October 5, 2023
[starbox] Estimating is a necessary evil in every shop. Nobody wants to do it, but if it doesn’t get done there is no business. Fortunately, we have better estimating tools available today than ever before. Several automated computer programs are offered to assist in calculating the time it takes to perform various machine operations. Computer-controlled machines make cycle times consistent and reduce scrap risk. It wasn’t always this “easy.” Shortly after I became an “instant” gear expert (see previous posting), I was expected to weigh in on how much our new product line should cost. Long time D.O. James estimator Dick Kunkle welcomed me into the cloud of cigarette smoke that engulfed his cubicle and shared his shelves of reference books, computer printouts, and charts. To this veteran estimator every drawing got expanded into a full-fledged process routing. In the absence of detail drawings, each item on a cross-sectional layout got “processed” through his system and its results were added to a summary form. No shortcuts were taken, so purchasing had to get lots of prices on forgings, bearings, seals, and other hardware. Fabricated housings had to be exploded into dozens of burned out pieces and the total number of weld inches calculated. It didn’t matter what the finished weight was; if you needed a triangular piece you paid for a square in Mr. Kunkle’s system. To me the real beauty was in the many charts and nomographs he had developed over the years for “special” parts like bevel gear blanks. The man had committed the capabilities of every machine in the shop to memory and was seldom proven wrong. If he told you the hobber couldn’t take a 3 DP hob, you could take it to the bank. Even with this much “science” applied to it, estimating is a risky occupation. If the estimator listens to every complaint from the sales department — profits decline. If he or she sides with the shop incoming — orders fall. And everyone in the company thinks it takes too long to get a quote finished. You no longer have to risk your health from the secondhand smoke to get involved in estimating, so why not see if you can help speed things up?