During the development of the upcoming new Tube Form Solutions website Mike Thomas of Tube Form Solutions was interviewed about the tube fabrication life cycle. What follow is a transcript of that conversation.
Let's go back to talk about the Tube From Solutions value proposition a little bit. You talked about Tube Form Solutions being the "One place for the tube fabrication life cycle." From design, through the equipment, through the service and repairs, and spare parts. Everything.
Okay. Do you have anything you want to add to that?
We ultimately are a single source supplier for tube fabrication. We can bend and form, cut, punch, supply spare parts for, supply service for, deliver lubricants, and design and build tooling for all types of tube fabrication machines and applications. We even handle re-building tube bending machines.
If you put it in the context of your customer's process, then it's from the design through the testing and roll out, through building a factory, building an assembly line, or production line through servicing and maintaining and then spare parts, and repairs, and rework, and rebuild.
Yes. We have a customer right now and that was the very question he asked. He's buying a big tube bender, all the tube lines, big end former, and saw. Essentially, he looked at me and said, "When I get these all on my floor, I'm going to just start running parts. I'll have tests and all that. I'll have fitted tube and gauges, everything will be done?" and the answer is yes.
We're talking to technical people and engineers. I want to make sure we can capture that.
Basically when someone gives us a drawing of a tube to make, we run it through what we call simulation software and we decide if it can built on one of our pieces of equipment. Assuming the answer is yes, because we have many models, then we call that master geometry, whatever's on the drawing. But when you bend the tube, you end up ... it springs back, it's never exactly as the drawing. When we change the machine program, we call that corrective geometry. When we set up a process for someone, they give us the master geometry, then we develop the corrective geometry so the part actually works, it fits their gauge when they get the machine. I guess that's kind of the short version of it.
What other kind of steps are there in the process up front? Actually, before you even answer that question, dig in a little bit to when you say no. I think that's just as important as often times, as saying "Yes, we can do this," is to be honest enough and say, "No, we can't."
Many times the design of the part interferes with the machine. That's the ceiling on the machine, the holders on the machine, physical axes of the machine. If it interferes with the machine there isn't much we can do about it unless they're willing to change the design. There's two benders that bend right hand, and there's two benders that bend left hand and there's a very small [inaudible 00:04:35] that bend right and left bend, you don't just get around some of these interference issues.
There's times, and we looked at some last week that our machines, and I don't know of a machine on the planet that actually could run what they were asking us to run. That being said, you just have to say no, because you opened yourself up for disaster, and them as well. Many times they're like, "Oh, well we didn't even know that. Maybe we need to rethink our design." Other times, they say, "No, we can't deviate from that, we're going to have to try and find another way," and we just have to walk away.
You've got a couple scenarios. One is, we just can't do it, it's not physically engineering-wise possible. Another option is, "It's possible, but you have to modify your designs to fit the equipment." Or, "Yeah, that's perfect," or "Yes, that's easily within our range of capabilities." It's kind of like there's a range of ideas.
Correct. There's a lot of reasons why ... sometimes people's time frames, we just can't accommodate them. They want it done yesterday and there's just no ... we're setting ourselves up for failure. One of our big things is on time.
Dig into that a little bit, tell me a little bit about what is a reasonable time line to ... Start from the beginning, to design parts, and then see them coming off a machine.
You're talking a reasonable time line is 16 to 17 weeks from the time we look at it, until the machine order, to getting it in the US and tested, probably 16 to 18 weeks I would say.
Are you guys pretty consistent with hitting that number?
Yeah, very much so.
I can't imagine ... People buy this stuff and say, "I need it in the next week." They're working what, six months or a year out, or I'd be surprised?
You'd be surprised. They want it. That's one other big thing. TFS keeps probably two and a half million dollars in machines sitting here all the time for those folks that need to make it happen next week. By doing that, sometimes they have to settle. Maybe it's not the machine they would have bought or actually could have got away with. Maybe they got to buy the next size bigger and it's slightly more cost, but they're running it up for less.
I would think your options at that point get a lot less. "Here's what we have in stock, and here's what you can do."
Yeah, we can make it on this one, but it's more money." Otherwise you have to order the full one.
Talk about some more of the other pieces of the design and implementation cycle. Do you get involved with run-offs or creating prototypes? if my experience is wrong, tell me. If I'm doing an automotive component like a muffler, I might have to do some prototype parts three years or two years before the production even starts.
Sometimes we get involved in that. It's a little tricky because people don't want to buy tools for prototypes. We may or may not have tools in our library that are suitable for the project that they're looking for. Sometimes we do do the prototypes, sometimes they go out to a prototyper, who then we end up working with the prototypers to get the corrected geometry and how the part's going to be ran in the process. The prototypers going to make it any way he possibly can to get them the 500 pieces, the five pieces, or whatever it may be. They pay dearly for that to that person. Then basically it's up to us to set up their process, so they can make however many parts they're going to make. Maybe it's 500,000 a year, a million parts a year. We work with those folks, with our applications engineers to get the process set up and understand, "Okay, we can make five pieces, but how do we make a half a million pieces?"
Right, got you. What other steps are there in the life cycle?
The customer comes to us with an RFQ, say it's automotive, say it launches mid-2016. He's going to have 300 prototype pieces. We go through the development process of can we run it, can we not run it. Okay, the answer's yes. He places a machine order and a tooling order. He asks us, "Can you do prototypes for me?" If we have a similar machine and tooling in our library, we provide a quotation to run the prototypes. He gives us a time line of when that has to happen, when those have to be ready to go. Should it go, "No, we do not have a machine or tooling capable in our library of doing this," then he usually asks for a referral from us for a prototyper who can do what he's asking us. We refer somebody typically, then that person contacts us, we share our applications information with him, so on and so forth.
Then we talk about the process and how he's going to do it. Then I tell him how it's going to be done over the long haul, essentially the real manufacturing we'll call it, because again, much different. Then we see to it that he's successful and so on and so forth. They get their parts, and then the machine comes in. They send us fixtures and material. We correct the geometry on our machine, get the parts fitting in the gauge, have the customer come in. They usually do an agreed upon run-off on how many parts, whatever we decide at. Sometimes it's 50, sometimes it's 500. You never know what that company's policy is. Then we run them off. They give us a machine acceptance. The machine essentially is packed and prepared for delivery.
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