When working with a metal fabrication supplier, their commitment to quality can make the difference between a successful product launch and costly delays. Quality takes on a new meaning in the manufacturing world, where specific methodologies and certifications are an indication of process rigor. For example, when you see an ISO certification next to a supplier name, you know they’ve taken steps to prioritize quality.

Quality is a differentiator, especially in time-sensitive metal fabrication projects where issues can arise when you least expect it. It’s the reason manufacturers demand the highest quality standards from their partners. There’s simply too much at stake for a fabrication problem to spoil a launch.

To lower your risk, you should select a supplier that has both the internal quality standards and customer-focused validation services to identify issues before they can impact production. It’s a holistic approach to quality that’s often referred to as “safe launch” protocols.

But how do you know your metal fabrication supplier has what it takes to ensure the success of your next launch? You can start by looking for some of the quality standards and certifications that STAUB Manufacturing Solutions utilizes in our operations.

ISO, PPAP & APQP: What are they and why are they so important?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) ISO 9001 2015 certification is literally the industry standard for quality management — a mandatory requirement on most all manufacturer’s supplier checklist. ISO accreditation demonstrates an underlying commitment to quality that ensures your fabrication supplier has followed the requirements needed to “establish, implement, maintain, and continually improve a quality management system (QMS).”

Staub achieved its ISO certification in 2006. As we implemented ISO 9001 requirements, we embarked on a journey to create a quality-first organization that could consistently deliver flawless products by following robust and repeatable quality processes.

To meet this goal and support our customers, we realized that we needed pre-production guardrails to ensure a safe launch. So, we began utilizing the production part approval process (PPAP) developed by the automotive and aerospace industry and built a team around supporting this initiative. PPAP gives our customers the assurance that proper processes and controls are in place and products are fully inspected prior to moving to full production.

At a minimum, we follow a first article inspection (FAI) validation measure to verify that all new or modified production processes will produce parts that conform to the manufacturing specification. Many of our customers require additional levels of PPAP assurance, including product samples, data verification and other means of pre-production validation. Once we meet their defined PPAP requirements, we can move to final production.

But our quality journey didn’t stop there. For our internal processes, we added an advanced product quality planning (APQP) framework to our daily operations. This is common methodology used in automotive and manufacturing industries to ensure product quality and reliability throughout every phase of the production process.

From material selection and production specifications to finishing and packaging requirements, APQP enables us to plan, execute and validate our quality initiatives. Cross-functional teams attend regular APQP meetings to address any issues that could impact quality and focus on exceeding our customers’ expectations.

In 2023, STAUB achieved a 99.80 percent external quality rating — a testament to our commitment to quality via the certifications, processes and methodologies we’ve put in place. But not all metal fabrication suppliers share the same commitment. Be sure you’re aware of your supplier’s capabilities before you entrust them with your next production run. Their quality issues could result in your failure to launch.

When outsourcing the production of metal components, tier one manufacturers have two primary options: metal fabrication or stamping. Traditionally, higher volumes of repeat production runs have utilized stamping, while much smaller quantity projects could be handled by metal fabrication. Despite recent technological advancements that challenge these assumptions, they’re still considered standard practices throughout the industry.

Today, the factors influencing the fabrication versus stamping decision are changing. Although stamping is still preferred high-volume scenarios, the pivot point where fabrication is both viable and more cost-effective is moving. In fact, the cost/volume scales have tilted to reveal a new sweet spot for metal fabrication — which includes larger production quantities than were previously thought to be possible.

In this installment of our Smart Fabrication Sourcing blog series, we’ll provide some insights to guide the process of selecting one production method over the other. It starts by understanding what’s behind this changing decision calculus and reviewing the pros and cons of each method.

The costs and benefits of stamping out high volumes

Among metal forming technologies, stamping is synonymous with high production volumes. Once custom tooling has been built to support project requirements, stamping can crank out quantities from tens to hundreds of thousands of units per year. Production runs can be coordinated with manufacturing schedules, ramping up and down as needed.

But stamping comes with a notoriously high overhead and some notable limitations. Tooling costs alone are typically tens of thousands of dollars, which raises the stakes when making outsourcing decisions. Stamping is also inherently inflexible and doesn’t lend itself to making design iterations to support ongoing product improvements. Once the die is set, design changes cannot be made without tooling revisions and their associated costs.

Although long-run stamping dies are considered “permanent,” their maximum useful life is typically three years. Over time, deformations can create excess material waste and non-conformance issues. Manufacturers typically accept these common stamping challenges as costs of doing business.

