by Ravi Jain, Bud Industries Inc.
It is always surprising to me that so few engineers request a customized enclosure for their electronic and electrical devices. Maybe an enclosure is just a box, but it’s part of the design and should not be a design afterthought. Many enclosure suppliers are now willing to customize their enclosures to fit your design and application. This has advantages in many areas of business, including design, manufacturing, and marketing.
Customization can add value to your product, by adding accessories such as a locking hasp, for example, or giving a major customer pre-drilled mounting holes in a custom configuration. By shifting some manufacturing steps to your supplier, you lower costs. Customization, such as a custom-color powder coat finish, will help differentiate your product in the marketplace. This is particularly important in markets where competing products are similar.
Here’s a tale of two competitors who make industrial controls. The engineer for company A sources a standard, off-the-shelf, gray metal box, and feels good about the price. It has a hinged door so users can open it to see an LED display inside. To save additional cost, he decides that his own technicians will cut the holes needed for wiring and mounting, using a drill press. After he receives the enclosures on a pallet, the shipping department reboxes them individually with the appropriate distributor label.
Competitor B takes a different approach. The engineer specifies a custom-dimension box that has a thinner profile, desired by customers because it helps shrink their machine footprint. This engineer understands that the labor cost is actually lower if the enclosure supplier drills or punches the hole for the wiring, and he also has his supplier cut a rectangular hole so the LEDs are visible without opening the box – a product feature advantage. The supplier adds a gasket around the opening that will keep the unit sealed and reliable. Next he orders a custom powder coating in his company’s distinctive color. When the enclosures arrive, they are already individually boxed and custom labeled for easy shipment to his customers.
The moral of this story is that, for little extra cost, Competitor B used customization to add functionality, make manufacturing leaner, and stand out in the marketplace. And its supplier did all the work.
Because sheet metal boxes are formed by bending metal, the additional cost for the custom dimension was minimal. Some suppliers have invested in low cost tooling capabilities and can provide rapid production of custom products, as well as accepting customer CAD files.
By shifting some manufacturing steps to its supplier, Competitor B lowered cost, improved quality, reduced lead-time and shortened Work-In-Process. That’s because the supplier has the proper equipment, more accurate specifications on the enclosure, significantly more experience, and generally a lower labor cost.
The same is true of racks and cabinets. Instead of assembling custom components in house, engineers should order them pre-assembled. They should carefully specify where they want access panels, custom shelves, fans, vents, lock hasps, power strips, casters and levelers. If one component needs special EMI protection, then the supplier can mount a die-cast aluminum box on the rack. If needed, the supplier can machine off the card guides and bosses inside the box.
I admit that the latest chip is more interesting than an enclosure, but if engineers learn the many ways in which their suppliers can customize an enclosure, then they can add value to product designs and free their companies to focus on core competencies.