Tips on Selecting a Special-Fabrication Supplier - Special fabrications can address unique design and processing requirements. - BioPharm International


Tips on Selecting a Special-Fabrication Supplier
Special fabrications can address unique design and processing requirements.

BioPharm International

The challenge is finding a solution-oriented supplier who can provide a level of quality consistent with the other installed products. For example, a fabricator may want a quick turnaround on a dimensional change to a fitting in order to complete a phase of a project. But a solutions-oriented supplier that offers a wide range of services may offer a more cost-effective solution that can be built — to your design — within the same time constraints. The result may reduce the dimensional footprint of the whole assembly or lower field welding costs.

CONSIDER ALL OF THE SUPPLIER'S CAPABILITIES A supplier's structure can enable them to respond quickly, with a focus on quality and performance. One top-tier supplier, for example, has a dedicated group of engineering, design, and manufacturing staff working on special fabrications: welding, polishing, and machining materials; estimating the cost of products; and developing CAD drawings. Some suppliers put a premium on reliability, employing procedures and manufacturing processes that enable them to provide the same level of quality for special fabrications as they do for standard factory components.

Some services may be outsourced. For example, some suppliers don't have complete electropolishing capabilities, while others have dedicated welders and polishers just for special fabrication jobs. The more control a supplier has over the process, the better its ability to reduce errors, maintain quality, and avoid time delays. By thoroughly assessing a supplier's capabilities, a manufacturer or fabricator can make the best choice and get the maximum benefit from a special fabrication.

Here are some supplier capabilities that are important to consider:

Turnaround time. Quick turnaround of a special fabrication is typically the most critical element, especially when the cost of lost manufacturing time is considered. In the biopharmaceutical industry, a manufacturer can lose millions of dollars if a process line is down. It is important to determine a supplier's turnaround time for a quote as well as for product shipment. Some suppliers ship on a promised date and hold to it as if the special fabrication were a stock item. Also, some special fabricators are able to provide a drawing and a quote in four hours and delivery within three days.

Quality. Some suppliers have all capabilities in-house, enabling them to maintain stringent quality control, while others need to outsource certain services. Evaluate whether the special fabricator can complete the electropolishing necessary for biopharmaceutical process equipment in-house. Also, determine whether the supplier offers a repeatable process that will provide the same quality standards for future projects. In general, think long-term for maximum efficiency and cost savings. Labor may be cheaper in the short-term with a subcontractor, but it can cost more down the road because of quality issues.

Validation and third-party inspection. Determine whether the supplier's cost includes documentation, weld logs, and inspection. Some suppliers have special fabrications inspected — in accordance with ASME-BPE standards — by an independent third-party inspector before shipment. This service can help end-users reduce time and costs related to on-site conformance inspection and validation.

Flexibility. Review to what degree special fabrications are part of the company's core business. In addition, determine if the company has dedicated resources for special fabrications in design, assembly, welding, and polishing. Most likely, a supplier with special fabrications expertise will offer a smooth, efficient ordering process. Evaluate how rigid a supplier's special fabrications offerings are. If the supplier employs a "you dream it, we will build it" attitude, the manufacturer will not need to reconfigure its design to make the special fabrication work.

HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT Do your homework before and during the process of selecting a special fabricator to avoid downtime, delays, and quality issues. Choosing a supplier who can provide the desired products and services for both the present project and future needs saves time and money. Find a supplier who can deliver a quality product made to specs and on time. And, carefully consider flexibility and resources such as third-party inspection to reduce the time and costs related to on-site conformance inspection.

Dan Mathien is a sales manager at Swagelok Biopharm Services Company, 107-111 Goundry Street, North Tonawanda NY 14120, 800.255.4111, fax 800.523.4165,

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