, we have described methodologies and shared tips for the first steps or phases in the overall project workflow that results in an installed solution.
Previously in this space, we have blogged about the “Science Behind Process Manufacturing,” in which we talked about the necessary fundamental skills and process understanding that are the foundation for helping our customers troubleshoot their production problems. Today, I would like to share a specific scenario where this idea clearly plays out. Our premise is that in order to be effective at recommending corrections or improvements to our customers’ manufacturing platforms, we must first understand the science of what drives their process, based on sound engineering practices (in the disciplines of mechanical, electrical, chemical, software/controls, and structural). The business challenge that I think is a great case study of the need for these fundamental capabilities has to do with aftermarket support of complex production/process systems.