2/14/2014 | 2 MINUTE READ

The Changing Vendor/Customer Relationship

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As most of you who read this column know, I’ve been around the metalworking industry a long time. It has been a good provider for my family and for my innate curiosity about how manufacturing is done; how the things we take for granted get made.

When I started out all those years ago, vertical integration was a common manufacturing practice. The machine tool company I cut my teeth on was so vertically integrated it made its own ball screws, boxways and CNCs.

Today, such in-house capabilities are rare for an OEM, in large part because of the realization that suppliers of non-proprietary components are experts in their fields and often can do a better job of keeping up with the technology within their purview than can an OEM.

What machine tool builder today would make its own ball screws or way systems? There are too many high quality suppliers available whose business is making ball screws and way systems and many other components to justify the cost of doing these tasks in-house. It’s a classic make or buy decision that most manufacturers face repeatedly.

So what is the differentiator for a shop looking to invest in machine tool technology? If many of the machine tools are sharing basic components that once were considered proprietary or a value add proposition, is this drive toward a form of standardization helpful or hurtful?

What I see and hear from shops and from OEMs is that the trend is raising the level of service and engineering ability from the OEM and especially its distribution channels to a higher level. The machine tool was once considered the center of the metalworking process. It was king.

That reign has changed in the last few years to reflect the differences in how we make precision machined parts. Throughput, in many cases, has replaced cycle time as the shop’s main production metric.

The cycle time is only one of several measurements. When a machine could be set up to run a multi-million piece order, cycle time was a correct metric. Those jobs are pretty much non-existent today and have been replaced with more complex workpieces and shorter run orders.

Instead, looking at the up-stream and down-stream journey of work, including change-over, quick-change accessories, redundant tooling strategies, presetting, load and unloading of the machine and measurement are all part of the process and represent areas of potential savings when optimized. Elimination of secondary or tertiary operations is a common goal in most production operations.

Getting back to vertical integration, shops, too, have historically tried to keep operations within their walls. Manufacturing engineering, tool cribs, home grown automation and material handling capabilities could be found.