The past two weeks have flown by. Just to recap my trips the past two Fridays, well it was definitely a new experience. Whether, it was for the better or not I don’t know at this point. Two weeks ago, I visited my first coating supplier. These types of suppliers apply different chemical coatings to parts to reduce corrosion, etc. and most of the parts I buy in my position this summer are for shocks or struts which are exposed on the outside of the car and therefore these coatings on the parts allow corrosion resistance to the Michigan weather and salt on the roads, among others. I actually had the opportunity to see two different facilities, one was a little more family oriented and smaller in size, but had an excellent operation and did a wonderful job explaining the different processes of rack plating (one of two ways to coat products, the other is a barrel process). In a rack plating process, parts essentially hang on a rack and are dipped into different chemical baths to apply the coating to the part. The key to plating or coating (sorry I’m using them interchangeably) is to be sure all the oils from people’s hands or from the machines they were manufactured in need to be washed off for the best coverage and adhesion of the plating. Being my first impression of a plating company I thought they were pretty efficient and organized as a company. We then drove another 20 miles to the second plating facility and saw the complete opposite in regards to organized and cleanliness as whole. When we first walked into the factory there was a haze throughout the air, the supplier swore it was not hazardous, but I wasn’t sure if I should believe or not. Anyway we proceeded through the factory and it just seemed like the place was a mess. Trash cans were overflowing and scrap and trash were falling onto the floor. There were puddles of water on the factory floor and overall it was just not put together well, as compared to first company we visited. The second supplier was a slightly bigger company that the first and had a little more capability. The second supplier had both rack and barrel plating. In contrast to the rack plating I mentioned earlier, barrel plating consists of putting parts into a barrel with the chemicals and spinning the barrel to apply the plating to the parts inside. The rack plating is a much more attractive plating process but there are cost advantages in using the barrel process. Another characteristic of the barrel plating is that the parts in the barrel bang together often leaving blemishes or “dings” in the parts upon completion. These “dings” are only acceptable to the customer if they have no specifications on how “nice” the parts must look. Anyway is was nice learning about this new manufacturing process that I had never seen before as well as seeing a clean and organized facility compared to one that is not. It actually turned out that the second supplier we visited that day (the un-clean one) had a fire breakout that evening, luckily no one was hurt, but it was an eye opener to possibly clean up their facility a little bit to prevent that in the future.
Moving forward to last week now, I visited a Tenneco manufacturing facility. We had two purposes for the visit one, was to show me some of the products I have been sourcing this summer and the other was to have a meeting with a supplier at the Tenneco facility to discuss an issue with a part they supplied. I will begin with the tour. This was my first experience in a Tenneco manufacturing facility, despite being my second summer. It was neat to see all the parts coming together to create bushings, torque rods, and body mount parts for several applications in the automotive industry, ranging from GM trucks and SUV’s to semi trucks. Seeing the final product really helps you understand where each of the parts I have sourced this summer are going in the final product and importance of suppliers meeting all of the specifications or the part would not function or assemble properly. This was the issue we had to address with the supplier that day as well. The part they were supplying Tenneco was essentially a tube with adhesive on the outside so we could attach to the assembly with the adhesive. The supplier was only responsible for applying the adhesive, however we had almost 30% fallout because some of the parts did not have 100% adhesion. This was an issue as it could cause major issues if that part were to slip out on the road when someone was driving their vehicle. Anyway after a few hours of conversation we reached a solution in that Tenneco should just call out a specification for 100% adhesion to be clear with the supplier that, that was the expectation. The reason I included this meeting and resolution as it was interesting to see the buyers role in the conversation between engineering, quality and the supplier. The buyer is to act as the middle person supporting both our company and the supplier, as you hope in the future the supplier recognizes this and is willing to allow more cost breaks. It was very interesting and I’m glad I was able to experience this in person as often times in over-the-phone meetings a lot of these learning points are lost. This summer has taught me so much thus far and we’re only half way through, I’m excited to see what comes next and will surely share it with you all. Thanks for reading.