So if you are an End User, why go outside for your factory equipment?
We have found that many End Users are, of course, experts at operating factories, but they have little or no equipment design expertise, and frankly have no interest in accumulating any such expertise. However, there are also many End Users who, for lots of reasons, have (or think they have) equipment design expertise.
If you run a factory (or want to), your job is to make stuff with it quickly and cheaply. What is your strategic reason to design & build your own equipment? What value do all those engineers, technicians, assemblers & facilities needed to build equipment add to your product? All that—cost—goes into COGS, for what benefit?
1. Don’t do it yourself
Yes, yes, we’ve heard it all before. “We can do it faster/better/cheaper ourselves.” Good luck with that. We make a (very) good living re-doing equipment done internally by factory personnel “faster/better/cheaper.” Sure a couple of biochemistry PhD’s from Cal could design microfluidic factory equipment… but should they? In the best case the equipment will work; but may require a PhD to run and maintain it, and maybe not at all in HVM (High Volume Manufacturing). What’s the cost to you of equipment with 60% uptime vs 90%? Or the army of skilled technicians (or PhD’s!) needed to keep it running?
2. Focus on what you do best
OK, as a startup you needed to do what needs to be done with whomever was available. But as soon as you get rolling, hire professionals to turn your “engineering prototype” equipment into real production equipment. Factory equipment design is a specialized skill. If you need that skill, hire it when you need it, for only as long as you need it, and focus your energies and resources on doing what you do best: making your product. Your investors will thank you, ‘cause it’s a good bet they don’t think a factory doing a bunch of non-product engineering is a good use of their money.
3. Experience Matters
As for supplier selection; cost and schedule are the key variables. But you also want the system to work- the last thing you need is for some low-bid supplier to replace the clever but unreliable system your PhD’s build with a different cheap but unreliable system. Look for suppliers with hands-on experience with processes and product similar to what you need. Don’t hire your landscaper to remodel your kitchen… And while we’re on the home contractor analogy; prioritize compatibility: do you see yourself able to work closely with them. Do you trust them?
4. First thing first
And please do the equipment development in the right order. So many projects fail because the chosen sequence, whether intended or not, is: (1) make it cheap, then (2) make it work. The right answer, of course, is (1) make it work, followed by (2) make it cheap.
5. You get what you pay for
Maybe, if your equipment needs are utterly ordinary except for the form factor of the parts, then going with the low cost system integrator will likely be the ideal solution. Most any custom equipment design firm will probably pass on the job anyway, knowing they won’t be competitive.
Is your application or process is unique? For example, if you’re in a very new field with little or no historical manufacturing precedent, you’ll be better off with a custom equipment design & build firm. They’ll be able to deliver reliable equipment despite novel, challenging or vague requirements. Yes, it will be more expensive; those skilled engineers that will ensure you’ll get something that works don’t come cheap. So stop whining about the cost and suck it up; it’s called the bleeding edge for a reason and start focusing on your ROI when everything works.
Our next article in this series will focus on OEMs. Follow us on LinkedIn for our next blog update. If you have questions or comments on the blog or have need for custom manufacturing equipment, feel free to contact us and one of our team members will be happy to help you through this process.