Today’s design engineers know too well how the manufacturing community needs to offer flexible solutions within shrinking windows of opportunity. Besides hiring and retaining top-notch engineering talent, successful manufacturers must constantly develop innovative design solutions.
One profitable business model, proven across a wide spectrum of manufacturing operations, is to offer specific customers individual and unique applications developed by in-house engineering teams. Often these custom design solutions address a bottleneck within a manufacturing operation and ultimately enhance the overall operation by increasing throughput, lowering cost, improving quality, or a combination of many beneficial factors.
Across the manufacturing landscape opportunities for custom design solutions abound. In the area of plant energy efficiency, cutting the operating costs of systems, sizing components properly, preventing bottlenecks, and finding and eliminating leaks represent common problems. Maximizing uptime by innovative designs, eliminating various forms of external contamination, keeping moving parts lubricated, and pinpointing problems to prevent or minimize downtime all need redesign. Grappling with EPA restrictions, conforming to emerging industry standards, and simply keeping pace with technology advancement all offer custom redesign attention.
Partnering on custom designs requires an entrepreneurial mindset that may take some time to cultivate since it requires an established engineering competence coupled with the ability to engage each customer as a true partner. Sharing design files in an open communication environment while building trust – and a successful manufacturing solution – does not come without commitment and experience.
Not all manufacturers are equipped to participate in custom designs and simply elect to focus on their core competency. However, for those with the ability to deploy a cadre of engineering expertise, driven from an internal culture of innovation and problem solving, capitalizing on external custom design solutions may represent a lucrative business.
Finding a partner
Generating customers for custom design solutions represents a challenging endeavor that may intimidate prospective forays outside core competency manufacturing. One proven method is to harvest customers through existing networks – indeed, customers often create opportunities for custom design solutions simply by expressing everyday frustrations, production bottlenecks, and their own misfit customers.
Once identified, the custom design solution provider should perform due diligence. Typically this involves a feasibility study with feasible solution and a quotation process detailing needs and services. If a solution looks feasible, building a cost-effective prototype engages engineering teams from both organizations. Since this likely involves sharing engineering drawings, CAD files, and simulation software models through an iterative process, a highly experienced design team, sensitive to customer needs and fully invested in product or system results, becomes critical to a successful solution.
Internal custom design team
Once positive results have been achieved, the two organizations share a sense of joint accomplishment. This should be viewed as the initial step in nurturing a long-term relationship that builds a series of custom design solutions together. These successes do not go unnoticed. Competitors quickly discover competitive advantages and may seek out the provider for their own design solutions. Working through an existing customer base, a network of distributors and/or sales associates, and marketing the internal custom design teams can greatly expand a custom design solution business. Apart from a manufacturer’s core competency, a custom design engineering team geared to customer partner solutions can provide a solid business unit with handsome revenues.