The simple proposition that no two automation solutions using robotics are alike because no two manufacturing processes are identical presented a major challenge to Daniel Drennen of Deshazo LLC (Alabaster, AL).
Deshazo offers robotic vision systems that allow robots to perform quality control inspection, parts picking, and other automating processes for the steel, aerospace, automotive, and consumer products industries, among others. Its robotic packaging systems give robots the capacity to determine what product goes into a particular package and then box the product. Recent engineered solutions include a vision-guided robot to load castings into a high-speed machining center, while another uses a robot to do spot welding for catalytic converter housings. Still others employ robotic systems to perform filling, capping, and labeling functions for hazardous materials, residential coil assembly for an HVAC manufacturer; and assembly for a consumer goods manufacturer.
“The applications for robotics are limitless, but each solution creates a unique parts need,” said Drennen. “A custom end-of-arm tool that we design and affix to the end of that robot arm allows the robot to perform a specific task. The tool might require a finger, some kind of plate, or some other attachment. We need the tool in a quantity of one or two because the task performed is unique to a single customer’s process. The high variability in robotics parts needed, coupled with the low production volume, requires that we outsource the work. But finding shops that can do custom work competently, quickly, and inexpensively is a challenge.”
Deshazo has in-house manufacturing capabilities and a host of suppliers that support the major efforts associated with its automation division and its primary business of manufacturing custom-built overhead cranes. But, specialized robot parts constituted a whole new manufacturing niche Drennen had to fill. Initially, he looked to nearby shops in Alabama. What he gained in convenience, he lost in price. No competitive market forces were at work to keep costs in check. One day, a casual conversation with a colleague around the water cooler provided the solution: MFG.com.
Drennen investigated the global online manufacturing marketplace and liked what he saw. “MFG.com helps sourcing professionals and engineers quickly and easily locate quality manufacturers for CNC machining, injection molding, metal stamping, metal fabrication, and many other processes through an easy-to-use, online marketplace. I registered, uploaded our RFP and engineering drawings, and between five and seven people quoted on the work within 24 hours.”
Evaluating bids posed no challenge, said Drennen. “MFG.com’s easy-to-access portal made bid comparisons simple, and the platform’s rating system allowed us to make high-quality sourcing decisions. The correct vendor basically popped out of MFG.com.”
Drennen learned firsthand about the training and customer support that MFG.com provides. On the very first RFQ uploaded, the MFG.com customer support team brought to his attention a potential problem with his engineering drawings. Drennen brought the issue to Deshazo staff, who immediately acknowledged the oversight. “When you have a marketplace with a team that will review your engineering drawings for free, you know you have found a quality sourcing solution,” Drennen said.
MFG.com’s business model enables buyers to source their jobs for free, but charges suppliers to use the platform. MFG.com’s pricing model is flexible, depending on each supplier’s unique needs, processes, and geographic markets. Manufacturers can filter the bids they want to see across a variety of dimensions, such as manufacturing process, part size, run size, material, and more.
Since joining, Deshazo has used MFG.com for more than 200 custom machined parts. The solution has been able to cut machining costs, while dramatically speeding time to market for Deshazo customers. “We’re cutting costs right at the bottom line, and we’re adding tremendous value because we’re maintaining our delivery dates at a much more efficient pace. MFG.com saves both time and money,” Drennen said.
The bidding process is fast, with most RFQs awarded in two weeks or less. Plus, Drennen reaches a range of manufacturers that simply isn’t possible by picking up the phone and calling shop after shop. Perhaps it is this combination of factors that prompted Deshazo’s head of automation to prescribe MFG.com as the sourcing tool of choice for all the custom-manufactured parts the robotics solutions require.
Deshazo was so impressed as a buyer using the MFG.com platform, it has registered as a supplier, too, to maintain shop volume during downtimes. On this side of the platform, MFG.com offers a tool called ShopIQ, which provides suppliers feedback on their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to competing for work.
MFG.com rolled out ShopIQ recently to track manufacturers’ successful and unsuccessful bids over time and analyze the factors at play. The tool pinpoints the types of RFQs where a supplier is most likely to be the successful bidder and provides that intelligence to the shop
Drennen said, “ShopIQ really reveals your strengths and weaknesses. We learned that Deshazo was most competitive on milling jobs coming from US buyers in the Midwest. We were less apt to win work involving lathe use.”
“The industrial applications for robots have no bounds,” said Drennen. “Today’s robots can pick, place, bend, break, cut, burn, weld, push, pull, measure, inspect, locate, and much more. Tomorrow’s robots will most certainly extend this repertoire to functions we can’t even imagine currently. With MFG.com’s assistance, Deshazo will be able to locate manufacturers capable of producing the high-quality custom parts we need to take robotics into the future.”
For more information on MFG.com, go to www.mfg.com, or phone 770-444-9686.
Edited by Senior Editor Jim Lorincz.
This article was first published in the November 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.