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3 Key Points for Using First Article Production Samples with New CNC Vendors to Optimize the Product Launch Process

First Article Production Samples with new CNC Vendors

Managing Your Supply Chain for Success

Part 7 of 10

We continue our Managing Your Supply Chain Series and today’s topic is how to use First Article Production Samples with new CNC Vendors to optimize the product launch process.  While getting samples produced up front takes extra time, the value created in doing so will offset any delay and ensure that the transition to your new Vendor goes smoothly.

Since we are both a Vendor to some companies and a Customer to others, we deal with both sides of this First Article sample equation.

This week, we’ll review three key points to ensure you benefit from First Article production samples.

1. Make First Article Production Samples Part of Your New Product/New Vendor Process.

Why First Articles When Adding a Brand-New Part or New Vendor?

There are two main reasons to put a new CNC Vendor in place for a production run:

  1. Introducing a brand-new product that you’ve never had produced.
  2. Switching to a new Vendor because your current Vendor hasn’t performed as required.

For the brand-new product that’s transitioning from the prototyping stage into production, getting a First Article production sample will verify that the production process matches the prototyping process for the project.  Typically, production processes tend to be manufactured faster and in greater volume than the prototypes.  It’s important to ensure that the quality of the parts was not compromised in the process.

If you’re switching a current product to a new Vendor, you’ll want to make sure that the new parts meet expectations prior to starting the transition.  Getting First Articles approved will allow you to have the confidence to make the switch to the new Vendor without running out of stock.

Commit to the Production and You’ll Reduce Your First Article Cost

Production quantity orders reduce part prices due to the larger quantities involved.  Ordering just a small quantity will drive the part price up dramatically.

However, placing a Production Purchase Order with your Vendor and stipulating that you’ll want to review and approve a First Article sample prior to running out the production can help you save some money.  The production quantity order indicates that you’re expecting them to run the full quantity of parts, but you’re adding the delay for First Article approval.  It’s not ideal for the production run to wait, but your Vendor shouldn’t charge what they would have charged if they had run the samples without the production order in place.  Most of the time, your Vendor will merely add a separate line item of a First Article Charge for the sample(s).

Giving your Vendor the chance to order the production quantity of material at the outset is a big help. They will understand that they will be only slightly delayed by the approval process before they can run the balance of the production quantity.

Request and Share Paperwork Ahead of Time

Another way to maximize the value of the First Article samples is to get your Vendor’s Quality Inspection Plan (QIP) and provide them with your Receiving Inspection Plans.  Too often those plans are generated at the last minute, but they can be a significant benefit to the process if they are completed early in the process.

Additionally, on a part you’re just switching to a new Vendor, you should provide any documentation regarding past Vendor Quality issues.  Giving your new Vendor insight into any aspects of the part that caused problems for your previous Vendor goes a long way to making sure you don’t see negative history repeat itself with your new Vendor.

2. Plan the Project Timeline in Advance to Ensure It Flows Smoothly

The start-up of a new Project or new Vendor is one of the most challenging aspects of the relationship.  Getting your Team and your Vendor’s Team on the same page can help things flow smoothly.

Set up a Pre-Project Meeting

It doesn’t have to be a long meeting and these days, Zoom will often be sufficient.  Just talking through a few elements with the key players from each side can help avoid so many problems after the project starts:

  • Establish the Project Timeline – Ensure everyone understands the expectations.
  • Review both the New Vendor’s Quality Inspection Plans (QIP) and Your Receiving Inspection Plan – Get Your QA Teams into the details.
  • Identify Your First Article Approval Requirements – These should include meeting the QIP criteria, fitting with the mating parts, and any required documentation for your QA Team.

Set up a Check-In Schedule for Once the Project Starts

This doesn’t have to be a big deal, but even with the best pre-project meeting, things can come up that could impact the project.  Establishing ahead of time the rhythm for project follow-up will ensure everyone is clear on progress along the way.  Hopefully everything proceeds as planned, but setting an update schedule up front provides time to make sure any adjustments are made in a timely manner.  These check-ins can be especially useful as the timing of the First Article samples draws near.

3. Execute the Plan and Be Ready When First Article Production Samples are Delivered

If you’ve done the work to prepare, the heavy lifting should be done, and things have a great chance to go smoothly.  Now you just need to execute the plan and adjust as needed along the way.

The critical aspect for your Vendor will be ensuring that you’re ready to inspect and provide feedback on the First Article Production Samples.  One of the biggest concerns from your Vendor will be lost time waiting for approval.  Being ready for the samples and turning them around quickly will go a long way to having your Vendor as a willing partner when new opportunities present themselves.

Final Thoughts

Using First Article Production Samples with new CNC Vendors can help optimize the product launch process.  While getting samples produced up front takes extra time, the value created in the process will offset the delay and ensure the transition to your new Vendor goes smoothly.

Building the use of First Article Production Samples into your new Vendor start-up process can help when you go into full scale production.  Committing to the production quantities will reduce the cost of the samples and exchanging QA paperwork ahead of time will be helpful.  A pre-production meeting can ensure your Team and your Vendor’s Team are on the same page and once the planning is in place, you simply need to maintain consistent communications and be ready when the First Article Production Samples arrive.

If you take the steps we’ve identified, your process for getting a new CNC Vendor into production will ensure you’re setting them, and yourself, up for success.

In part 8 of our Managing your Supply Chain for Success Series, we’ll discuss Cyber Security and what it takes to protect yourself as you engage with your Vendors.