An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
July 10, 2003
How do you check tube fabrications to ensure they meet quality standards? Do you ship parts without checking them and hope that the next time the phone rings it isn't a prelude to a tirade from a disgruntled customer? Or do you check finished parts only to realize that your scrap rate is too high and wish you had checked them at earlier stages of the manufacturing process?
The effect that checking fixtures have on your operating bottom line is so important that they should be given a much higher priority than most tube fabricators give them. The cost of quality checking fixtures should be included in every bid when quoting jobs. In fact, costs incurred because of quality problems are much lower in jobs that include such fixtures compared to the costs of a similar job that does not include quality fixtures.
When bidding a job, many companies look for areas in which they can cut costs to get the job—but fixtures is not a place to cut. Tube fabricators that figure in a little more for fixtures will save in terms of quality and waste in the long run. Inserting checking fixtures at the right points in the fabrication process can help to reduce or even eliminate costs in other areas. An added benefit is that checking fixtures let equipment operators know exactly what is required when starting a job.
The majority of your customers demand tolerances that get continually tighter. If you are unable to meet their requirements, they will move to another supplier who will, and it might be awhile before you are able to gain their confidence again. Customers want parts that have closer tolerances for many valid reasons, the most important of which is that assembled components fit together better. This allows your customer to reduce or eliminate assembly jigs and fixtures; it reduces or eliminates quality problems; and it results in a better finished product for your customer.
Furthermore, machine builders, tooling builders, and fixture builders have come up with better products that are available to you, and your typical customer knows this. In other words, your customer has two goals: He wants to manufacture better finished goods, and he wants you to manufacture better intermediate goods. Customers know that encouraging you to purchase newer and more advanced equipment is one way to accomplish both of these goals. When it comes to tube fabrication, fixtures play a big part in it.
Why are fixtures required? and Where are they required? are the two questions to ask yourself when bidding a job. Building fixtures into the manufacturing process and then passing the why and the where along to the equipment operators help the operators to catch quality issues as they come up. Many of you might say, "That's how we do it now," but think about it—do you really take the time necessary to prevent quality problems, or do you just rip through the process and take a close look at quality control when a problem crops up?
Some tube fabricators I work with have their own in-house fixture design and build department that allows them to build the level of quality each job requires into each fixture. But make no mistake, fixture building is an art that requires experience to do the job right. Otherwise, a lot of money can be wasted. I work with some companies that are not very good at building fixtures so they are constantly facing quality challenges.
Some companies are dedicated to building fixtures and will work closely with you to design and build whatever you want. I suggest that you develop a relationship with one of these companies if you don't do a satisfactory job in-house. While a fixture builder might seem a little expensive, remember that if it helps achieve better quality, reduce waste, and cut down on daily problems and headaches, the money spent will be well worth it.
Try to give the fixture manufacturer the exact product you want fixtured, all the necessary prints of the product, and a list of the points you want checked. This type of approach helps the fixture builder determine what type of fixture will work best for the project. Providing all this information upfront also saves time.
It's up to tube fabricators to communicate with fixture builders about lead-times. Lead-times are shrinking in nearly every industry, and the tube fabrication industry is no exception. Some fixture manufacturers have lost business because their lead-times were too long. Who did the business go to? In some cases, to the tube fabricator. While many of these companies did not want to specialize in this field, they did so because they felt they did not have any other choice. The tubing industry as a whole requires shorter lead-times, and the fixture industry is going to have to adjust its lead-times too.