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So you’re ready to build a custom gasket, and you are trying to choose the right manufacturing partner to help you take it from concept to reality. The question now becomes: “who do I choose to help me?”
You may have a partner you’ve gone to before, and there may be a few already in your procurement list. In any case, if you are looking at this article, you’re probably considering a new relationship with a manufacturing partner.
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To ensure you’ve got the right partner for your needs you’ll want to go through all of the following steps:
- Learn about the company’s leadership and values. (Yes, really!)
- Confirm which materials they work with.
- Confirm they have the capabilities you’ll require. (More is better! See what we mean below.)
- Evaluate their technical knowledge and design for manufacturing (DfM) processes.
- Understand what quality systems and practices look like
- Check for relevant registry certifications.
If you are less of a “step by step process” person and more of a “checklist” person, feel free to head on over to our article 10 Things to Expect from Your Custom Gasket Manufacturing Partner which covers some of the same information in a different way!
Company Leadership and Values
This is one step many people overlook when they are trying to find a manufacturing partner quickly. But this is really the stuff that will make or break your partnership. Finding a partner that aligns with your own vision and values will be the differentiating factor between a rocky relationship and a fruitful partnership.
So basically, don’t skip this step.
Learn more about what the company’s values are, and how leadership carries them out.
This is something we are very passionate about. In fact, we are borderline obsessive… Ok, maybe just straight obsessive. But it is that important.
Below you can see our core values:
And these values are plastered as big as we can get them on our manufacturing floor.
Having core values is one thing. But living them out is another. How a manufacturing partner instills these values starts right from the leadership of the company and shows in each and every person you interact with from that organization.
We know, this is a hard one to evaluate from the outside, but some ways to get a feel for how an organization creates culture around their values is to ask how they measure them.
In most cases, the level of transparency a partner gives you into their processes and systems will help you gauge if they are a value fit.
It also goes without saying you’ll want to select a partner who can work with all of the types of materials you will need. In most cases, manufacturers can work with pretty much any material needed, so this particular item isn’t usually a deal breaker.
However, looking for a manufacturing partner that has created strategic partnerships with the industry leading material suppliers, like Rogers, 3M, Parker-Lord, Technicon and Nolato for instance, will help in ensuring better costs and lead times for your projects. Typically partnerships with material suppliers mean better lines of communication, the ability to source materials faster, as well as discounts for the purchase of materials. All of which bring your lead times and costs down.
When choosing a partner, you’ll obviously want to start with the foundation: can they do what you need? If the answer to this question is a “no,” then there’s no reason to move forward with the rest.
However, it is very easy to get caught in a trap during this step.
You may be looking for a single capability for a single project when you are in the middle of searching for a partner. So you might look just to check the box on the specific capability you need at the moment, rather than looking at the larger picture.
Gasket is a generic term for the material used between two mating surfaces. Custom gaskets can be two dimensional (typically "die cut") or three dimensional (molded gaskets or form-in-place gaskets). Understanding if your partner has the capabilities to do both types, and do them well, serve you best in the long term.
When reviewing a manufacturing partner’s capabilities, you’ll want to ensure they cover as many of your different needs as possible. Fewer partners mean lower risk. So finding a partner that has a wide range of capabilities is always better.
You may want to look at how vertically integrated your potential partner is as well. Some gasket manufacturers are set up to work with non-elastomeric materials as well. You may find the right partner can take more steps in the process off your plate than you originally expected. In this case, it helps you to reduce lead time and cost as you aren’t paying (both in dollars and time) for shipping between different vendors between steps in the manufacturing process.
Technical Support and Design for Manufacturing Processes
When manufacturing a custom gasket, it is easy to think transactionally. It is also easy to forget how important the input of an expert can be.
While the engineers in your organization (or maybe you yourself) are responsible for designing a gasket that meets the needs of your product or application, it is your manufacturing partner’s job to help you refine or update your design in order to make it more “manufacturable.”
This means working with you to understand what is a hard and fast requirement in your design, and where you have wiggle room. This process helps to determine what method will be used to produce your gasket that will both meet your requirements and help reduce your long term costs, lead times, or difficulty in assembly as you ramp production.
A partner who evaluates your design with a critical eye toward manufacturability, rather than blindly producing your part exactly as designed, can save you big on both time and money (and who wouldn’t want that?).
It is also incredibly easy to test this process. Most manufacturers, if they have a Design for Manufacturing (DFM) process at all, will do this before asking you to pay a dime. Submit a design and see how their process works first-hand. You should expect to be asked intelligent questions, receive timely responses, and have direct access to technical experts.
Quality Systems, Standards and Practices
The registry certifications (listed below) should at least provide you a foundation for proof of quality level. But going one level deeper, and understanding how the organization has integrated quality deeply into their culture will really show you what you are dealing with.
Quality on its own is a very broad term. In our case, we look at quality as a combination of the standards we must follow per our registry certifications, our own internal definitions of quality, and our customer’s expectations for quality.
For instance, at Modus our primary goal is to ensure 99.5% quality guarantee and a 99.5% on-time delivery rate. These metrics are so important to us we measure them every single day, and post our current day’s metrics to all the staff on the manufacturing floor.
It is instilled in every team member, every single day, what our promise is to our customers.
We also regularly work with customers, on a design by design basis, to meet the quality requirements they build into their designs, and agree upon quality expectations during our Design for Manufacturing process.
Ask the partners you are evaluating how they ensure quality, to get a sense of how deeply they’ve engrained it in their culture.
Registry Certifications and Standards
Depending upon your industry, a partner that has the right registry certifications to support you will be of the highest importance. For nearly all applications, you should look for manufacturing companies that have an ISO 9001 registry certification.
ISO 9001 is an international standard that details requirements for a quality management system (QMS). The registry certification demonstrates a partner’s ability to consistently provide products that meet stringent customer and regulatory quality requirements.
For defense and military related products, your partner will need an International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) registry certificate. The purpose of this registry certification is to ensure the manufacturer will exercise the correct control over the export of defense and military related technologies.
For Aviation, Space and Defense applications, your partner will need an AS9100 registry certificate certifying they adhere to the international Quality Management System standard created by the International Aerospace Quality Group (IAQG).
For highly sensitive defense applications, you’ll need a partner that will protect your designs and is working toward achieving CMMC level 3 or 4 compliance. You may also want to confirm your manufacturing partner can work with MIL-SPEC materials.
The Bottom Line
Choosing a custom gasket manufacturing partner is often a decision entered into with little thought, where the primary decision points are based around “can you help me with what I need right now,” and “are you the cheapest for this particular project or step in the process.”
Not only is this short-sighted, but it will cost you dollars, time, and frustration in the long run.
Changing the way you approach this selection will ensure you find a partner who can be a great fit long term, and will work hard to keep your business. It will also help you reduce costs and lead times across the board.