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Distributor's Link Magazine Summer 2021 / Vol 44 No 3


104 THE DISTRIBUTOR’S LINK LAURENCE CLAUS IS THERE VALUE IN APPLICATION ENGINEERING? from page 12 Plant Walkthrough Early in my consulting career I was contacted by a small distributor looking for some application engineering assistance. They had recently just renewed a contract with their largest VMI client. Although this seven year contract was a real success story for them it came with an agreement to provide steep year over year cost reductions for the entire duration of the contract. Their customer, however, had thrown them a bone and agreed to offset the yearly reductions with credits for any cost savings improvements they could identify and be realized. Not having any Application Engineering talent on staff, they hired me to tour their customer’s facility and seek out potential improvement opportunities. I “discovered” a variety of different potential improvement areas including incorrect pairing of hardware (Grade 8 bolts were being paired with Grade 2 nuts), fasteners that were clearly longer than they needed to be (often up to 200% longer than necessary), and use of high strength parts (grade 8) in applications that carried little or no load. Perhaps the most fascinating issue I discovered, however, is illustrated in Figure 1. This is a joint that was used to attach a fan motor on one side of a sheet metal “wall” and a shroud to cover the fan blades on the other side. I noticed some variant of this joint being used in at least a dozen places in the plant. What really caught my attention were the materials utilized in the different components. These joint stack-ups included some mix of zinc electroplated, powder coat painted, and stainless steel parts nestled against a galvanized steel sheet. My immediate observation and question was, if several of the components can acceptably utilize zinc electroplated parts, why the stainless steel components? Additionally, although these were brand new units being prepared for service, I suspect that if I had the chance to review units that had been in service a while, the dissimilar metal contact would have produced unfavorable galvanic couplings and the zinc plated parts and galvanized steel sheet would be experiencing galvanic corrosion. As this exercise was primarily intended to be one of finding unnecessary cost drivers, if the answer to the immediate question of sufficiency of zinc electroplating was in the affirmative, then using any stainless steel parts, which were likely three to four times the cost of equivalent zinc electroplated versions, was a significant finding. FIGURE 1 Of course every observation that identified a potential cost savings would need further exploration to determine feasibility relative to the design intent of the joint. It is unlikely that every observation, therefore, would produce an actual cost savings. However, if only one half of the items I observed were truly feasible, the impact of changes would still be significant. In fact, I really wouldn’t be shocked if I identified somewhere between 0,000 and ,000,000 of potential cost savings, many with tangible quality improvements associated with them. This particular case may represent an extraordinary example, but this just serves to illustrate what can be identified by simply walking your customer’s plant floor and looking for items of concern and improvement. This activity may be the single most productive applications activity you can engage in. Solving An Unexpected Problem Very often, Application Engineers are problem solvers. Figure 2 illustrates a fine example of this. This part is a Brake Caliper Bolt, one of two pins (or bolts) that the brake caliper slides along. This particular part was designed about twenty years ago for a very high profile, next generation vehicle. The OEM had a great deal riding on an on-time, problem-free vehicle launch. CONTINUED ON PAGE 160

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