In engineering, a lot of focus is centered on complex systems and assemblies. Every manufacturer has a signature approach or systems that help to define a brand. However, from a logistics point of view, every component is of equal importance. A shortage of a single, small bolt over an entire assembly can cause a production shutdown. Optimas, a global industrial distributor and service provider of fastening and supply chain solutions, employs fasteners experts on the ground at its partners’ manufacturing facilities to combat this. But how do you, as a professional, successfully integrate with these businesses to improve their approach to components and their supply?
To define the ideal approach, we spoke to a number of leading Optimas components specialists regarding their relationship with customers, and the methodologies they employ to become a go-to source for all fastener concerns.
Questioning the norm
Ian Larkin, Optimas Customer Application Engineer
The first step of any fastener relationship must be to gain familiarity with the customer’s operations. Past experience in an industry can be important here, but leading manufacturers will enact varying approaches to achieve a finished product, so gauging specific customer requirements is important. Hence the advantage of having a fastener expert on the ground; someone operating off-site would not be able to reach the level of understanding required to accurately address specific fastener issues.
As a fastener partner, we have to fit an ‘ideal standard’. We are working with big global customers who are driven to succeed, so we have to respect current processes and enhance the policy towards components to the specific requirements of the manufacturer.
The easiest way to gauge these requirements is during a line walk. We will travel the entire production line looking at points of use while asking basic questions to see what we can tweak or possibly improve. This way we can meet the key figures on the line, while also taking a focused approach to tackle fastener problems on the ground. We don’t want to tear up the customer’s rulebook, but if we can point out a cost-saving or alternative option to production staff, we will do so.
A good example of the benefits this can provide to manufacturers is highlighted by one particular customer. We noticed a washer that wasn’t strictly necessary was being added to a flange screw. We found washers at multiple points of use, so we posed the question to the assembly team. It turned out that during the design of the product, the head engineer had requested the inclusion of washers to improve the aesthetic of the overall product. We were able to demonstrate that the washers were unnecessary for the application, and as a result, delivered an annual cost saving of $30,000 USD – a massive result when the cost of washers is considered.
You can utilize engineering expertise as part of a sales function, but it also adds value to our customers. By making sure that we don’t make presumptions, we start an open relationship with the customer in close proximity. This builds trust and lessens the impact of implementing new methodologies.
By getting involved with the product and seeing how it is used, people on the ground can get a deeper insight into possible solutions.
Becoming a go-to
Gerry Abraham, Customer Application Engineer at Optimas
A key aspect of integrating with a manufacturer’s operations is responsiveness. Such businesses work in exacting timeframes in all aspects of their work, whether full-scale production or prototyping a new product. Fastener suppliers who simply supply components can leave manufacturers with the impression that if a component problem arises, they alone must solve the issue. Optimas aims to differentiate itself by working together with purchasing, design and engineering teams within the business to aid problem-solving.
One project comes to mind, which was in relation to design engineering activity for a new diesel engine. A bolted joint for the turbo mounting was backing off during testing. The result was that the turbo itself was coming loose, producing excessive noise in operation. The manufacturer approached us for a solution. We connected the customer with a number of suppliers to help rethink the situation. The customer trialed 3 or 4 recommended locking type fasteners to replace the problem part, before selecting a preferred option. Ultimately, we wanted to give the customer choice and a chance to improve performance, so they could be confident in the part going forward.
By undertaking research into component issues and displaying honest knowledge regarding fasteners, an OEM manufacturer can gain increased confidence in a fastener partner. Backed by a personal relationship with the manufacturer’s teams, all component issues will be forwarded to the fastener experts with total confidence.
Chris Sterner, Engineering Program Manager at Optimas
Communicating fastener solutions throughout a business is another primary concern for an embedded fastener expert. This ensures that once a fastener challenge is overcome, the solution is transmitted to other projects where it can be utilized efficiently.
By starting this dialogue from the beginning, efficiency and response is improved. In addition, close contact means that specific fastener solutions can be enacted across multiple projects. Open dialogue regarding each other’s projects allows a wider implementation of identified solutions, instead of starting from scratch every time a potential problem arises. By standardizing solutions, you also deliver cost and efficiency benefits.
A consistent presence is important for these customers. We try to breed familiarity by being present at design reviews, which is a lot more beneficial to the manufacturer than simply being at the end of a phone. It also allows us to share solutions, as each fastener problem we solve allows us to convince these varied groups within a business that we can be trusted to deliver.
By ensuring a consistent presence, fastener experts can effectively manage the balance between cost, engineering integrity and design efficiency. This means that despite the sometimes conflicting goals of those involved in fastener specification, all concerns can be tackled simultaneously and effectively to enable improved efficiency.
Providing guidance on fasteners affects the activities of the purchasing, design, engineering and assembly teams – so being able to balance the requirements of each of these groups is paramount. Regular face-to-face contact is the optimum method, helping to build relationships between teams and delivering a fast response. Ultimately, a fastener expert must communicate across each department to achieve the perfect balance.
Going the extra mile
Chris Sterner, Engineering Program Manager at Optimas
Becoming a fully integrated fastener expert means taking the emphasis on component knowledge away from the manufacturer. Manufacturers, therefore, aren’t required to brush up on available standard parts, availability, material standards or overall usage – enabling time to be spent on other areas of the business. To become this trusted partner, you have to go the extra mile.
One story really fits this philosophy. One of our experts was asked to demonstrate some fasteners that were mentioned during a customer meeting. As he didn’t have these samples readily available at the meeting, he took pictures of the fasteners that were installed on his own car. He even took out a number of fasteners from the vehicle so he could share samples with the customer and demonstrate their usage. While quite an extreme approach, it was certainly effective in demonstrating the solution to the customer.
The capabilities of the service also go a long way. Our access to failure mode analysis and full technical studies means we can provide exact answers to tackle fastener application issues. If we don’t have an answer ready for the customer immediately, this capability means we can react as fast as possible with high technical proficiency. If it’s a unique problem, as fastener experts we can also learn from similar experiences, so the benefits of shared knowledge are also available.
Demonstrating the ability to exceed expectations means increased confidence and reliance. This can make a fastener expert more indispensable than a traditional fastener supplier, as customers are confident that any challenge will be met with the same committed and methodical approach.
Changing preconceptions on fasteners
Fasteners are the only assets on a production line that are used uniformly, but with engineering typically focusing on landmark innovations, the emphasis upon them can be diminished. As a fastener expert, challenging this preconception is all part of the job.
Chris concludes: “Fasteners may be the most inexpensive components that a manufacturer utilizes on a production line, but they are one of the most critical. A lack of fasteners will shut down production just as much as complicated components, so we must demonstrate to our customers that the expertise we deliver can provide reliable service no matter the challenge. It is this philosophy that means we can help support the day-to-day fastener demands of market-leading manufacturers.”