What task has to be done at every gear shop that no one enjoys? If you’ve followed this blog with any regularity you know how much I admire the unsung heroes of custom manufacturing: the estimators. Why is such an important activity so neglected at so many companies?
Recently I undertook a big project for a client, i.e. — resurrecting a product last made 20 years ago. In typical post-“manufacturing age” fashion, the companies previously involved in making this gearbox have each been bought and sold multiple times. And every one of them — the design activity; the foundry; the forging house; the gear shops; the platers; and all the sub-contractors had between two and five ownership changes since this device was last made in quantity. Few had any employees who even remembered what once, for five years or longer, was a big portion of their annual sales.
I’m blogging about this because — even with good detective work — the tooling could not be found. Every bidder was in basically the same starting point on estimating the cost of this project. With almost a month’s notice, less than half were able to tender a quote by the client’s deadline. It is very difficult to defend American manufacturing when so many companies are unable to complete a relatively simple assignment on a deadline.
Quoting is a huge part of custom manufacturing. To stay in business, you have to know your costs and how to apply them to your activities. I consider myself blessed to have worked for people early in my career who not only understood this problem but actually enjoyed the intellectual challenge of figuring out what to charge for a part. They demonstrated that there is no single “right” way to do it — that often “cost” was fairly disconnected from price if the project was unique enough.
In response to this recent disappointment I will be using this blog to share some of the lessons these giants of estimating taught me. For some readers these posts may be old news, for others they may seem so far removed from your duties that you see no need to read them. All I can say is that we’re all in this together. Your job depends on happy customers, too. And customers aren’t happy when they can’t get a price quote in a timely manner.