Case Study 1 - How alternative processing allowed us to outperform an offshore competitor
In late 2007, one of our long-term high-volume customers told us they were moving some of their products to an offshore manufacturer. We’d been making this product series since the 1990s, and the quality of the product had remained consistently high.
We asked what we could do to preserve the relationship and keep the work. Our customer told us that the only way we could keep the work was to match the price. Then they told us the price… shockingly in some cases it was 50-60% lower than our price.
Upon closer investigation, we discovered that on the largest detail, the material alone was worth more than the cost that the outsourced company was quoting. We suspected that the new relationship wouldn’t last.
For the next few years, we stayed in touch with our customer and asked them how things were going. At first, they were delighted, but the “honeymoon” ended in about a year. Faulty quality and delivery delays became a common operating practice. Our old customer became increasingly frustrated and eventually talked with us about helping them reduce costs, so they could send the job back to us.
Over several months we investigated alternative processing, talked with tooling manufacturers, and determined an innovative new process, which yielded savings of about 40% over our original price. (Specifically, we saved 40% on 2009 material costs, which were slightly more expensive than in 2007.) Just two years ago this was not possible, but with advancements in tooling, we accomplished something that was previously thought unachievable. Today our customer is working with us again, saving money, and feeling much less stressed about the costs of materials and manufacturing.
Case Study 2 – When a complex part called for creative thinking
A customer came to us with a tricky problem. They were trying to produce a very complicated part in their own in-house special project machining and manufacturing department. What made the part so complicated? Well, it was intended to be made from stainless steel with a wall thickness of roughly 0.750 inches. The design called for 72 slots to be milled through each part in various patterns, turning the part into something resembling lace.
This proved to be extremely difficult for our client because the part would start to collapse under normal conventional cutting practices. When the customer tried to change the design to accommodate non-traditional methods such as water jet and laser cutting, they found that too much material had to be removed, and it was not cost effective.
The customer asked Fitzpatrick Manufacturing to provide alternatives for producing the intricate part. After a few weeks of experimentation using various high speed milling techniques and creative tool paths, we were able to machine the part in such a manner that using conventional machining practices did not cause the part to collapse. Because of this success, the customer asked us to produce the entire lot, which we delivered in a timely manner.
Case Study 3 – Developing new technologies and processes to meet stringent requirements
A customer brought us a project that consisted of 9 details of varying degrees of complexity. The part was complex in geometry, and moreover, it had a very unique thermal processing requirement. As our team initially experimented with ways to make the part, we could not achieve the heat treat specs or hardness requirements.
We decided to collaborate with our trusted consultant who is a retired metallurgical professor. Systematically, he evaluated our sample parts, provided suggestions, and we made improvements to make sure the results were desirable and verified in a laboratory setting. Through this back and forth process, we changed the pre-heat treatment processes, and in turn changed the microstructure to be more manageable for a post-induction hardening process. This was a great start to the project; however, this new pre-heat treatment process had to compatible with the induction hardening process.
Once we determined this equation, we started working on the induction hardening aspect of the project. We had to find an induction hardening source that could deal with the project’s very unique specifications. After interviewing several sources, we found a supplier that was capable of taking on the project.
This project also required a very unconventional induction coil design that we developed after several reiterations. Eventually, we determined that the modified grain structure from heat treat had to be refined to help with the induction hardening process. After working with two sources, we were able to get a combination that worked for all parties involved, which resulted in a part that met the stringent requirements of this design. Not only did we satisfy the client, but we’ve also been able to strategically apply the technology and process developed for this part to other subsequent parts.
Case Study 4 – Using collaborative thinking to make an aluminum part perform like a plastic part
In an effort to improve one of their products, a customer asked for our help. They wanted a part that was extremely flexible with a very low tensile, yield, and elongation. Our customer had previously been making the part from plastic, but the plastic proved not to be effective due to wear and temperature concerns. Our customer believed titanium or aluminum would be the best choice for this project because both materials would provide a higher wear factor, and they are lightweight materials. Due to cost, titanium was immediately eliminated from the list of applicable materials, leaving aluminum as the next obvious choice.
Since the part had to be so flexible, the shell of the part was redesigned to be extremely thin. Even with this thin shell, the part did not pass R&D testing. As a result, we decided to use thermal processing to change the mechanical properties of the aluminum substrate.
By working collaboratively with engineers at our customer’s facility, local test labs, and trusted suppliers, we developed a unique process. After teaming up with our heat treater, trying different temperatures, quench cycles, and solution aging techniques, we found a combination that changed the mechanical properties of the aluminum part to those exhibited by the plastic part, thus improving the end product (and delighting our customer).
Case Study 5 - Using our Vendor Managed Inventory system to complement our customer’s unique needs
A major manufacturing company approached Fitzpatrick Mfg. Co. with an interest in our Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) program. However, the prospective customer also presented the problem of making our Vendor Managed Inventory available to all of their plants in the western hemisphere as well as their supplier plants as well.
In order to accomplish this goal, Fitzpatrick Mfg. Co. had to start the project consisting of 14 different parts and have the parts ready to ship within 4 weeks, with the entire project completed and in stock ready to ship the second group of parts within 2 weeks of the first delivery. Fitzpatrick started the project by reviewing each drawing, offering the customer suggestions for improvements in speed to market. The suggestions consisted of material changes, tolerance changes for features that were deemed not critical, as well as design changes allowing less fixturing / work holding to improve throughput.
The other part of the project, implemented roughly 5 weeks after the first delivery, was a standardized catalog available to all users as authorized by our customer. The online catalog contains part information, pricing points, inventory levels, and inspection data. We are roughly 6 months into this project and customer is very pleased with the program.