For stamping to make smart business sense, mass production volumes and project-specific requirements must justify the expense of tooling.

New Laser systems offer a high-precision, high-volume production alternative

Over the past few decades, automated laser systems as well as advanced press brakes have revolutionized the metal fabrication industry. Offering superior precision and intricate design capabilities, laser cutting is ideal for everything from rapid prototyping to everyday fabrication. Still, many manufacturers overlook its potential for mass production as an economical and reliable alternative to traditional stamping — without the costs and limitations of tooling.

The sheer speed at which advanced laser systems can operate has increased significantly in recent years. Modern machines offer all the advantages of laser cutting with the potential to deliver tens of thousands of units per year. The decision for fabrication versus stamping boils down to two key questions: What production volumes are possible? At which point should stamping be used?

The answers to those questions depend on the capabilities of the metal fabrication supplier. At Staub Manufacturing Solutions, our customers are often surprised to learn that we can support production volumes around 30k and even up to 50k annual units per year in some cases — volumes that traditionally were reserved only for stamping. As always, we would only recommend such an approach if it delivered the greatest benefit to our customers. At higher quantities, the cost/benefit analysis of stamping may still win out.

Our production laser system enables us to easily support our customers through iterative engineering improvements and/or design changes. Unlike the costly limitations of tooling, we can simply make a program change in the machine to accommodate new features or design upgrades. Which means you don’t have to wait another three years to update your tooling and make product improvements.

So, the next time you’re considering stamping for a high-volume production run, don’t overlook the potential for laser cutting. STAUB’s metal fabrication experts are happy to evaluate your project requirements and advise you on the most viable option for your business.

As a supplier, STAUB Manufacturing Solutions has seen its share of product designs that don’t always yield the most economical results.  However, this can be avoided. Often times when a new product is being sourced, the fabrication supplier is typically only brought into the process after the engineering and designs are already finalized. What may have seemed like a trivial choice in the development stage, may unintentionally add significant cost and time to the fabrication process. In this installment of our Smart Fabrication Sourcing series, we’ll show why it’s a better practice to collaborate with your supplier during the product development phase.

While there are certainly more, here are five areas that can see benefits from collaboration.

  1. Use off-the-shelf tooling. Tooling is far more important than people realize. Often Engineers / designers will specify a bend radius or geometry that can only be made using custom tooling. Sometimes a slight change in the design can result in utilizing off the shelf tooling instead of having tooling custom made. Using custom tooling often results in extra costs and production delays.
  2. Avoid specialized fabrication materials. Steering clear of specialized or rarely used materials is another way to keep costs down. We’re not suggesting that you sacrifice production quality by choosing a lower-quality alternative. Rather, we’re recommending that you select an option that has similar properties and is more readily available. (e.g., choosing 304 stainless steel over 409 stainless steel). Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule, but using an uncommon material will certainly drive the price higher and often results in waiting months just for material to show up.
  3. Stay open to lower-cost assembly options. Designers often assume that there’s only one assembly method that will suffice for their product. Often times a qualified supplier will have other ideas that can help take cost out of the product. For example, rather than selecting a welded assembly, sometimes mechanical fastening such as riveting could achieve the same end goal at a much lower cost, especially on light-gauge materials.
  4. Don’t be finicky about fasteners. Fasteners, inserts and hardware are among the small design details that can have huge impacts on costs and production timelines. We currently manufacture a product using custom made fasteners. Besides being expensive, it takes anywhere from 3 to 6 months just for the fasteners to arrive. Most suppliers point their customers to the PEM catalog to select from readily available fastener inventories — avoiding potential complications, costs and delays.
  5. Finishing strong, lowering costs. Finishing may be one of the last steps in the process, but it should be an early design consideration for managing costs. Common finishing methods — such as powder coating, e-coating and zinc plating — are typically among the best options. Less common finishes like chromate plating, nickel and custom blend powder coats are typically more expensive. Unless a premium finish is required, consider a more common options to keep project costs to a minimum.

We recently did a project for an electronic systems manufacturer where they included us in the design process. We were able to eliminate a lot of cost by reducing the amount of weld (which is very labor intensive) as well as reducing the complexity of the components which made things much easier to manufacture and cheaper to produce.

When launching a new product, make an effort to collaborate with the fabrication supplier that you trust. Involve them in the process and, when you’re ready for production, you’ll find that your costs are lower, manufacturing goes smoother, and there are fewer quality issues.

In our next Smart Fabrication Sourcing post we’ll look at the differences between Fabrication and Stamping and what the best production volumes are for each service.

