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  • Dossier on subcontracting Technical article

    Global subcontracting: Sheet Metal Work, Mechanics, Electrics, Electronics, Automation, etc.

    Published on 08/04/21 — Mis à jour le 22/01/24
Submitted by a.merlet.securite on Thu 08/04/2021 - 08:08
  • A lot of industries offer products integrating electrical and electronic components, automation, mechanical components, etc. in a sheet metal casing or enclosure. This could be, for example, automatons or terminals for the banking and transport industries, or other types of products in a variety of fields, such as medical, energy, defence/military, agri-food, etc.

    The manufacturing of such products is often subcontracted and requires a wide skillset and variety of professions. It can therefore be difficult for the buyer to assess the technical and pricing aspects of subcontracting.

    Through interviews with prime contractors and subcontractors, we will share our tips for successfully conducting this type of industrial project, based on the assumption that the ideal solution is to have a single subcontractor, who can manage the entire project.

  • 1- Share the Context and Specifications with a Technical Review

    For complete products, such as car park pay stations, electric car charging stations, or other projects, the subcontractor needs to understand the context in order to advise and optimise the costs.

    Are there any environmental constraints, such as salt spray, heat, cold, humidity, water immersion, etc.? What about safety constraints? What is the expected life span? What upstream and downstream manufacturing services are required (design, verification of standards, installation, maintenance, etc.)?

    Indeed, the initial design and specifications can sometimes be optimised. Take this example by Christophe Ledevin, ARMITEC: “For a recent project in the naval industry, the client wanted to use S355 steel, that could withstand temperatures of up to -45C°. After a technical review with the client, we were able to better understand the environment in which the boat would be used, and to conclude that M235 steel, that can withstand temperatures up to -20C°, would be more than sufficient."

    Sheet metal project
    Industrial sheet metal project - Copyright MATIT

    Indeed, subcontractors bring a fresh, external perspective that can often help optimise the project and choose the best technical and financial options, particularly to:

    • Create or improve the design to produce something that is as close as possible to the product/client expectations, taking into account mechatronics, with a view to “design to cost” (target price).

    • Limit the flow between sheet metal parts, electronic components, wiring, delivery to site, etc.

    • Manage purchasing and supply in an optimal manner.

    Jean-Yves De Buck, OTIMA Industries - Groupe AIM, explains that “the mains stages during which the subcontractor can assist the primary contractor can be grouped into 3 categories:

    • upstream, co-designing the project with the client based on specifications and a "design to cost" objective,

    • the re-design phase to optimise the project,

    • and the industrialisation of the project.”

    The time-to-market for a new product is getting shorter and shorter. “It has even become a key issue,” Jean-Yves De Buck, OTIMA Industries - Groupe AIM, adds.

    With this in mind, how can you develop your project quickly and as securely as possible, while taking a cost-conscious approach?

    The key is to get the subcontractor involved from the pre-project phase, in order to ensure the project’s overall industrial viability, and to be able to co-design it,” Jean-Yves De Buck, OTIMA Industries - Groupe AIM, explains.

    But it is also important to agree on the level of finish and the evaluation criteria to avoid any misunderstandings. Fabian Bijaczyk, MECA SERVICE, points out that “it is important to define anything relating to finish and quality, because they are subject to interpretation.”

    Maxime Francillon, BERARD, insists that,sitting around a table with the client to define, clarify or even amend the specifications is not a waste of time. In the long run, it saves time. The price is optimised, and the product will leave the factory more quickly.

  • 2- General Sheet Metal Subcontractor Capabilities

    A subcontractor’s tools and technical skills are key in order to meet several objectives, namely:

    • to limit the use of second-tier subcontractors as much as possible,

    • to optimise manufacturing costs by choosing the most cost-effective machines and production processes, while meeting the client’s technical constraints. As an example, Xavier Charriton, LAUAK INDUSTRIE, explains that, “if the sheet metal workshop has several technologies for cutting and forming parts, the subcontractor can choose the most cost-effective cutting technology.”

    Jean-Yves De Buck, OTIMA Industries - Groupe AIM highlights the importance of the subcontractor’s capacity to produce the necessary quantities, and also to accept and absorb production variations. This is a key point in the supply chain.”

    Below is a non-exhaustive list of the main manufacturing stations, bearing in mind that it is in the buyer’s interest to focus on the aspects that cost the most and have the most technical constraints.

    ? Design and Engineering Office
    A subcontractor’s production planning department’s skills vary from one company to another. Some businesses have developed a wide range of skills that go far beyond the simple reworking of parts including, for example, design, technical engineering, studies and electrical diagrams, etc.

    Maxime Francillon, BERARD, gives the following example: “One of our clients came to us with a project to manufacture a very modern product. After a technical review, we realised that industrial manufacturing would not be possible. We therefore worked with the designer to adapt the product, while respecting the DNA of its design.”

