As manufacturers increasingly outsource turnkey product development to consulting firms, the debate grows as to who should be responsible for reworks to tooling: the manufacturer, product development consultant or tooling vendor.
The cause for engineering-based tooling errors falls into two categories. The first type occurs when product development firms do not produce sound engineering solutions incorporating basic design for manufacturing principles. There is no question that this kind of error should be the responsibility of the product development company. The second type of error, however, is where the debate truly lies.
Most often tooling errors occur because the manufacturers, designers and tooling vendors do not communicate as a team throughout the process from inception to production. This team approach helps to ensure that projects do not deviate from a proper development path. Without centralized control, problems often arise from the following factors: design firms and tooling vendors working under the constraints of low budgets; unrealistic time lines; the elimination of critical steps including advanced analysis, prototypes and, most notably, communication and planning.
Since all design firms pay their engineers and designers on the same basic pay scale, and profit margins are more or less the same, a low budget is simply insufficient to do a job properly. The result is that low-bidding firms are forced to put lower-level, less-experienced people on the job to maintain a profit.
For a tooling vendor the scenario is much the same. Low bids force the tooler to condense or completely bypass important checking procedures in the layout phase.
To eliminate most tooling errors, it is important to budget for and encourage a team approach among the manufacturer, design and engineering team, tooling vendor and molder.
Tooling vendors can offer valuable input in the early stages of development. While some retooling may be an inevitable part of the product development process, the extent of retooling can be greatly reduced by this team approach.
Likewise, having the designer involved in the tooling process to help troubleshoot is critical. The designer should work with the tooler in transitional stages rather than simply handing over the database. This team approach results in the best product development process, which helps to minimize the effect of tooling revisions.
Scherer is a partner at Insight Product Development, a Chicago-based research, product design and engineering firm.