Manufacturing, specifically the machine tool industry, truly epitomizes the fast-paced, high-tech world we live in today. The days of the manual lathe or mill are a distant speck in the rearview mirror. Machinery today comes in all shapes, sizes and capabilities in order to make the parts that have been created in engineering laboratories by some of the most creative minds. Machines position more precisely, cut faster and produce more parts in less time than they did not so long ago. However, at the heart of this high-powered dynamic industry, SERVICE is the differentiator.
Service is the competitive differentiator when you look closely. When you examine the competition that exists in markets, there are a few points that are clear. There isn’t much of a chance the Federal Trade Commission is going to bring charges against any company for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 or the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914. Why? Because there are few monopolies, and there aren’t any products that are unique, without a competitor. Now juxtapose that thought with the reality of having multiple competitors, as many as six or seven depending on the work envelope. Additionally, every one of those competitors has equipment that can produce the part. Every feature that is needed to make the customer’s part is comparable, the travel and number of axes, the positioning and repeatability accuracy, the size of the table, the horsepower, the control capabilities. All the needed features to make a part are comparable – except the service that is required to make the machine perform to its fullest.
Therefore, when selecting a company to partner with, there are a few key service elements to consider. Does the company employ sufficient numbers of service personnel? Are they strategically positioned to respond to a customer’s needs whether it be installation, warranty or non-warranty service to satisfy your needs in a timely manner? Having the best engineered, the most process-driven manufacturing procedures will not ensure there won’t be problems when the machine arrives at the customer facility. In addition to field service personnel, does the company selected have technical support people that are a phone call away? Do they have support personnel that will help solve smaller issues over the phone and get equipment operational again? More importantly, will they call back quickly if you leave a message?
Another critical component to service is the ability to provide repair parts. Having the required spare parts inventory is a big differentiator. Investing in the most sophisticated equipment to make very complex parts is a great idea. However, if replacement parts are not available when they are needed, the negative impact can be long lasting. Therefore, make sure there is a positive track record of parts being delivered via the quickest methods. Furthermore, having parts for legacy equipment, as well as the newest production, illustrates a dedication that needs to be taken into consideration when selecting a supplier.
Providing a dedicated training and documentation department further separates a company from the rest of the pack. When a knowledgeable machine operator leaves and a new associate is brought on board, getting them trained quickly is important. Additionally, having the capability to train at the customer’s facility and not at a remote location saves time and money. Having a documentation department that can provide specialized manuals in different media is very customer centric. As the workforce is maturing and younger cohorts enter the market, the ability to provide documentation in multiple formats has become a requirement.
There are a couple of additional levels of service that solidify the differentiator moniker. These are services like laser calibration and ball bar testing. Service like these go well beyond the normal amenities of installations, warranty and non-warranty. Typically, a laser calibration or ball bar test is done by a company that specializes in these services. However, investing in the equipment and your personnel to provide these highly skilled services places your service in a whole different category.
So, the next time there is a project to bid on, remember the market is full of competitors. Each one of those competitors will have equipment that can make the part to the accuracies specified by the customer, as well as the required cycle time. Therefore, to get the project, be sure to promote your service abilities to the customer. It is those SERVICES that will be the differentiator that will get you the order.