Doing business in a challenging economy and competitive marketplace can be a tricky proposition. Faced with shrinking profit margins, it’s understandable why many tier one manufacturers are trying to trim expenses within their supply chains. As a result, the search for a fabrication supplier is often driven first by cost concerns. But if your goals are to minimize expenses and maximize profits, it is important to understand the potential negative impact of accepting the lowest bid.

At STAUB Manufacturing Solutions, we have worked with many manufacturers who have made the mistake of accepting the lowest bid and then turned to us to help fix their issues. In this installment of our Smart Fabrication Sourcing series, we will explore the risks, consequences, and true costs of chasing the lowest-price fabrication bid.

Consider the hypothetical scenario below for an illustration of what is at stake.

A fabrication buyer requests multiple bids for 500 steel brackets per month for 12 months (6,000 units per year). Supplier quotes range from $3.50 to $4.35 per bracket ($21,000–$26,100 annual). The buyer selects the lowest price, expecting to save $5,100 per year compared to the highest bid.

But, during the 12-month contract, that low-priced supplier had significant production and quality issues that impacted the manufacturer’s project timeline. The supplier missed the monthly delivery target six times and delivered out-of-tolerance and/or unusable parts four times.

The production impact to the manufacturer from these supplier missteps was considerable:

  • 35 hours of lost production time from waiting on parts
  • 25 hours of product management staff working through all the issues
  • 20 hours of quality assurance time inspecting product defects

When you do the math, it turns out that the actual cost of selecting a low-price supplier was even higher than the highest bid:

  • Purchased cost = $21,000
  • Lost time expense (80 hours at $85) = $6,800
  • True cost = $27,800 (6.5% more than the highest bid)

Unfortunately, the repercussions of selecting a low-price supplier can go well beyond short-term profit losses. Production delays can damage your reputation and hurt relationships with long-time, loyal customers. At the end of the day, the opportunity costs from the hassle, frustration and potential loss of future business are incalculable.

If you’re ready to work with a team that’s committed to getting it right the first time, reach out to the fabrication experts at STAUB. We will help you protect profits and your reputation by developing a true-cost, high-quality bid.

In our next Smart Fabrication Sourcing post we’ll review the five mistakes to avoid when designing fabricated sheet metal parts.

As a busy professional buyer, you don’t have any time to waste. When you reach out to a fabricator for a parts quote, you want a quick, accurate response and not a lot of hassle. The last thing you need is an inbox full of questions or a quote that is incomplete. But too often that’s what happens.

In this installment of our Smart Fabrication Sourcing series, we share the six essential items to include in your RFQs to expedite the quoting process, improve quote accuracy, and save you valuable time.

Before you submit your next request for quote (RFQ) from a metal fabrication supplier, we recommend taking some extra time to prepare a complete description of key project requirements. From our experience, nothing slows down the quotation process more than having to stop and ask questions. And nothing is worse for a buyer (and the supplier) than running into production surprises from having missed a key requirement in the quoting process.

Your goal should be to provide enough documentation and production details to eliminate the need for any follow-up clarifications. Trust us. The upfront time you spend will be well worth the backend results! The following tips should help you to check every box on your quote preparation checklist.

  1. Complete design data. Providing a supplier with up-to-date part drawings and 3D CAD models is essential to the fabrication quoting process. These two items contain most all of the important information that will need to be considered. Drawings identify product tolerancing and key characteristics and 3D CAD models (e.g. STEP, or SolidWorks files) are used to develop laser cutting and forming simulations, which ensure the accuracy of the pricing and keep costs low.
  2. Material (metal) specifications. Include the material type, nominal thickness, grade (if applicable), and any special sourcing requirements (e.g. DFARS, domestic only). A common issue we see is a material specification that is not readily available in the sheet metal marketplace, such as a hard-metric nominal thickness or an obscure alloy. Alro.com is a good quick online resource you can use to verify general sheet metal availability. The other issue we see is specified materials that are not good for fabrication. For example, 6061 aluminum is great for machining and alright for welding but not good for forming (it cracks). 5052 aluminum is a much better all-around alloy for fabrication.
  3. Finishing details. Plating and powder coating are the most common finishing options that our customers request. It’s likely not possible to be too specific on these requirements. What slows the quoting process down is if the request is too vague, such as saying that the parts need powder coated “white.” Believe it or not there are many different shades of white as well as a variety of powder types (for various uses) and powder manufacturers. Providing your fabricator with a specific powder manufacturer (eg. Sherwin Williams) and the powder product number takes out all the guesswork. At a minimum, you’ll want to include an RAL number which aids in color matching.
  4. Final packaging. You want your fabricated product to arrive at its destination in good shape and in a form that’s good for the next step in the process. Identifying how the fabricator should package the product is an important part of that. The packaging might be as simple as stretch wrapped to a pallet or bulk packed in a gaylord box, or you might need custom boxing, especially if the parts have an odd shape or require special protection.
  5. Quality approval and inspection. Do your products require first article inspection (FAI) or production part approval process (PPAP) quality validation? If so, first make sure your supplier has these robust quality capabilities, and then specify the process validation and inspection requirements for all applicable parts.
  6. Production volume and timeline expectations. Finally, it’s important to provide your estimated production volume and anticipated deadline. This will aid your supplier in evaluating their workload and capacity to determine if they’ll be able to meet your project requirements or if they’ll need to propose a modified timeline.

