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Blueprints | February 26, 2013
The first thing we should address is that blueprints are not really blue anymore. Blueprints were called “blue prints” because the process by which they were made resulted in blue paper with white lines. Today, most blueprints are on white paper with black lines. However, the name blueprint has stuck despite the fact that its hue has changed.
When a customer comes to us and wants a custom made spring or wire form, the first question we usually ask is “Do you have a print?” Why? Because a blueprint is the way a customer conveys to us what they need in an immediate, visual way. There is less to deduce, assume, or imagine if both the customer and the manufacturer are looking at the same image. Just by looking at a print we can determine pretty quickly whether or not the part would be a good fit for us. No we are not psychic or really, super intelligent. (Well maybe some of us are.) We are just really aware of what our CNC machines and highly trained employees are capable of manufacturing. Being aware of our capability, allows us to be more accurate in our costing and more lean in our planning process. We are able to have a more meaningful exchange with our customer regarding what they need and when they need it.
By knowing the wire size we can determine what machine would be best capable of manufacturing the part. In order to improve capacity, we have several CNC machines that overlap on wire size so we have the option of running any part on at least 2 machines. This investment in technology allows us to react quickly to scheduling needs since we don’t have to put all our spring orders in one basket. This flexibility allows the customer to get their parts more quickly because we are not limited to only one machine per wire size. When making high mix, low volume custom parts, we need to be able to adapt quickly and customize our work environment to accommodate our customers’ changing needs. Secondly, by knowing the wire type and the developed length of a part, we can determine how much wire we would need and if the wire type is suitable for the application. Many times our Quoting Engineer can recommend a certain wire type to save cost or improve performance.
Once we see that wire size and type are feasible, we review the print. The first thing when looking at a blueprint is to review the title block. This area will have the customer’s name, part number, part description, the engineer’s name, perhaps the date it was drawn and maybe the scale or size. Knowing the customer’s name and address lends credibility to their request for quotation. Many times we receive “requests for quotes” that turn out to be “requests for free information” for some kid’s science project or “requests for design review” for some guy in his basement who wants to re-invent the fly swatter. (No we’re not bitter or unhelpful we just like to work with people who kind of know what they want and respect our time and expertise.) But, no customer is too small, except for Timmy and his science project.
Many times the (gulp) “standard tolerance box” appears in the title block section. The issue of tolerances can provoke some heated debates. When designing a product, engineers are under time constraints and budget constraints. When it comes to custom springs and custom wire forms, buyers and engineers often view our parts as commodities and don’t want to open up a big design review for something so small and seemingly insignificant. So they slap on the old standard tolerance box not fully knowing the full extent of their hazard wielding ways. But let me warn you all. This is a myth. Though small in size, the spring or wire form can be the determining factor whether your product will work or fail. Are all component parts insignificant? No. Are buttons useless? How about zippers? What if we walked around with no buttons or zippers. What kind of world would we live in? So I say start respecting your springs and wire forms. For without them, our lives would be less springy and more static.
Standard tolerance boxes are just so careless. It’s like the phrase “One Size Fits All.” Look around over your cubicle. Would you wear the same size shirt as guy in accounting or the gal in human resources? I think not. Therefore, please ask us what we think. We know the nature of wire, the effects of heat and finishes, the way formed wire will open or closed when handled. Not only do we have years of experience and the best machines, but we have employees who understand how difficult it is to buy springs and wire forms. You’re not the experts. We are. We are here to help you through the process to make sure you get what you need: quality, functional parts as quickly and as easily as possible. We know that you’re afraid to even discuss the “tolerance” issue because it may cause confusion and delay. We would like you to know that if your design has any unrealistic tolerances that we can inform you and advise you on which dimensions would be vital to the manufacturability and functionality of your part. Let’s not be afraid to talk about taboo things like tolerances. Once you say it, it gets easier. And we do understand your fear. You’re thinking, “if we open up the tolerances, they’ll take liberties and send us any old thing.” Not true. We care about what we do. You might say we’re wired for this industry.
Often times a blueprint will have a note section which may indicate information regarding finishing, packaging, or other quality requirements. This area may be tempting to just quickly gloss over. However, if the finishing requirement says “diamond encrusted” your quote may be a little off. We have had many highly specific “other requirements” from individually bagging and tagging each part to five different shipping addresses. The note section must not be ignored; otherwise you’ll be in for a big surprise later on. I think we had one customer who wanted their parts handled only by a vegan, certified organic female who had government clearance. (This one was a bit demanding but I did it. I was so sick of carrots and soy milk by the time parts shipped.)
Some customers don’t have a print. Then what? Well, we can help you determine your specifications if you have a sample or mating part. Customers are welcome to send us photos, hand drawings, cocktail napkin renderings. As long as information can be relayed, we can start. In fact, even if you do have a print, sharing the mating part or gauge that is used to check the part can be a tremendous asset. We have made parts per print, PER PRINT, and then had the customer tell us they don’t fit their gauge. In the end, the customer got what they needed but having the gauge from the beginning would have saved a lot of time. In this case, the customer needed parts to fit the gauge not to match the print. This brings up another good piece of advice. If the customer plans to take the parts, tie them to the back of their car to achieve that “shabby chic” aesthetic, please let us know. We may not need to enforce those rigid tolerances after all.
In the end, the blueprint tells a story. With a little careful review and exchange of knowledge the story can end well. And when it comes to manufacturing, a short, no surprise story is the best one of all.