Understanding Customer Expectations

An informal survey reveals what OEMS are looking for in their tooling vendors.


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It is hardly a secret that mold manufacturers must think outside the box to sustain operations during these difficult economic times. Recently MoldMaking Technology took an informal poll from a number of OEMs to gain an understanding of the challenges they face when looking for a tooling vendor, qualities they look for in a tooling supplier, and proposed solutions to the challenges.

The size of the shop, condition of the shop, number of moldmakers, machinists, mold designers, program managers, and sales staff all fall into play in tooling supplier selection. It’s important to look at the history and stability of the shop. Have they kept up with technology? Do they have the manpower and equipment to complete the on time and within budget? What size mold is the best fit for a particular tool shop? Three factors go into consideration for placing a mold. Quality goes without saying. Next is a variable, either cost or timing. Lately, timing has been the larger factor. The geographic location of the tool shop also is considered. Some OEMs try to keep vendors within a six- to seven-hour drive.

Challenges and Solutions
There are challenges inherent in the relationship between OEMs and their tooling suppliers. Some OEM tool engineers have found that there are shop owners and salespeople who sound great on the phone, but aren’t so in person. Due diligence is imperative here on the part of the OEM. If that is not done, then much of the blame lies in their court. One OEM tooling engineer believes salespeople are the last ones to contact, as their job ends with the sell. He points out that a formal visit with a tour of the facility is paramount. If possible, take along experienced shop floor people or practitioners who know what to look for in equipment, personnel, facility, workflow and even work quality. This is critical. Management that has never had the firsthand experiences should avoid the entrapment of being so arrogant in the position they hold to think they can go it alone. Additionally, responsiveness to initial RFQ and also ongoing concerns during mold build is critical—tooling suppliers should do what they say and only say what they can do. And, if they cannot do it or are hesitant for any reason, be honest.

Often quote requests are submitted incomplete. Most OEMs need specifics on a quote. During the visit, go over the tooling supplier’s entire program, front to back, from concept to mold qualification. Examine the quoting process: how detailed, how vague, are there any “holes” or “cracks” for things to slip through? Again, take someone along that knows the process. This document, in a large company, becomes a legal document sent on to different departments for processing. If payment terms or delivery information is missing, time is lost in rewriting the quote. A tooling supplier should never change anything on the quote without the OEM knowing why. If a tooling supplier has any questions they should ask. One OEM points out that most RFQs are not given a second chance.

Payment terms also are a big area of concern. Some OEMs have specific terms. A lot of shops have a preprinted quote form that has their own terms listed. Here again, if terms are different the quote needs to be reworked. A verbal is not acceptable as that form could become a legal document. Then it becomes the OEM tool engineer’s job to chase down the missing information—which is a waste of time and resources. A consistent, ongoing dialogue of honest communication between OEM and tooling supplier must take place. Initially, make frequent visits to the tooling supplier facility to view and assess the status of the work. A checklist of tasks and completion dates must be a part of this. If the tooling supplier proves trustworthy and competent to deliver to the agreed upon plan, then the visits can become less frequent and over time through many projects, totally eliminated with the exception of the kickoff session.

Communication is the best solution the OEMs surveyed use to deal with challenges that arise. Before submitting a quote, give a call to the OEM tool engineer and discuss the quote, making sure it contains all the information the quote request asked for. If there are areas for improvement on the OEM’s part, don’t make assumptions that a feature can be changed. Face-to-face is always best, but not always practical. But with the many means of communication these days, it can be very effective even if offsite. Many suppliers now have their own servers for customer access to not just upload/download technical data, but for communication of status updates as well. This can be done in nearly real time, with the diligent updating by the vendor on a daily basis, using a number of web-based applications that are available, or video conference systems. Of course, sensitive information should be considered when determining the means of information sharing. And of course, there is always email, telephone, text messaging and so on.

In the eyes of the OEM tooling engineers, the needs of OEMs are simple: tooling suppliers deliver what they quote, within the quoted time frame, and within budget. Additionally, tooling suppliers must have the ability to react to part and tool changes and quote a reasonable cost for those changes, and work weekends if necessary. One OEM believes this should be avoided at all costs, but sometimes it is inevitable. OEMs need to have their act together just as much as they expect their tooling suppliers to be prepared. On occasion, tool shops will bid low and hope for changes. OEM toolmakers are pushing back harder on changes. Suppliers are warned against low-ball quoting or delivery-time gambling. Change costs need to be fair and consistent—not a way to make up for poor quoting or shop scheduling.

The key for both parties is to be organized and committed. No one wants to work with an OEM who is very poor at schedule management and always behind on releasing its projects (there by shifting the burden to the supplier). Nor do tooling suppliers want to work with the OEM that is always crying “wolf” only to have the molds sit around for a week or so after the shop has worked 24/7 to get it done by a “must-have” date.

Remember, OEMs look for a reason to use a particular shop. Good communication, fast quote request turn around, cost of changes within reasonable means, or having a company truck deliver or pick up a mold (at no charge). The list goes on and on. The tool shop that can offer that little bit of extra service is the one the OEMs will remember and keep coming back to. Those tool shops that charge $50 to add a KO pin, $100 to run an additional 25 parts at a sample run, excessive charges for engineering changes, and other upcharges will be remembered as well—but not in a good way. Those shops will get a reputation of being what’s called a nickel and dime shop that charges for everything.

Following this advice may help mold manufacturers improve relations with OEMs. To quote an old adage, “Honesty is the best policy.” Quote what you are asked to quote—and don’t under-quote anything.