If you include these six items whenever you request a fabrication quote, you’ll notice that you get quotes back faster, they’ll be complete and accurate, and you won’t be pestered with nonstop questions.

We hope these tips will help you prepare for your next RFQ. If you have any questions about starting a new project, the team of fabrication experts here at STAUB are happy to speak with you. In our next post, we’ll discuss the high cost of selecting a low-price fabrication bid.

In the previous installment of our Smart Fabrication Sourcing series, we explained the importance of conducting an onsite visit to get a firsthand look at a supplier’s operation. How else can you truly know if they have the necessary capabilities and quality processes to produce consistently reliable results? It’s also an opportunity to get a feel for a supplier’s culture, which is an intangible variable that is too often overlooked. In this post, we’ll offer four key culture-related questions to help you uncover what makes a supplier’s organization, employees and processes tick.

If you look at your preferred supplier list, chances are they all have one thing in common: a heathy, thriving organizational culture that fosters high quality and successful processes. But how can you evaluate the culture of new suppliers? First, it’s important to conduct an onsite visit to get a feel for their day-to-day operation.

While you’re there — or at any other point in the evaluation process — don’t be afraid to ask pointed questions that will uncover their professional integrity. Sometimes it’s best to meet potential suppliers on neutral ground or an informal setting, such as over lunch or dinner. This provides an opportunity to speak candidly and to see their personality traits in real time.

Although company culture is a subjective, intangible metric, we believe it’s a key indicator of a successful partnership. In fact, we would recommend not making a final supplier decision until you’re sure that their core values align with yours.

For conversation starters, consider these four questions:

1. What are your values? Loyalty. Quality. Timeliness. Precision. Service. Adaptability. These are all characteristics that define an organization’s values. Don’t hesitate to ask them which values matter most to them, and then carefully consider their responses. Request additional clarifications as needed. Are they responding with hollow cliches or are they being honest and sincere? Your goal is to try to uncover how they would define the term “valued partner.”

2. What is your hiring process? Today’s labor market is tight, and qualified workers are hard to find. If a supplier is willing to cut corners in the hiring process, then they likely won’t be able to consistently deliver on their promises. Without the right staff, processes are more likely to break down — and you’ll be left to pick up the pieces. If a potential supplier is selective in their hiring processes — giving equal weight to attitude and skill level (which can be taught) — you’ll be more likely to experience high-quality, long-term results.

3. What is your employee turnover rate? Workforce stability is an essential metric in determining if a supplier can consistently deliver high-quality, on-time products. It’s completely within your right to ask a potential supplier what their employee turnover rate is, how long their current staff has been employed and how committed they are to fostering a thriving, healthy workplace environment. If they freely introduce their staff and employees to you, it’s a good indication that they have nothing to hide.

4. How do you handle unexpected problems? It’s inevitable that every supplier — regardless of their experience or capabilities — eventually will encounter problems. Equipment failures, supply chain issues, or any number of unforeseen issues will surely arise. What matters is how they will respond to these challenges. Try to uncover if they’re inclined to assume responsibility and take immediate steps to make things right. Or do they seem defensive, point fingers, make excuses and shift the blame? Ask them to describe their resolution process. Is it focused on protecting their reputation, or is it geared toward minimizing impacts to your operation?

At the end of the day, you should walk away with the confidence knowing that their culture and values align with yours.

In our next Smart Fabrication Sourcing post, we’ll share what you can do to get fast, accurate, and competitive quotes from your fabrication suppliers.

With today’s supply chain complexities and economic uncertainties, sourcing a reliable metal fabrication supplier is more important ever. Choosing a partner that’s committed to your success, profitability and reputation adds predictability to your production schedule and takes one less worry out of the process. But how can you be sure that you’ve selected that partner? In this installment of our Smart Fabrication Sourcing series, we’ll explain why conducting an onsite visit is essential to ensuring success.

