A textbook might describe the metal manufacturing process this way: a customer has an idea for a metal part they want made. They find a fabricator, who comes up with some drawings. Once the design is approved, the part is made. If the fabricator provides in-house coating services, the part will be coated onsite; if not, the fabricator will outsource the finishing (blasting, pretreatment, powder or liquid coating) to one of their industry contacts.
Sounds too simple? It is.
In real life, the metal manufacturing process is more like this: a customer has an idea for a metal part they want made, and they need it done (manufactured, coated, and ready to install) in twelve weeks. More often than not, the manufacturing process (including design work, including lead times, and including the probability that the manufacturer is quite busy to begin with) gobbles up most of those twelve weeks, leaving a matter of days to find a powder coating provider to finish the part.
As the powder coating provider in this scenario, I’m here to tell you that it’s VERY common for the powder coating shop’s feet to be held to the proverbial fire in these situations. We’re often asked for one-day turnarounds, under threat of the manufacturer withholding future business from us if the deadline is not met.
Why on earth are we rushing the part of the process that is most directly tied to the part’s overall aesthetics?
This could be the most expertly-manufactured part in the world, and the overall effect would still be ruined by a slap-dash powder coating job (not to mention the fact that long-term corrosion protection could suffer if the part is not finished correctly).
What if we worked backward?
What if, instead of seeking a manufacturer, the customer came to us first?
I would love nothing more than to start with the customer’s end date, schedule the coating time to ensure the highest possible quality, and then find a manufacturer from among my contacts who can produce the part on our schedule. If nothing else, if I’m working backward, I can tell the customer right away whether they might need to add a week to their timeline. In my experience, this type of news is much better-received in the early days than it is ¾ of the way through the project.
Ultimately, this whole issue comes down to project management skills. Whether you’re scheduling backward or forward, if you’re lucky to be working with someone who’s organized and communicative, things will go well for you. If not, your project is essentially at the mercy of every bump in the road (and there will be bumps – that’s the nature of the fabrication beast).
I see huge potential for project management in the manufacturing industry. Construction has general contractors; who, in manufacturing, is coordinating suppliers, finishers, shippers, and receivers? Who’s managing deadlines and facilitating communication between the independent parties?
To the customers reading this: if you’re in the market for metal parts that will eventually require coating, don’t short-change the coating side of the equation. For best results, find the person in your supply chain with the best project management skills, and start the process there, even if it means you’re starting backward.