Director of Business Development, Humphrey Products
Vendors of everything from fasteners to software frequently complain that their customers bring them in late on projects, missing opportunities to provide solutions that save money and improve designs. Humphrey's McDonnell explains the problem.
Do customers involve their suppliers early enough in the design cycle? From a historical perspective, no, not in business-to-business industrial markets. However, especially since 9-11, the practice of bringing in suppliers early has gained some traction.
Why since 9-11? That date coincides with major changes in industry. Manufacturing shrunk and engineers began to consider vendors as team members. But there's still more to do.
Why the former reluctance to bring suppliers in early? Manufacturers have been and are concerned about their suppliers' level of experience and expertise that they might be able to bring to the table, especially in relation to their markets. Or, it could simply be just a lack of awareness about a specific company and its capabilities, such as capabilities to miniaturize components or, in fluid power, to design and manufacture custom systems and accurately control the movement of minute amounts of fluid.
What are the consequences of bringing suppliers in late? The consequences are huge. They can range from missing established financial objectives such as manufacturing-cost control, return on investment, and contribution margins. Also, there is the possibility of lost sales, complete product failure, or, in extreme cases, losing market leadership to a disruptive technology.
Give us an example. In one case, a medical design manufacturer failed to solve a valve-sensitivity problem and nearly shelved a revolutionary new product. If it had not been for Humphrey's experience in respiratory devices and design of poppet valves, the product wouldn't be saving lives today.
Are pleas of suppliers for early involvement really just a ploy to get more business? Certainly not. By involving suppliers early in a design project, a manufacturer can greatly widen its base of expertise. While solving the initial problems, suppliers might even ask "dumb" questions that enable the manufacturer to solve other application problems or even identify new markets for its products.
Are there industries that can serve as role models for involving suppliers early? Yes. In recent years, Daimler Chrysler has been mentioned frequently as a company that involves suppliers early. In the aerospace, analytical-instrumentation, and biomedical-equipment industries, early involvement of suppliers has become the norm. Companies in those industries realize they save time, money, and improve product design by brining in supplier partners early.
Reach McDonnell at firstname.lastname@example.org