    ? Sheet Metal Workshop and Production
    Cutting is often the first production stage, with a wide variety of potential machines and production lines. Some equipment, such as combined laser-punching and combined punching-shearing machines, allow other production operations to be carried out on the same machine, such as bending, forming, tapping, etc. FMS-type production lines can also offer significant productivity gains.

    Bystronic laser cutting machine with automation
    Bystronic laser cutting machine with automation - Copyright Extratole

    Bending is also a key station because it considerably impacts the cost of parts.

    And of course, a number of other production stations should be looked at carefully, including rolling, bending, and finishing stations (deburring, brushing, etc.).

    ? Mounting and Assembly of Metal Casing or Structures

    Welding – TIG, MIG, Laser – is of particular importance, whether using manual or robotic welding units. Optimisations and mechanical alternatives are also sometimes possible and can be less costly.

    Mechanical assembly solutions include riveting, inserts, flow-drilling, clinching, gluing, etc.

    ? Surface Treatment and Painting

    Paint line for sheet metal parts
    Automatic paint line - Copyright Marne Métal Concept – MMC

    There are lots of different treatment options for sheet metal parts: sand blasting, phosphating, cataphoretic dip painting, zinc coating, tinning, anodizing, paint, and varnish.

    General sheet metal subcontractors are often integrated but tend to outsource particular or less common surface treatments.

    ? Electric Assembly and Electronic Integration
    This station can include electrical wiring, electronic assembly, as well as functional testing.

    Assembly of electronic components
    Electrical wiring and assembly of electronic components - Copyright Otima Groupe AIM

    ? Logistical Capabilities
    Some projects require staggered delivery dates, stock management or supply to the end-client. To meet such demands, the subcontractor may have storage areas, logistics teams, trucks, etc.

    ? On-site Installation, Maintenance and Training
    A subcontractor’s skillset is often very wide, well beyond production, including installation, end-user training and even maintenance with qualified technicians.

  • 3- Purchasing and Supply

    Purchasing and supply also play an important role in the overall project process. There are several ways of working, as Jean-Yves De Buck, OTIMA Industries -Groupe AIM explains: “this could involve, for example:

    • sourcing from suppliers selected by the prime contractor,

    • pooling subcontractor and prime contractor purchasing portfolios, in order to share sourcing and choose the best purchasing solutions,

    • pooling agreements at a group level (mass purchasing).

    There are lots of solutions, depending on the technical nature of the products purchased.”

    This subject needs to be dealt with early on, in order to validate the specifications, implementation tests, and also the logistical aspects relating to supply.

  • 4- Certifications and Performance Indicators

    The buyer often conducts a pre-qualification phase, based either on certifications and/or a subcontractor audit, or on logistical, quality, and financial aspects.

    Beyond this objective, certifications serve several purposes:

    1. on the one hand, to enable buyers to ensure that the subcontractor has the necessary skills from an organisational, quality, and environmental standpoint. The most common standards are ISO 9001 – Quality Management System and ISO 1400 – Environmental Management. There are also more specific standards for different sectors, such as the European EN 9100, American AS 9100 and Japanese JISQ 9100 standards for the aviation and space industries.

    2. on the other hand, specific certifications are required by law for certain types of production and/or processes. For example, the most common European certifications in the sheet metal subcontracting industry are:

    • EN 3834-2: Quality requirements for fusion welding of metallic materials

    • EN 15085-2: Welding of railway vehicles and components

    • EN 1090-1: Execution of steel and aluminium structures

    • AIR 0191: Requirement for the use of welding and related techniques in welded constructions mounted on aircrafts

    • EN 24394: Welding for aerospace applications

    • EN 17660-1: Welding of reinforcing steels

    Monitoring is based on indicators defined by the subcontractor and the client. The aim is to track at least 3 key aspects: quality, logistics and costs over a given period (monthly, quarterly, etc.).

    For example, "On Time Delivery” is a key performance indicator. It is based on the ratio of the number of products delivered on time, out of the total number of units delivered within a period, predefined by the client and supplier. On Time Delivery (OTD) therefore makes it possible to assess whether or not delivery deadlines are met, as well as monitor the quality of suppliers in view of continuous and collaborative improvement.

    Xavier Charriton, LAUAK INDUSTRIE adds that, "improving On Time Delivery is a major challenge that can improve your customer service and strengthen your competitive position on the market.”

    There are also other indicators or analyses that can complement the OTD, such as problem solving methodology, which aims to prevent the same problems from reoccurring, so that errors are not repeated.

    For sheet metal work, whether general, technical, integrated, electronic, etc., the subcontractor must have a high level of skills in order to fully manage the project.

    Jean-Yves De Buck, OTIMA Industries - Groupe AIM, concludes: “Local manufacturing is possible, even with cost and time constraints. Working on the supply chain is key to increasing a project’s added value, with efficient global engineering.”