Price vs. Value: Choosing the Best Metal Fabricator

Choosing the Best Value Metal Fabricator

Engineers and procurement managers generally understand the basic factors that drive metal fabrication costs. Estimators will calculate the materials, labor, project complexity, and added services to provide quotes. 

Choosing the best supplier for complex projects goes far beyond the lowest price, however. Reputation, consistency, and quality must be considered. 

Often underappreciated is the critical role of collaboration. A true strategic partner will work alongside you to review technical data, ask questions, and make recommendations to help achieve cost savings without compromising quality. The following are some areas where collaboration with a metal fabricator could be extremely beneficial to your project’s outcome. You’ll also want to consider the value-added services that a metal fabricator can bring to the table.

Dimensioning and Tolerancing

To receive an accurate metal fabrication quote requires a detailed technical data package with drawings. While it seems straightforward enough, it’s not always that simple. It’s not uncommon to have multiple requirements outlined in a data package that might not be necessary.

Rather than addressing each portion of a project as an individual component with its own tolerances, the same tolerances are often used across the board. A tolerance of .002” might be appropriate for a complex electrical enclosure access hole. However, applying that same tolerance to a welded seam that spans 10 feet is likely unnecessary. Understandably, the additional labor needed to achieve extremely tight tolerance over a vast span is extensive and priced accordingly.

Training programs sometimes lead engineers to include these types of precise specifications rather than address each dimension of a component on a case-by-case basis. At other times, software limitations contribute to unnecessarily high tolerances, allowing auto-dimensioning with the click of a button. Unfortunately, this often leads to an overengineered (and overpriced) product. These types of systemic practices drive up costs and often spread to other designs and projects, no matter their intended use.

At times, a lack of alignment between engineering and procurement teams can lead to overpriced projects, stressing the importance of avoiding silos and adversarial relationships. Maintaining open lines of communication helps to address cost saving measures together

Sourcing New Suppliers

Most organizations consider it a best practice or are sometimes required to get competitive quotes periodically for repeat orders. It’s not unusual, however, for a procurement manager to return to the same supplier based on price.

Why might the current supplier be more competitive on price? Sometimes it’s because an RFQ with accompanying drawings is submitted to a prospective supplier that may be inconsistent with the actual finished products that the incumbent vendor delivered. Perhaps they’ve made small changes over time or may have even made a handshake agreement that allows adjustments and tolerance variances to the data package. If changes aren’t translated to the drawings and specifications when bid out to others, there’s less of a chance that a new supplier will be competitive

When considering a new metal fabrication partner, make sure that all vendors are using the same baseline, and update the drawings package as needed. Confirm that all suppliers, including the incumbent, are quoting apples to apples.

Value-Added Metal Fabrication Services to Look For:

A reputable metal fabrication company for complex projects will have a team of highly skilled experts who will review RFQs and provide estimates. These individuals will do more than calculate pricing. For larger projects, in particular, they may offer the following value-added services.

Design for Manufacturability (DfM) Review

There are times when drawings present manufacturing issues, prompting the need for a DfM review. A DfM review might reveal that a bend radius is too tight for a given material or that a type of specified finish might not be corrosion resistant for its intended application, for example.

Engaging in a conversation with estimators and engineers at the metal fabrication company can reap valuable benefits. Upon review, they can ask clarifying questions to determine whether overengineering has taken place, such as: 

  • Are specified tolerances written in stone? 
  • Can some sections be formed vs. welded?
  • Do materials need to be machined to achieve precise tolerances, or will industry mil standards for plate material be acceptable?
  • Is a Class-A paint finish necessary, or will Class-C suffice?

Inquire whether your drawings package might qualify for a DfM review and ask about the process.

Capacity to Consolidate Orders

As with most purchases, consolidating orders into larger quantities may bring cost savings. If a customer places an order for a one-off item five times each year, there’s the potential for significant savings if they can issue a blanket purchase order for all components at once. That’s because the metal fabricator won’t need to repeat the steps multiple times to set up equipment, procure materials, study blueprints, program machines, and other procedures.

The metal fabricator can then make all the components at once and release them as needed to the customer throughout the year. Not all fabricators have the capacity to store large quantities of materials or finished goods, however. Having warehousing capabilities to accommodate blanket orders can be a true value-add

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In-Person or Virtual Tours

One of the best ways for engineering teams to maximize designs is to understand first-hand how a fabricator turns a drawing into a real-life product. A tour of a metal fabrication manufacturing facility can be an enlightening experience when seeing the equipment, technology, and materials needed to bring it all together. 

Witnessing welders in their workspaces, what it takes to machine a piece of metal, and the differences between forming and welding can be invaluable. Preferably, these types of meetings take place in person, but a virtual tour and meeting can also be beneficial. 

Choosing the best value supplier often starts with a conversation as part of the RFQ process. To help guide that discussion, download our Metal Fabrication RFQ Guide — A Checklist of Commonly Overlooked Specifications below. Then, reach out to our team of experts.

Metal Fabrication RFQ Guide