When sourcing manufacturing services, businesses face a critical decision that can make a world of difference: Should I partner with a local manufacturing shop or choose an online supplier? This choice often has significant impacts on the quality, cost, and efficiency of your projects. In this article, we'll explore the benefits and considerations of each option to help guide your decision.
Local Manufacturing Partner vs. Online Supplier
What is a Local Manufacturing Partner?
Local manufacturers are regionally-based businesses offering manufacturing services with a personalized approach. Working with a local partner typically involves an emphasis on face-to-face interactions and tailored services that fit the needs of every unique client.
What is an Online Manufacturing Supplier?
Online suppliers provide services through digital platforms, offering a wide range of options and catering to a national or global clientele. They're akin to the Uber of manufacturing, and their strength lies in leveraging the efficiency and scale of a distributed network. There is no inherent right or wrong choice: it depends on what you need from your manufacturing partner and what advantages are more important to you.
5 Advantages of a Local Manufacturing Partner
1. Personalized Service and Communication
Local manufacturers offer direct, personal communication, leading to a better understanding and alignment with project goals. Local manufacturing allows for easier design feedback, potentially reducing manufacturing costs, especially for prototyping and low-volume products.
2. Quick Turnaround and Flexibility
Local manufacturers can often deliver faster and adapt quickly to project changes. If issues arise during assembly, they can modify existing parts, saving time and money. Getting products manufactured abroad adds to delivery times and shipping costs.
3. Quality Control
With a local partner, you have more control over quality. You can visit the manufacturer to see their machines, get to know the team and confirm their capabilities. You'll walk away with increased confidence that the job will be done right. Reorders also go better with local manufacturing partners: you can expect consistent or improved quality when your manufacturer has familiarity with your parts.
4. Building Long-term Relationships
Working with a local partner fosters long-term relationships, offering consistency and reliability. If you're tired of a faceless corporation with endless hold times on customer service phone calls, there's a better way. Working with a local team who knows you and appreciates your business will reap benefits for years to come.
5. Supporting the Local Economy
Choosing a local partner contributes to your community's economy, fostering local business growth. While you might not see the business benefit of paying more to support local businesses, consumers do: Many U.S. consumers are tired of seeing manufacturing jobs moving abroad and supporting someone else's economy. That little "Made in the USA" sticker is a big seller for folks. When you support your local economy, your local economy supports you right back.
3 Advantages of an Online Supplier
1. Convenience and Efficiency
Online suppliers offer streamlined, efficient ordering and digital management processes. Large corporations are great at getting you in the queue, but they're not as great at getting you out.
The larger scale of an online manufacturing supplier often allows for competitive pricing on standard, large-volume orders. This is a great option for people with a design that has already been prototyped and tested. If you are looking for that flexible initial design prototyping, though, a local manufacturer will be a much better partner to you in this process.
3. Wide Range of Options
Online suppliers may offer a broader range of materials and services due to their vast network. This can be a game-changer for a niche product market, but beware of big business inflexibility: you might not be able to make changes to your design mid-order, and if something doesn't work right, you won't know until all ten thousand units are on your doorstep.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering a Local or Online Manufacturing Partner
1. Do you need feedback?
When working with an online supplier, the interaction typically begins and ends with the click of a button. This process lacks the dynamic feedback loop that's often crucial for complex manufacturing projects.
For instance, if your part design has unique challenges due to specific features or materials, it might linger unaddressed on the platform. You may not receive any feedback or suggestions for improvement until it's too late, potentially leading to missed deadlines. This lack of interaction can be particularly detrimental for projects that require fine-tuning or have evolving specifications.
The ability to have an ongoing dialogue with a manufacturer ensures that your designs are not only feasible but optimized for both cost and production. This iterative process, common with local manufacturers, is often absent in the transactional nature of online manufacturing platforms. Therefore, while it might work to reorder your perfect product with an online supplier, a complex design that is still in development would really benefit from a local manufacturing partner.
How highly do you value quality, reliability, and consistency?
The distributed network of an online supplier means your parts could be manufactured by vastly different entities, from large, professional operations to smaller, less-equipped workshops, which in many instances can end up being someone's garage.
This variability can significantly impact the quality and consistency of the parts you receive. While some smaller operations may deliver exceptional quality, the inconsistency in resources, expertise, and processes poses a risk that you might not be willing to take. Each order could be fulfilled by a different manufacturer, leading to variations in the final product.
This lack of consistency can be a major concern, especially for projects where uniformity and adherence to precise standards are critical. In contrast, a local manufacturing partner, familiar with your projects and standards, can ensure consistent quality over time. They can apply lessons learned from previous runs to continuously improve the manufacturing process, something that's inherently challenging in a distributed manufacturing model. Evaluate how important reliability is for the success of your project, as it might be the deciding factor that keeps you local.
What are your project needs?
When deciding where to go for a manufacturing partner, you should consider the scale, complexity, and customization level required for your project. You can reach out to local manufacturers to see if it is even possible for them, or if they lack the tools required to get the job done. That might leave you with no choice but an online supplier.
Alternatively, you may find that your design is too complex to leave to an anonymous supplier who doesn't understand. A local manufacturer will take the time to really understand your project and your product. A complicated project with a lot of customizations will have more success with a local manufacturer who can become a partner and supporter of your business.
What is your budget?
There is going to be a difference between the manufacturing costs of a local manufacturer and those of a larger online supplier. But when you are getting quotes and completing the cost analysis, be sure to look beyond base costs. You need to consider the shipping costs that will certainly be involved in an online manufacturing partner. You should consider the lead times, when you need the product, and how quickly you would want a reorder to be filled. Finally, consider the potential costs associated with a revision. While a local manufacturing partner can keep costs down with prototyping until the project is perfect, an online supplier may not be as helpful.
What are your long-term business goals?
Finally, consider how your choice of manufacturing partner aligns with your long-term objectives. If you are hoping to be manufacturing your part for a long time, a local partner might be a better bet. Online suppliers come and go, and political changes can affect shipping costs and import taxes on products made abroad. Forming an in-person connection with another local business can lead to years of fruitful partnership, and the intrinsic values of that are not to be overlooked.
Both local manufacturing partners and online suppliers offer unique advantages. The best choice for you depends on your project requirements, budget, and long-term business objectives. Consider these factors carefully to align your decision with your business needs.
If you're considering a local manufacturing partner for your next project, contact us at Method Mfg. We're committed to precision, quality, and personalized service for your unique manufacturing needs. We would love to have you visit our shop to see the tools and processes that we use to consistently deliver high-quality parts.