In business, it is important to gain whatever advantage you can over your competitors.  However, many companies are only looking for that kind of innovation internally.  Even worse, some may not know where else to turn to make sure they are setting themselves up for success with their next initiative.  This is where your suppliers come in.  They can be a great resource for your company’s initiatives.  There are 3 key areas where your supplier can step up to the plate and help you knock it out of the park:  Evaluating Market Need vs Technical Requirements, Design for Manufacturability, and Production.


Evaluating Market Need vs Technical Requirements


It is likely a safe assumption that a company going to a supplier with a design and specifications has goals for the component.  That company has likely done market research to figure out the need in the industry and developed a product to fit that need before creating the design.  Occasionally, after all this hard work, the technical requirements of the component just don’t meet the functionality needed for the part.  Your supplier should be your first line of defense against this.  They are likely one of the first sets of eyes outside of your company to take look at it.  Let them know what your goals are and have them make sure that it is accomplishing what you intended it to.  What you don’t want is have the part get all the way through production to assembly and have something small be missed that could have been addressed in this stage.  Your suppliers are likely to have ideas on how to help you achieve your goals and the expertise to execute those changes.  In polymer optics, sometimes the customer plans for prescription or coatings don’t match with what they want the part to do.  This is where the supplier expertise comes in to double check these areas to ensure that the final product meets or exceeds expectations.


Design for Manufacturability


The reason most companies turn to contract manufacturers is because they don’t or can’t produce it on their own.  This is something that your suppliers do every day.  They have seen all sorts of success stories and where projects have fallen short.  One of the areas that a product can fall short is not being designed for manufacturability.  A part could have been designed with the best intentions for functionality, but inadvertently, at the cost of manufacturability.  Your supplier should be looking at your design to make sure that it is designed for manufacturability.  They should have ideas on how to improve manufacturability of the part without sacrificing functionality.  In injection molding, one of the tools that can be used to do this is mold flow analysis software like MoldEx3D.  This software will predict how the molten plastic will flow through the mold and identify areas of concern that need to be addressed.




Production is an area that can either be hyper focused or overlooked.  At the end of the day, you want to know that your supplier is doing everything they can to get you the highest quality parts on time.  You do not want to feel the need to worry about your supplier not meeting expectations.  Your suppliers should be dedicating themselves to showing you how they will give you the highest quality and how that quality will be gauged.  Additionally, your supplier should also be fully aware of your target time to market and working the timeline backward to ensure that delivery is on time.  Your supplier should advise you when changes to the print or some other outside circumstance will affect that timeline and work with you to come up with solutions.  Lastly, your supplier should be looking at the overall project in terms of total cost of ownership.  In other words, they should be looking at ways to reuse resources from other projects, minimize extras and standardize the parts as much as possible.  Viewing the project in this light can bring forth crucial cost savings to the project.  There are instances when this cannot be accomplished, but if anyone can help you find areas to compress the price, your supplier can.  An example of this in the medical industry is having components be assembled at the cleanroom press so there is less work upon delivery.  That way the finished product arrives assembled and packaged for sale.


In Conclusion


Your suppliers should be putting all their expertise and experience to work for you on every project.  They should be as committed to your vision as you are.  When a supplier is asking questions to investigate these key areas, they are not doing so to be annoying.  They are doing so to find a way to increase your own competitive advantage and bring your vision to life.  If your supplier is not doing these things, maybe it is time to ask yourself why and what other suppliers will invest in your competitive advantage.