Today's thoughts are inspired by a question posted on the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association's group discussion board on LinkedIn.
Cecilia Allison, vice president of finance, K & S Tool, Die & Manufacturing Inc.: "OEMs are great at demanding service and charging the supplier if their schedules are not met. Do any metal fabricating companies charge an expediting fee if the OEM's part delivery schedules change drastically from week to week wanting delivery terms that are next to impossible?"
The responses reflect the harsh nature of being part of anyone's supply chain nowadays.
Robert Buzzard, plant manager at Hamlin Steel Products LLC: "Go ahead and do that & then give them my number! ;-)."
Robert Quinn, owner, RCM Inc.: "So long as you do it, it's not impossible, only 'next' to impossible. And that is acceptable to them! :)"
It's definitely a cold, cruel world out there. But it's also one full of opportunity. Metal fabricators just have to hustle like they never have before.
I was having this exact conversation with Cindy Churak, customer service manager, Triton Industries Inc., Chicago, on Tuesday. On a visit to the shop, I learned how their business has changed from being a simple "expediter of P.O.s," as Churak called it, to a key member of its customers' supply chains.
In the most obvious example (and the one you'll read about in an upcoming issue of The FABRICATOR), Triton fabricates the bumpers for Road Armor. Triton now is having to deal with credit card orders and special-delivery issues, the most recent of which was sending a large number of bumper guards to Kuwait.
It's not business as usual, but it hasn't been that way since Triton lost a multimillion-dollar contract to build chassis fabrications for a Fortune 500 company. That company moved the business to Mexico, and Triton has been working hard since 2008 to replace it. It hasn't been the easiest job, but they remain positive and excited about opportunities with companies such as Road Armor.
Actually, Triton wasn't set up for the type of plate fabricating that was needed to build the bumper guards. It was a precision fabricator of thin sheet metal parts. Of course, an investment in two plasma cutters and several GMAW power sources and the hiring of skilled welders changed that. They made the necessary changes to keep the business going.
That's what business has become. If a shop can't do it, an OEM customer might suggest the shop try or forget about the business.
It's debatable whether metal fabricators are ever in the driver's seat in a customer relationship. The sure thing, however, is now is definitely not that time. Now is not the time to be dictating anything to customers.