Lately, I’ve been looking for manufacturers for an injection molded project I’m working on. Requirements at my previous job forced us to source parts in the US, and most of our work was CNC’d aluminum, so exploring overseas suppliers is a new prospect for me. There are some clear advantages to staying in the US and I thought I’d talk about the pros and cons running through my head.
The first concern I have with a supplier is trust. Can I trust them to make quality goods and deliver on time? In the US, I feel like basic interview questions and social cues will lead me to conclude whether you’re a worthy supplier or not. I can call you on the phone (because at most you are a few time zones away!), communicate with you in fluent English, and also check your references, who probably also speak English. If I want to meet you face to face, your factory is at worst a day’s travel and several hundred dollars for the plane ticket. Finally, if it comes down to it (and it probably won’t, but just in case), I could imagine suing an American supplier in the U.S. If I was overseas, I wouldn’t have a clue.
When you’re in early development phases, shipping samples back and forth can be crucial. No amount of math, analysis, or simulation will substitute for a fit check, or to review final part color and surface finish. You can get small parts across the US in less than 3 days for under $10. Ground shipments of major deliveries will make it across the country in less than two weeks. A slow boat from China, on the other hand, could take a month, or you’d have to pay the money for air freight.
Although the US has had it’s fair share of scandals about factory conditions, I feel generally better about manufacturing in the US, than in a country where infant milk formula was poisoned, or factory workers toil under dangerous conditions. Will plastic parts have BPA, phtalates, lead, or some other toxic substance in them against my directions? Can I pay for a lab to test samples? Then there’s the additional ethical choice to move American jobs abroad.
Of course, the big elephant in the room is labor costs. Labor can cost ten time less overseas than in the US. The risks of working in another county can be mitigated by sending someone in person to vet the supplier, but of course, that costs money, too, and you’re essentially paying a lot a lot of money to manage the risks.
Practical Issues of Availability
I’ve tried working with mfg.com for the first time to source a supplier. I’ve received 25+ bids on my project, only two companies were based in the US, and even then, they just had US offices, the work was really done in China or Korea. Finding a US supplier will take more work on my part.
Given the volumes I’m working with and the difficulties of working abroad, I’d certainly prefer to stay in the US, but the experience has certainly been eye opening as to what’s out there.