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Tips for working with an out-of-state metal fabricator
By: Bob Buchanan
After I posted a blog last year about why it can be difficult – and potentially risky – to have your metal part or product made overseas, a few people asked me if some of those risks of off-shore manufacturing would rule out an out-of-state fabricator too. That’s a valid question.
In some cases – like big, heavy, one-off projects – it makes sense to use someone close to home. But in most cases location doesn’t really play a role in project success. We have lots of customers outside Indiana who have stuck with us year after year. I think it’s because we have figured out a few ways to make sure that the quality of the product is the same whether our customer is a mile away or a thousand miles away. If anything, working with someone outside Indiana tests our creativity and problem-solving ability, which we love!
If you’re considering a fabricator outside your city or state, keep these things in mind:
- Get samples – Use physical objects like steel finish samples and welding coupons to ensure you get exactly what you expect. Waiting for samples might add a few extra days to your timeline – but that’s a lot better than getting an unexpected surprise at the end.
- Think backwards – Talk to your fabricator about who will install the finished product. Knowing their skill level can help your fabricator anticipate or even prevent installation issues.
- Be flexible – Allow your fabricator to suggest minor modifications that could lessen shipping costs or streamline installation.
To illustrate those last two points, I’ll tell you about a recent project we did for a large retail organization that operates in multiple states. They wanted to install a metal building façade at a facility in Texas. It’s a really cool design – kind of a three-dimensional wall made of triangular metal shapes.
Now I don’t need a map to tell you Texas is nowhere near Indiana, so I didn’t take it personally that they contacted a fabricator down there at first. I mean, we’re talking about a 3D wall made of metal – not exactly the sort of thing you’d expect to get in a cardboard box!
One day during a lunch-and-learn here at bo-mar, they mentioned that this wall just wasn’t coming together as planned. As I looked at pictures of the mockup, I could see the problems right away. The folds in the metal were not crisp. And the pieces just didn’t fit together well. It looked like someone jumbled up the pieces from three different jigsaw puzzles. The wheels started turning in my head. There just had to be a better way to build this wall! I got so excited about solving this problem for them that I offered to send a new sample within a week.
Over the next week, we figured out how to implement the designer’s vision in a new way. In particular:
- We made the panels uniform so they would line up better and install more easily – no more “piece A here” and “piece B there” instructions.
- We cut the metal first and then formed it second to achieve a cleaner look.
- We used a press brake to make the bends more crisp and precise.
- We suggested a different fastener that could be hidden better.
I should mention that making the pieces uniform also reduced shipping costs. In fact, the cost of shipping from Indiana was not bad at all – especially when you consider the money saved on installation.
The bottom line is, don’t let location dictate who you work with. The right partner will help you solve problems wherever they are – if you give them the opportunity to do so.