Whenever you add a process to your business, cost and complexity come with it. Efficiency demands an ongoing effort to simplify processes and at least control – if not reduce – those costs.
Still, manufacturing organizations must take care in how they manage costs. For truly reliable output, cost reduction cannot come at the expense of quality. This creates formidable challenges for engineers, project leaders, and operations executives alike.
Reducing the strength, amount, or quality of materials that go into a manufactured product is not always possible. At a certain point, diminishing returns and increased risk of defects make this unsustainable. What are the alternatives?
1. Optimize Material Selection
CNC machining is distinguished by the wide variety of materials compatible with it. If a particular material cannot be used in CNC machining, one with similar properties can always be found. Metal, wood, foam, fiberglass, and plastics are commonly used.
As a result, informed material substitutions can often be made without compromising the quality of a component. For example, a sheet of 304 stainless steel can cost more than $100 versus $20 or so for 6061 aluminum – comparable in many ways.
2. Choose the Right Equipment
When setting up your CNC machine shop, you’ll often have a choice between 2.5-axis, 3-axis, and 5-axis CNC machines for common milling tasks. Sticking with 2.5-axis or 3-axis machines simplifies machine setup and maintenance due to their wide availability and established best practices.
3. Accelerate Engineering
Non-Recurring Engineering (NRE) consists of design and preparation work like CNC machine setup, programming, and part fixturing. Since it’s a key cost driver during prototyping, it’s an obvious focus for manufacturing cost reduction.
One of the best ways to arrest NRE costs is to focus on streamlined designs, minimizing the number of machine setups needed to complete a job. In particular, be skeptical of designs with organic geography and components with features not normal to stock surfaces.
Both of these require special fixtures, demanding specialized, time-intensive setup.
4. Increase Quantity
As you scale up production, you reduce per-unit prices by avoiding additional NRE. As you fabricate multiples of the same part, existing fixturing and programming can be reused. Alternatively, multiple components can be cut from the same stock piece. With this in mind, maintaining an inventory of surplus components can actually help you mitigate costs.
5. Outsource Your Manufacturing Operation
When you decide to bring manufacturing in-house, your enterprise will always be at the mercy of major fluctuations in both operating and capital expenses. You’ll have to ensure you have the CNC machinery, talent, software, and materials necessary to realize your vision.
With outsourcing, you avoid the expensive setup and maintenance. A contract manufacturing company can leverage economies of scale to produce whatever you need at whatever quantities make sense for you as your enterprise prototypes, tests, and commercializes its products.
Plus, they have the knowledge and best practices to maximize quality and minimize defects. Many companies decide outsourcing is the best way to ramp up while meeting high expectations in their market – building an enduring reputation for quality along the way.