Finding a new tooling supplier can be a headache. So once you’ve found one, the last thing on your mind will be pre-empting potential issues.
However, being aware of common supplier problems will mitigate the risk of nasty surprises, such as inflated quotes or late deliveries.
To that end, here’s how to vet your new supplier:
Investigate unusually low prices
There’s certainly nothing wrong with getting a good deal, but sometimes you get what you pay for. Some companies will submit temptingly low quotes knowing that they’ll be adding extra costs later. You don’t necessarily need to resist low prices, but you should safeguard yourself against hidden costs – particularly if you’ve received a suspiciously low quote.
To avoid further charges for, for example, additional venting in coreboxes, or clamps on inspection fixtures, try to make your requirements crystal clear at the RFQ stage. Ensure that the supplier you’re working with understands your tolerances and specifications. Once you’ve received your quote, check that it accurately addresses your requirements – or you may find yourself paying more than expected for the finished article. It’s also a good idea to reference the quote in your PO, and to stipulate to your supplier that you will not be accepting additional costs. Better to do this sooner, rather than later!
Vet your potential supplier’s quality assurance (or lack thereof)
Accreditations aren’t everything. Some companies will lack an accreditation but do amazing work; some companies are accredited but toe the line, doing the bare minimum to keep their certification. That said, to be risk-averse, you’ll need to keep an eye out for the following in your supplier:
- An ISO accreditation awarded by a body that is itself accredited by UKAS, such as NQA or Lloyds. These accreditations involve robust requirements, and thus reflect a supplier that takes quality assurance seriously. A QMS certification (not accredited by UKAS) is not in the same league.
- If the company has no accreditation, look at their quality procedures for yourself. You can also submit a questionnaire to gauge if their procedures are satisfactory.
- Talk to the personnel responsible for quality assurance, and to those who will be making your tooling. You'll soon get an idea of how good it will be.
- Ask for references. A quality supplier won’t hesitate to give you some.
- Try some low-value tooling first before jumping into bigger projects.
Look out for unachievable delivery dates
Some companies will promise a delivery date that isn’t realistically achievable to secure an order. Of course, late deliveries can happen, and in some extenuating circumstances cannot be avoided. However, you’ll need to discern whether you’ve received an honest delivery time or a false promise.
Ask your supplier if they monitor their delivery performance. ISO accredited companies definitely do, and will be able to share evidence of this with you. In the case of companies that do not monitor their performance, make sure you’re requesting delivery updates during manufacture. You can also preempt any issues by building some overrun into your delivery date. Giving yourself a bit of wiggle room in case things go wrong will bring you peace of mind.
Make sure your supplier offers adequate after-sales support
Hopefully you won’t run into major issues, but bespoke tooling will always need fine tuning. Your supplier should be ready to assist you post-sale.
Ask them to confirm the extent of their after-sales support at the quotation stage. Communicate your expectations. You can also ask for examples of after-sales service issues that they resolved – confident answers will settle your doubts. Establish a single point of contact if you can, ensuring that communication will not become diluted. And speaking of communication…
Keep communication open
Ask yourself: was communication satisfactory prior to order placement? If you’re already frustrated with how slowly the provider has supplied your RFQ, beware. You can also request a timing plan and regular updates. Any reputable supplier will have no qualms with this.
Sourcing bespoke tooling from a new supplier always carries some risk. But by following this advice, you’ll have the best chance of working with the right company for you.