When it’s time to source a new supplier for an upcoming metal fabrication project, many manufacturers run through the familiar steps of a typical evaluation process. They often start with a simple web search, comparing capabilities and building a list of supplier prospects. Next steps often include sending out requests for quotes, scheduling introductory conference calls, negotiating on prices, and narrowing down the list down to the top candidates.

In most cases, manufacturers looking for new suppliers are up against tight production deadlines. In their haste, they often shortcut the evaluation process, settling for the first supplier that offers a low price and promises they have the right capabilities. But without taking the time to fully vet the potential supplier by meeting them in person, they are taking a great risk.

They’ll often realize their error too late — when that new supplier has either missed the production deadline or delivered products that don’t conform to the requirements. This mistake is not only costly, but it can put your production behind schedule for days, weeks, or even months.

From our experience, if you want to ensure that a supplier’s capabilities, culture, and commitment to delivering quality parts align with your company’s expectations; before awarding the bid, take the time to schedule an onsite visit to a supplier’s production facility.

If you’re sourcing precision-fabricated metal parts from a new supplier, conducting an onsite visit gives you the assurance that they’re capable of delivering on-time, on-budget and at quality.

Without conducting an onsite visit, how can you really know if a supplier’s facilities are equipped with the necessary technical capabilities, stringent process and quality controls, and specialized experience to produce your parts consistently? Can you really trust that their production process operation operates as efficiently as the pictures on their website might indicate?

Suppliers who care about winning your business will welcome this opportunity to meet you in person and prove that they have the specific capabilities you need. In fact, if they’re not willing to offer an onsite visit, it may be a red flag that they may have something to hide.

By gaining an inside look at a supplier’s operation, you’re able to meet their sales and production teams in person, take a personalized tour of their facilities and walk away with much clearer picture of their capabilities — and the assurance knowing that that they can meet your specific production timelines and/or fabrication requirements.

When visiting a supplier’s facility, be sure to look for these key process and quality indicators:

  • Review their systems and learn how they monitor quality metrics.
  • Understand their processes and watch how information flows through the operation.
  • See samples of their work and verify proof of their past successes.

An onsite visit gives you the insight that you simply can’t get from browsing a website, reading a brochure, or reviewing an equipment list. At the end of the visit, you should have no doubt about a supplier’s capabilities — and that their definition of quality and commitment meets your standards.

In the next post of our Smart Fabrication Sourcing series, we’ll review four key questions to ask during an onsite supplier evaluation.

Have you ever worked with a metal fabrication supplier that didn’t quite meet your expectations? Or worse, completely dropped the ball and botched your production process? Whose fault was it? Did the supplier not perform the work as quoted? Or did you leave gray areas in the quote that they misinterpreted?

With today’s supply chain complexities, selecting the right metal fabrication supplier is more important than ever. Manufacturers need to do everything possible to limit production disruptions and minimize the potential for a variety of unpredictable setbacks. A successful supplier partnership can make the difference between success and failure, profit and loss, frustration and peace of mind.

Through the years, we’ve learned what it takes to become that reliable, high-quality metal fabrication partner that manufacturers are looking for. Today, we’re launching a Smart Fabrication Sourcing series to share some of our tips and best practices for getting the results your company needs to be successful.

Whether you’re sourcing a new supplier or working with an existing partner, there’s a lot that can and will go wrong if you’re not paying attention to every detail. Although there’s usually plenty of blame to go around, in many instances these problems could have been avoided altogether.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but wouldn’t it have been nice if your fabrication partner would have uncovered these issues before it disrupted your production schedule? In our 25+ years of being a supplier to OEMs and tier one manufacturers, we’ve been called in to pick up the pieces many times after another supplier has dropped the ball. Some examples include:

  • Front-end quoting miscommunications that led to back-end production mistakes.
  • Small finishing or assembly details that got overlooked in the rush of compressed timelines that cause big problems at launch.
  • Incomplete or faulty parts from a supplier that misrepresented their capabilities.

So, if you’re looking for ways to get your sourced metal fabrication products right the first time, our new Smart Fabrication Sourcing series will deliver the proven tips and best practices you need to be successful. From supplier evaluation and quoting to capabilities and culture to quality processes and fabrication strategies, we’ll explore all the key considerations for building strong fabrication supplier partnerships that will give you the predictable, high-quality results you want.

Next week, in our first post of this series, we’ll explore the critical importance of the Onsite Visit.