Let’s deal with the elephant in the room. Whenever you, the consulting design engineer, walk into a manufacturer’s building, the chances that the existing engineering team welcomes you with open arms are slim to none. Despite being there with the best intentions, your very presence could be perceived as threatening.
With fewer internal resources available to engineers, manufacturing executives are keen to employ external partners to enhance engineering activities. Executives may understand the value of an outside perspective, but in-house engineers might need more convincing.
We often experience this. As a metal fabrication partner, we help manufacturers identify where material can be reduced, in-line processes consolidated and assembly costs cut. Ideally, we want to work alongside the head engineer to determine and test cost-effective design solutions. But ideal is just that—not always the case.
Instead, they might be hesitant to deviate from tried-and-true designs and processing methods. Whether the result of a creative rut or cognitive bias, resistance from the engineering team is a common challenge for consulting engineers.
Here are three barriers of entry to anticipate before meeting with the engineering team:
- Proving your value may be more difficult than you think. There are a variety of internal obstacles you may have to overcome. Your recommendations may require you to advocate for a new way of designing and producing the customer’s product. This is far from an easy task. In addition, changing product design could have implications down the supply chain—impacting fabrication methods, vendor relationships, assembly, sourcing, etc. Significant changes in other areas of production could be met with resistance.
- You are going up against preconceived notions. It’s not uncommon for manufacturers to lean on the production methods they know best: extruding, lasering, press braking, and stamping. Alternative methods might be foreign to the engineering team, which can lead to creative ruts and cognitive bias and make it difficult to present fresh ideas.
- Cutting costs may not be enough to gain buy-in. Even when you can prove significant cost savings throughout the supply chain, it might not be enough. Organizations may be hesitant to change because of the challenges your recommendation poses to sourcing, vendor relationships, production processes, or forecasting. Change is always accompanied by risk.
How to break through the barriers
Barriers can quickly become opportunities. The manufacturer’s complete trust in your knowledge and abilities is rarely earned right away. Earning trust takes time and a dedication to a collaborative partnership. The golden rule is to always provide holistic solutions to the customer.
Position yourself as a partner in the product redesign, and as equally committed to finding a more cost-effective solution.
Money and time will always be top of mind for manufacturers. Costs such as set-up, labor, tooling and secondary assembly all need to be considered. Employing Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA) will help you consider these factors early in the design phase. Carefully evaluate quality, proximity, switching costs and similar factors when making any engineering recommendations.
To earn executive and engineer buy-in, advocate your recommendation in terms of its cost along the entire supply chain. Understand the key value drivers of component costs, and have a complete understanding of price versus total cost of ownership. Clearly articulate the value of a short-term investment to achieve long-term ROI.
Every project has its own unique challenges. Above all else, it’s imperative to understand the manufacturer’s business goals, decision processes and how each production method would impact the end product.
Part numbering. For most engineers, this two-word phrase is all it takes to conjure up especially strong feelings about what it means to be “right”, and what it means to be very, very “wrong.” We've assembled a handful of our part number greatest hits in this eBook anthology.