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Get your suppliers involved early

Get your suppliers involved early

Paparone has been with DuPont for 27 years. He started as a research chemist, and later became operations manager for process instruments. He also spent six years in DuPont's Corian surfaces business. He has won several internal awards at DuPont for his work. He has a B.S. in chemistry and an MBA in Marketing and Finance.
The days of engineering think tanks are over, says Paparone. Engineers have little time to test alternatives. That's why early supplier involvement is important. Suppliers can bring in the knowledge engineers need.

Design News: What are the biggest pressures engineering customers face today?

Paparone: The days of engineering think tanks are over. Short-term results are the big demand. The economy is pushing everyone toward cost cutting. You get products that are good enough but not necessarily innovative. There's no time to take risks for innovation. Manufacturers have a hard time testing innovative solutions, especially in a tight economy but they will test cost-cutting ideas.

Q: What are engineers looking for from suppliers?

A: The engineering hierarchy of values is divided between the rational and the emotional. The rational says deliver quality products on time, deliver on spec, provide consistent performance, and provide technical support. The emotional says offer a complete solution, look for integrity in the manufacturer, and overall be responsive. Price never shows up on the list of the top ten values engineers say they're looking for.

Q: Do engineers want to have one source to go to for materials solutions?

A: The truth is that engineers barely have time to track and consider alternatives on every project. Suppliers who bring in alternatives are invaluable, and so is the knowledge the supplier brings in. Engineers want suppliers who can supply all their materials, but also the knowledge they need.

Q: Why is it important for suppliers to get involved in their customers' design projects early in the project cycle?

A: The reason is to gain an understanding of the big picture. Suppliers in every technology have the ability to bring in all they have learned from other industries. The earlier they get in on the project, naturally, the more creative they can be.

Q: How important do engineers generally consider ease of assembly to be on their design work?

A: Very important. No design is complete unless it can be manufactured. One example of failure to understand the importance of assembly is the case of a transmission designed to save costs. Assembly people couldn't install it without breakage, and design hadn't really thought about that. They only thought about saving money.

Q: Are engineers trying to consolidate parts in new product designs or re-works of existing products?

A: It's not a megatrend. It only works if you can lower assembly costs. When suppliers are involved early, they can find the best balance of parts costs and assembly. For example, we are working with a snowmobile manufacturer to consolidate three parts into one. We've done the studies and we know it will save money. But there are plenty of examples where consolidation doesn't save money. But you should factor in maintenance to determine savings. If you consolidate parts, maintenance staff will have fewer parts to replace, and that could save money.

Q: With Vespel, do you consider yourself to be a parts supplier or resin supplier?

A: Vespel has always been both a parts and a resin supplier. We became a parts supplier because no one knew how to process Vespel. With us supplying parts and resin, there is no question who is responsible if a problem arises. If you use a processor who buys from a raw materials supplier, you have to find the processor and audit that company, which is expensive. Our singular, aligned channel to market controls costs and is more secure.

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