in Vol. 12 - July Issue - Year 2011
Mass Surface Finishing – A Strategic Factor?
Outsourcing is only sometimes reasonable
The best way for surface finishing is not always the same
In-house vibratory finishing offers many advantages
Whenever responsible people are thinking about the future conduct of their business, different aspects of management have to be considered. Especially, parts suppliers for the automotive and aerospace industry have to think about their competitive strategy and the quality they can offer or want to offer.
The part quality which can be supplied depends in many cases decisively on the final surface finishing of the product. Even if the delivered part is not the final product itself, but a single work piece or an assembly, which should later be part of the end product, the surface properties are highly important for the perfect functionality of the goods.
So one fundamental decision companies have to face is the question, “should you handle the task of surface finishing by yourself or should you buy it as a service and make use of outsourcing these production steps?”
In the past we have seen many different trends in the industry. A couple of years ago large corporations tried to get rid of every business, which was not considered to be its so-called core competence.
On the operative level, the catchword “lean production” ruled the thinking of responsible plant managers. It should reduce the complexity of huge production systems and cut costs, enabling the company to produce better quality with lower maintenance costs and manageable structures. Lean production and just-in-time delivery planning concepts were handled as general recipes for business success.
On several occasions, customers were not always happy, because reducing a business to core competences sometimes means also to lose direct control of skills, which the enterprise has outsourced. If a task is strongly standardized, the loss of specific control may not be very important and can be an advantage. An example could be the cleaning of some robust metal parts by mass finishing techniques. Here the quality demand is simply the washing of the parts in order to deliver optically clean parts. That is obviously a simple task an external specialist could provide with lower costs in a satisfying way. Things are different when the vibratory finishing process is a more complex one.
Nobody knows their own work pieces better than the company’s own staff. Their own employees have accumulated a massive and often astonishing know-how about the special inherent properties of the company’s products. Furthermore, they know the customers and their specific demands concerning the parts. And if these demands are on a very high level and contain detailed requirements on surface roughness with exact Ra, Rt and Rz values, on a groove-free surface structure on a microscopic level, on certain brilliance and reflection levels or on other very specific requirements, the surface finishing process can be so complex that it can be a vital advantage to have direct control over it.
The direct control over such a surface finishing process means that you gain a better control of your produced quality. You even have the possibility to experiment with different processes by your own in the case the requirements on the surface are not crystal clear or there exists uncertainty about the best way of treatment for a completely new product of a pilot production.
Of course - among the great mass of job shop suppliers, there are several finishing centers with great experience in certain branches and who are able to deliver very accurate and consistent results with just-in-time delivery. But the working efficiency is normally better within an organization. The communication is better and therefore the ability to find technical solutions. Furthermore, quality means not just to control a set of properties of a product.
The delivery time is always a key feature if a company is valued by its customer. And here you can steer the activities of your own surface finishing department in order to meet the time schedules of your most important customer orders. If necessary, you can finish your parts immediately to cope with output peaks and simultaneously you are able to avoid transport costs. No extra time and extra money is spent. People in Germany are speaking of an avoidance of "Werkstücktourismus" – work piece tourism.
This text is no general vote for an own in-house surface finishing. Every company is in a different situation and surrounded by a special competitive environment. Dependent on the business case, both solutions – external and internal finishing - can be effective. But in every case, it is advisable to make a detailed make-or-buy analysis for the productive ability of surface finishing. Here, often the non-quantitative soft factors mentioned above cannot be measured by financial numbers and have to be evaluated carefully within the company’s management staff. A simply structured SWOT-analysis to show the specific strengths, the weaknesses, the opportunities and the threats for each of both solutions may be reasonable advice to find the best way for your "good vibrations".
by Mathieu Geuting
Spaleck Oberflächentechnik GmbH & Co. KG, Germany