Harmony Merwitz discusses with a number of leading components specialists regarding their relationship with customers, and the methodologies they employ to become a go-to source for all fastener concerns.
In engineering a lot of focus is centred 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 c-class components, 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?
Given below are some of the methodologies employed by them to become a go-to source for all fastener concerns.
Questioning the norm
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.
Ian Larkin, Optimas Customer Application Engineer, informed, “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. Ian Larkin said, “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. Ian Larkin elaborated, “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.”
One can utilise engineering expertise as part of a sales function, but it also adds value to its 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,” sated Ian Larkin.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
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.Gerry Abraham, Customer Application Engineer at Optimas, cites an example of a project, 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 trialled 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,” stated Gerry Abraham.
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.
Cross departmental communication
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 wider implementation of identified solutions, instead of starting from scratch every time a potential problem arises. By standardising solutions, you also deliver cost and efficiency benefits.
“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 on 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,” said Chris Sterner, Engineering Program Manager at Optimas.
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,” added Chris Sterner.
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
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, one has to go the extra mile.
Chris Sterner, Engineering Program Manager at Optimas, narrates a story that really fits this philosophy. He said, “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 a 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,” informed Chris Sterner.
Demonstrating the ability to exceed expectation 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 concluded, “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.”
About the author:
Harmony Merwitz is the Global Vice President (Marketing) at Optimas Solutions - a global distributor of fasteners and c-class products.