Defining and controlling your process is foundational to having repeat success in manufacturing. If you do not define and control your process, you will not control costs, quality, or produce repeatable results. Weld fixtures are a significant investment into the weld process – an investment that can be a tremendous asset by increasing quality, throughput, and repeatability.
However, poorly designed, built, and implemented weld fixtures can quickly turn into a painful liability. They can cost your company downtime, scrap, and excess labor. Over the past 20 years of designing and building weld fixtures, we have refined and improved our process for defining scope and working through weld fixture projects. We would obviously welcome the opportunity to work together on your next tooling project and implement our proven process. The information below is based upon planning a project with us. But even if QTS is not involved in your next project, working through these steps can help assure your investment in weld tooling creates value and not a large headache and expensive boat anchor.
The first step in the process is discovery, which involves asking some basic questions around the project. Questions like: what problems are you looking to solve, and can we can we help solve those problems? We want to make sure we are a good solution to your problem and that our core competencies align with your needs.
We also want to make sure our company’s values and business philosophy align. Frankly, life is too short to work with people who are mean, dishonest, manipulative, and disrespectful to others. We like our people to be happy and engaged with their work. Having to work on projects with people who don’t align with our values and business philosophy make it difficult to stay happy and engaged. It’s just not worth it.
The last step in the discovery phase is to get all the paperwork out of the way, like having a 2-Way NDA signed if necessary or any other documents reviewed.
Request for Proposal
Once we all agree it makes sense to work together, we work through the RFP process. We first want to define scope of project and ask any clarifying questions. This is where having experienced designers and project managers adds a tremendous amount of value. A lot of the brainstorming and problem solving are done in this stage.
Once the project is defined, our Project Managers will then create concept sketches and document proposed solutions. These items come with other details of the project like payment terms and project timelines (including real-time “what-if” scenarios and Gantt charts). These are submitted as a formal proposal for the project.
When all the details are communicated and the capital is approved, we receive an official Purchase Order. This may seem like an arbitrary part to mention, but critical details need to be confirmed on the PO including pricing, payment terms, and timelines. We then submit any paperwork for down payment invoices if progress payments are required.
In starting the project, we have a kick-off meeting with all the main stakeholders in the project. We want to make sure the scope of work and concepts are reviewed with the design team and project manager. The kickoff meeting gets everyone on the same page regarding layouts, materials, COGS, labor budget, timelines, etc. All the critical milestones of the project are reviewed.
When we have the details clarified, a Gantt chart of project timelines is created including both QTS and customer milestones. As the fixture(s) progresses, the Project Manager reviews budgets and updates Gantt charts to send to the customer weekly.
Design and Engineering
After the scope and details of the welding fixture project are communicated, the design and engineering phase begins. We create a 3D model of the fixture(s) in SolidWorks or Creo CAD software and submit to the end user for design approval. This is typically done in several phases. Phase 1 is reviewing and approving the part orientation, datum locations, clamp locations, overall size, and all the other major defining features. Phase 2 reviews the overall design concept, access, functionality, material utilization, and final details for the fixture. This process can take several iterations; customer review, feedback, modify design, rinse and repeat as needed, until a final design is approved.
During the design process, an Engineering Change Notification (ECN) is created and submitted for customer approval on any changes in customer parts or models and/or customer driven changes in scope, cost, or project timelines. This creates documentation to track the changes and insures good communication throughout the design phase of the process.
Customer Final Design Approval
When we have gone through all the iterations, the end user provides a written approval of the final model and design.
After final design approval, an Engineering Change Notification (ECN) is created and submitted for customer approval on any changes in customer parts or models and/or customer driven changes in scope, cost, or project timelines. Again, this creates documentation to track any post-final design changes and insures good communication.
Detailing and Bill of Materials
The next step is to create detailed prints including tolerances, material callouts, and secondary processes if required. Part of the design package is a full Bill of Materials (BOM) along with any pneumatic, hydraulic, or electrical schematics as needed.
Processing and Scheduling
After we have detailed prints, a complete BOM, and any schematics required, we define and schedule the entire manufacturing process down to every detail.
We schedule every project two ways. First, we back schedule from the required ship date in order to determine the deadlines and milestones for dependent events. From there, we resolve constraints and conflicts in the schedule in order to forward schedule a realistic resolved schedule.
At that time, we order all non-inventoried materials and components. We also verify the delivery dates align with the milestones we have established for the project.
Build and Assemble
During the entire build and assembly process, every detail is tracked in real-time. We incorporate quality at the source in order to streamline the manufacturing process. Our manufacturing team meets every morning to assess progress, answer questions between departments, and address any constraints that could compromise hitting the milestones on the project.
Our custom-built systems give visibility by project, by individual machine or process, or as a snapshot of entire process.
Quality Assurance and Qualifying
Once the fixture is built and assembled, we want to verify dimensional quality. We have CMM FaroArms utilizing the most recent software and technologies, and by qualifying directly off the 3D model it gives better data and saves time. As a standard, weld fixtures are inspected and shimmed to nominal, and inspection fixtures are typically qualified at 10% of print tolerance. Parts are checked to print tolerances.
Not only do we check dimensional quality, we also incorporate functionality testing along with “fit and finish” as part of our QA process. This assures the tooling will work properly when it reaches the customer’s manufacturing floor and is commissioned into production.
Run-Off and Part Verification
The final step in a weld fixture project is to perform a run-off in order to fit-up parts and verify complete functionality of the tooling. We provide full support including certified welders, QA equipment, and cranes up to 10-tons. We can also provide a designated area for a more involved customer run-off including a 5-ton crane and privacy curtain. If there are any changes or modifications required, we have full in-house manufacturing support including machining (CNC milling, lathe, grinding, waterjet, wire EDM, etc.), plumbing, and electrical.We want to have everything needed to assure the fixtures are working properly, the parts fit-up and are dimensionally correct, and the fixtures are ready for full production.
By following this Proven Process over the last 20 years we have designed, built, and commissioned thousands of fixture projects. If you would like to learn more about our process or need some expert advice on your next tooling project, please contact us.