Today’s R&D directors and procurement managers operate in a global economy with a large palette of manufacturing options. Decisions made today don’t impact just efficiency and profitability, but long-term quality, safety, added tool transfer costs, and a loss of critical patents and IP.
Obviously a recall can tarnish a company’s reputation, costing multi-billion dollar losses and in some cases ending smaller disruptors and innovators but supply chain disruptions are a more pressing concern. Moving to a new manufacturing partner is a burden—tool transfers alone are significant.
Isn’t a tool transfer easy? (no)
A micro mold tool transfer rarely involves physically moving the tool to a new manufacturing partner. In practice, it involves creating an entirely new tool to match legacy specifications. Engineering teams often lose access to 3D models of their original parts, or simply can’t get them at all. CT scans often fall short of the detail needed in precision micro molding, especially when micron tolerances are a consideration.
Tool transfer inquiries have increased substantially as OEMs tighten their supply chain and vendor list to reputable quality-obsessed partner, giving them control of the process. At our own production site in Accumold, the DfMM team often physically walks to production to make adjustments on the fly. As products get more complex, this fast communication, tight collaboration, and control have become a priority for R&D leaders.
Keep the supply chain tight
Growth in this new manufacturing landscape requires investments in the very areas responsible for everyone’s “supply chain woes.” It requires advanced machinery, software and other micro-based tools, but significant investments in experience, and quality control. In our case, what good is creating high-quality precision micro molded components and partners if they can’t be measured?
Using state-of-the-art tech in a lab setting, white light inferometers, and high-powered microscopes is a starting point, but knowing what to look for relying on decades of experience matters these days. Using our own materials team as an example, they can make plastic behave in ways, our suppliers don’t think is possible—this is probably why resin suppliers use us to test their new products.
If you keep you supply chain focused on up-front cost quotes, you lose quality control, lack of well-trained talent. You also lose critical communication from language barriers. Any experienced R&D engineer will tell you how simple communication misunderstandings translate to millions in loss, or months of delays.
Preventing IP Problems when outsourcing
But there’s still one more pressing concern, with increasing global market instability and one we hear about quite often from procurement managers. IP. Tightening your vendor list, means using vendors and partners that have to follow the same laws you do. Legal issues aside, many companies IP or patents are everything.
Some countries not only lack legal protections and processes to protect your IP, but are experiencing high levels of IP theft according to the International Trade Administration.
If you’re opening new markets, focusing on low-cost it can make a lot of sense to broaden your supply chain. If you’re manufacturing larger plastic parts used in a child’s toy, it can also make sense. But if you rely on precision, zero-fail parts for drug-delivery devices, pacemakers, or micro optics parts, that first step in choosing a vendor can be a doozy.