MFG.com’s Global Reach Helps ZRF Bring New Products to Market at Savings of 30 Percent and More

THE CHALLENGE

ZRF LLC is a design, engineering and manufacturing company that takes its own products, primarily ballistic computers, from concept to production. The firm also does consulting and design engineering and manufacturing for other entities, helping inventors bring their products to market.

Larry Bay, owner of ZRF, says that high-priced tooling costs for initial production launches of low-volume products posed a major challenge for his firm and its clients. He explains, “We could find shops to manufacture plastic parts but only in quantities of 100,000. Beyond the fact that we didn’t think we’d sell that many, the tooling costs were often too expensive. We also could find shops that could produce the piece in aluminum but the quality wasn’t high enough for consumer-grade parts. Their quotes were too expensive as well.”

Bay had worked extensively with Asian suppliers through earlier employment with a major U.S. electronics and telecommunications firm, but the manufacturers he knew weren’t interested in the production run sizes the entrepreneurs and small businesses he now represented required. He needed to find a new source of suppliers in Asia.

THE SOLUTION

Bay had previously heard of MFG.com, the world’s largest online manufacturing marketplace, so he turned to the platform in September 2009 to identify Asian suppliers willing to do smaller runs. Specifically, he initially sought manufacturers that could make a low-cost part out of steel, thereby raising its quality, but still keeping the price economical for a low-volume production launch.

He uploaded the specifications for the custom machined part onto the MFG.com platform. He shares, “The system is easy to use whether uploading a drawing, specifying the manufacturing process or identifying the quantity to be quoted. Better still, all of our information is in one place and suppliers come looking for us.”

THE RESULTS

“We are seeing savings of about 30 percent from Asian suppliers compared to U.S. suppliers,” says Bay. “I estimate we’ve posted 50 to 60 individual parts to date on MFG.com and awarded 90 percent of these RFQs on the platform. Of these, U.S. firms accounted for 25 percent of the wins.”

Bay explains, “It is not always economical to ship machined metal parts across the ocean. Plus, some of our defense work requires that we use U.S. suppliers. But for plastic parts, the lower labor and material costs in Asia make production there less expensive, which offsets the shipping costs.”

Initially, though, at least one of Bay’s customers expressed hesitancy to manufacture in Asia. Bay explains, “One company had some prototypes that consumers liked but the quotes from U.S. suppliers were too high. Plus, the initial design adapted somebody else’s tooled parts to fit with the company’s. The product ‘look’ was not professional. The firm asked us to reengineer the product for optimal manufacturability. We came up with a better design and showed them how Asian suppliers could not only produce the piece parts economically but also give the product a much better look.  Our customer was pleased with the results: a customized product that looked exactly as they wanted at an affordable price.”

MFG.com has proved to be an excellent source of suppliers for ZRF. Bay shares, “Over the years we’ve worked with 30 to 40 new suppliers identified via MFG.com. We’ve been using five or six steadily for at least seven years.”

Bay relies on the supplier rating system when making award decisions. He says, “If a supplier is new and doesn’t have a rating, it is hard to select that company without a track record. If it is a rated manufacturer where other firms have had a successful experience – and the quoted price is decent – then it is worth the risk to give that manufacturer a shot.”

“My experience with MFG.com suppliers has been good,” comments Bay. “Most suppliers are business people trying to get their name out there who are willing to work with you and offer design feedback to increase manufacturability.” Such proactive feedback is important to Bay, as his professional background emphasized early consultation with manufacturing teams to leverage their expertise. He recounts examples on both ends of the spectrum: “Some shops machining a part might tell us that if we switch to another type of feature they can run the machines more efficiently, reduce tool changes and cut costs. We value and seek such input. Then, there was another manufacturer that helped devise a methodology for mounting a ballistic computer and its mounting bracket to a weapon using a single screw. The dovetail design this supplier recommended not only simplified the part but also yielded a higher-quality mount that eliminated wobble.”

Because Bay works with inventors and unique designs he values the fact that MFG.com provides for Nondisclosure Agreements (NDAs). He says, “It provides some comfort that suppliers will keep your information confidential. Other places will put your information out there, and you’ll find your drawings floating around on the internet. None of the NDA-protected information I have provided over MFG.com is on the internet, which is a definite plus.”

“MFG.com gives you the tools to grow your business slowly,” says Bay. “You don’t need a large capital infusion to get things started. You can make a small tool in small quantities and then, when you outgrow that tool, you can make a higher-quality one in whatever quantity you desire. MFG.com allows you to help yourself. After eight years, I see no end in sight to using MFG.com to keep growing ZRF LLC and bring new products to market.”

 

“Over the years we’ve worked with 30 to 40 new suppliers identified via MFG.com. We’ve been using five or six steadily for at least seven years.”

Larry Bay
Owner,
ZRF LLC

 

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