What to Look for at Site Visits to Metal Stamping Companies
Manufacturers who are considering adding or replacing a supplier of precision metal stamping face a daunting task of evaluation. Often, the process requires site visits to one or more metal stamping companies and a complex evaluation system, where the quality audit checklist is only the start. The technology and equipment at a precision metal stamper can be unfamiliar to even the most seasoned purchasing managers or engineers. But by concentrating on six key areas, OEMs can effectively evaluate whether the metal stamping operation meets their long-term performance standards.
- Quality Assurance
- Staff Expertise
- Advanced Technology
- Excess Capacity
- Financial Stability
- Global Competitiveness
1. Quality Assurance
Quality certifications from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) are the minimum requirement for quality assurance. When touring a metal stamping plant, look for evidence of a total quality assurance program that begins with part design and prototyping and carries through to the end product and packaging.
Evaluate whether the firm has a prevention focus to its quality control, with continual monitoring and detection systems to spot problems quickly. Quality-minded metal stampers use automated inspection equipment, such as in-die sensors and video inspection systems, to ensure consistent quality. In fact, sensor technology is effective in preventing problems such as high reject rates and high levels of scrap, as explained in Metal Stamping Sensors Boost Efficiency, Quality.
Metal stamping companies also employ statistical process control systems to track and analyze the variability in the metal stamping process and to monitor manufacturing statistics in real time, in order to spot trends and identify unacceptable variances.
Although it may seem obvious, quality also can be observed in a clean, well-organized manufacturing facility.
2. Staff Expertise
During the tour, talk with the engineers to evaluate the depth of their expertise. Ask whether their engineers are able to provide advice on new part design and production (DFM), including such issues as material selection and cost-effective production volumes.
OEMs also should evaluate the depth of the entire technical team, including the number of tool and die makers on staff. The ultimate quality of the metal stamping depends upon the quality of the custom tool and die the stamper creates for the project. Some metal stamping firms farm out tool and die design to external suppliers.
To ensure that each project runs smoothly from start to finish, the metal stamping company should field a team of technical project managers assigned to specific clients.
It also pays to determine whether the entire staff receives regular training on quality, technological advances and other relevant topics. (See the blog, Continual Training Demonstrates a Commitment to Quality.) In addition, an apprenticeship program that trains new tool and die makers indicates that the company is forward looking and willing to invest in the future.
3. Advanced Technology
OEMs expect their suppliers to keep up with the latest technology, which can speed time to market and cut manufacturing costs. For metal stampers, technological advances may consist of powerful new software or the latest in-die sensing technology to monitor quality throughout the stamping process.
New simulation software, with 3-D tool design, enables metal stampers to perfect part design before prototyping and/or production. The simulation software models the new part with different material options to determine manufacturability and reliability, showing how the part will react in the die and helping in the debugging process to make a more robust part. For more information on simulation software, read How Metal Stamping Simulation Software Saves Money.
As you tour a metal stamping company, ask them to point out any technology they have recently added or new technology in the pipeline. A metal stamping company that is reinvesting in both its technology and its people demonstrates a commitment to quality and innovation.
4. Excess Capacity
As you tour the facility, ask about the total number of presses available to run metal stamping projects and the production volumes that the firm can easily handle. Metal stamping companies should have excess capacity, as well as redundant equipment, in case one press goes down, so that on-time delivery is not jeopardized and changes in demand can be easily accommodated.
A metal stamping firm that has its own on-site maintenance department has an advantage in keeping machinery up and running properly. In-house tool maintenance of existing tools provides similar benefits in avoiding downtime and potential tool problems, although many metal stampers outsource that function.
A site visit should also include touring any secondary operations that are offered in-house, such as mechanical finishing, assembly and custom packaging.
5. Financial Stability
Although many metal stamping firms are privately held businesses that do not divulge their financial statements, manufacturers can get an idea of the company’s financial stability by requesting D&B reports. It is important to deal with a firm that is not highly leveraged, so that cyclical economic forces do not undermine its long-term operations. Perhaps the most important indication of stability is the number of years that the firm has been in business.
6. Global Competitiveness
Manufacturers continue to evaluate offshore operations in lower cost countries, but metal stamping companies with U.S. operations remain highly competitive in price, quality and on-time delivery, which are the top three demands that OEMs identify for suppliers. The reason is that tool and die makers rely on highly skilled workers with specialized expertise that is not available in many overseas locations. Another major factor in pricing of metal stamping is material costs, where cost differentials among other countries are not significant. As a result, manufacturers often choose to go with a U.S. supplier who can deliver on quality and ship to overseas assembly sites in Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Rim.
When reviewing estimates from U.S. and off-shore metal stamping facilities, manufacturers should compare the all-in price of part production and shipping, and consider such issues as access to customer service, shipping timeframes and potential country risks such as currency fluctuations.
For an in-depth view of OEM requirements for metal stamping companies, based on manufacturer surveys, download the free ebook: Top 10 OEM Demands and Decisions Points for Selecting Precision Metal Stampers