Engage Component Suppliers Early to Gain Efficiencies

Give your supplier of critical components a seat at the table when creating new technology to improve performance efficiency and reduce cost.

By Mike Schroeder, Product Specialist at WCCO Belting

When a component part is critical to total cost of ownership and uptime, equipment manufacturers can benefit from involving their component suppliers early on when developing a new model, product, or technology. The amount of strategy and science that is imparted into a purchased part’s design and build process can require honed expertise. Assuming such expertise for each critical component is represented within your internal product development team jeopardizes project timelines and outcomes.

As a supplier of rubber belting products – and specifically conveyor belts – we’ve seen first-hand the benefits manufacturers gain when collaborating with us during product development. We’ve also been in the tough position of having to discuss with a customer who’s well into the development process why their belt design may function, but performance may not reach its full potential. In this article, we share why working together creates a win-win situation for both parties and provide examples of pitfalls that can be avoided by including the experts of your component suppliers in the development process.

Article author and product specialist at WCCO Belting, Mike Schroeder, looks over cleated belting at the production facility. Photo Credit: J. Alan Paul Photography

Early Discussions Lead to Competitive Differentiation

You will get the optimum performance, efficiency, and longevity if you include your component suppliers throughout the process – from ideation to creation – because they can optimize the system up front. In our case, the conveyor belt is the heart of the conveying operation. If there are components that will cause your operation to come to a halt if they fail or are incompatible, it’s important to bring those suppliers in on the conversation early. Working with your supplier up front can result in:

Streamlined ideation to launch

Increased output with improved performance and capacity

Better efficiencies that reduce operating and energy costs

Reduced total cost of ownership of the machine

Most importantly – more profit on the bottom line

Working closely with critical component suppliers can also help ensure that you’re getting the latest and greatest parts for your new product or operation. If your suppliers join discussions early on, they can share their newest technologies, sustainability opportunities, and support your efforts to differentiate your equipment from your competitors. Sourcing commodity parts may be lower cost in the short-term but at the risk of the equipment owner’s operation. For example, agricultural seed tender equipment uses a conveyor belt with 2” rubber cleats to move product. A fabricated belt and single-step vulcanized manufactured belt will look visually the same to an end-user, but the fabricated belt is lower in cost and quality. It has a significantly higher rate of failure from glued-on cleats ripping off the belt and clogging equipment that will put the operator’s short planting window at risk.

A belt is so much more than meets the eye. Considerations regarding its rubber and fabric construction or top cover features like surface textures or cleat patterns can make a big difference both visually, offering physical differentiation, as well as operationally. If we understand the manufacturing goals and challenges from the beginning, we can suggest the optimal belting technology for your specific conveyor system.

Questions to Ask

Conversations with suppliers early in the design process is not a typical practice, but for those that open themselves up to collaboration, it can provide strong competitive advantages. For this reason, knowing the right questions to ask can help steer the conversation in a direction that is mutually beneficial for both the manufacturer and the supplier. When we speak with our customers who are manufacturers, for example, we want to know the product they are conveying and the speed and distance the conveyor will operate. The operating angle and drive system are also critical.

More generally, consider these questions and use them to guide your conversation with component suppliers of all types:

What problem does your new technology solve, and what role does this particular component play?

Are there specific features, benefits, or enhancements you’re hoping to see from your component provider?

What is the timing of your need, and will the supplier be making any changes to the components in that timeframe?

What ideas can the supplier bring to the table that might help differentiate your product or process?

Success Story: Conveyor Belting

In many cases, asking the right questions can lead to unexpected solutions. In one example, an original equipment manufacturer and WCCO Belting customer was building a unique conveyor system for a product that required a specific belt. The customer provided a drawing, but without any other information or parameters on pulley size, return rollers, take-up system, and more, we had no idea if the belt they were asking for was really the right belt for the operation.

As a solutions provider, we contacted the customer to gather more information. We discussed their application requirements and operating goals and determined together how the conveyor belt would drive the design of the equipment. Because the customer initiated an open and collaborative conversation with us early in the process, we were able to design the belt they needed that exceeded their requirements, while also educating them for the future. 

Pitfalls to Avoid

Just as bringing your components supplier into the fold early can yield big gains, beginning collaborations too late in the process can result in complications. It’s easy to underestimate how critical each component is to the final product, especially if you aren’t an expert about each of the pieces and parts yourself. You can’t just throw pieces together and assume they will work in tandem; it’s important to understand all factors, pros, and cons of each component and how they will work together, and new technology available to you. Your supplier should be able to explain the different options relevant to your project and how variations will affect the outcomes and output. 

Ultimately, the best time to engage your component suppliers is at the onset of the project. These suppliers are the experts in their specific areas and can help you determine how to make the best, most efficient, and most effective version of the technology you need. We encourage you to think about your next project and engage with your suppliers now in planning conversations for optimization and the most fruitful results.

Mike Schroeder is a Product Specialist at WCCO Belting, manufacturer of agricultural and industrial rubber belting products. The company was recently acquired by technology company Continental. In his role, Mike serves as the most vital link between customers and internal teams. Through on-site visits and open discussions, he identifies customers’ operational requirements and helps deliver innovative, high-impact product solutions. Mike currently has five patents and one other patent-pending rubber products.

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