The beginning of a custom die cut converting project usually goes something like this:
Customer: “Here’s the idea. Can you make this?”
Converter Salesperson: “Yes, we can.”
Customer: “Can you make 1,000,000 of them?”
Converter Salesperson: “Of course.”
Now, it gets interesting. At this point, the converter should start asking the questions, and lots of them. The engineering-focused information gathering starts here, followed by project-specific questions to ensure quality and timing expectations can be met.
If a converter asks the right questions, and a customer provides the right answers, it accelerates decision-making, reduces costs, and gets that product to market quicker. However, without a complete knowledge base to work with, a converter’s time (and a customer’s money) will undoubtedly be wasted.
Here are some questions a customer should be asked by their converting partner (if they’re truly a partner).
1. “WHAT IS THE APPLICATION?”
Sounds basic, right? Well, in order to nail performance goals and tolerance specs (more on those below), a proper understanding of the application is needed. A quality converter can do just about anything IF they understand the application and how the product is ultimately being used.
In other words, capabilities can be reworked and altered to meet the product’s datum point. The best converters think with DFM (design for manufacturing) being top of mind. Focusing on manufacturability early in the process results in less setup waste and the repeatability of tolerances, which you’ll want for a less costly, more consistent product.
It’s understood that not every aspect of a project can be shared due to confidentiality or intellectual property reasons. Yet, to get the full benefit of a converter relationship, it’s essential to be as open as possible about the product’s use. Developing a final solution without knowing the final application of the part can be extremely challenging.
If you’re hesitant to share all these details, try thinking of a converter as if they’re a detective, gleaning insight from the small things to make big and appropriate decisions. Details that might seem insignificant could become vital once you begin manufacturing.
2. “WHAT PROCESS DO YOU HAVE PLANNED TO APPLY YOUR PART?”
When a converter knows that a robot will be applying the product, they’ll design your part to withstand that level of stress when applied.
In addition, the part needs to be repeatable for automation and likely on a roll with a plastic liner, so it’s more acceptable to the machine and can withstand the stresses. If the product is applied by hand, a tab system may help make application easy. It also might make sense to create kitting for the operator with specific instructions.
As you’ll see below, the more you educate your converter about your entire process, the more likely it is they’re going to build you a cost-effective, manufacturing feasible product.
3. “WHAT ARE THE SUBSTRATES TO WHICH THIS PRODUCT WILL BE APPLIED?”
If your product has just one substrate, it’s relatively easy: Your converter just needs to find a material that likes that substrate. But what happens when there are two substrates?
Two substrates could complicate the process. If both substrates are the same, it’s not as hard to choose a material. However, if the substrates differ vastly (for example, silicone and plastic), finding the right product may be especially difficult. It may mean creating a new material by combining materials with features for both sides.
Telling your converter which substrates you’re using will help them narrow down your adhesive options.
4. “WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS MATERIAL FOR THIS APPLICATION?”
A converter that not only knows which materials they can die cut but also why material was selected will gain enormous insight into the product’s end goals.
Certain materials might be ill-suited for your application, while others may be overkill for what needs to be done, going above and beyond the project’s needs with a premium price point. If you’re okay with paying more for a product that isn’t actually needed, fantastic. However, if you want a material that meets all your expectations at a fraction of the price, you need to engage with a quality converter to offer opinions and advice on material selection.
5. “WHAT TOLERANCES ARE NEEDED?”
A project’s critical tolerances dictate its manufacturing process.
If a tolerance can’t be met with rotary die cutting, it will need to be done using flat bed or laser die cutting, which are more expensive processes. As far as tolerance itself, what a customer may think is needed may not be needed at all, and that difference directly affects everything: cost, quality, timing, etc.
Knowing if a requested tolerance is “engineered” or “practical” goes a long way in determining the best option. Often, customer drawings contain over-engineered tolerances, which impacts cost and manufacturing feasibility. Our engineering team often asks your engineers to determine where tolerance is critical to the product and where there is flexibility. When there’s data to back up the need for tight tolerance requirements, the discussion can end. Yet, without the numbers, it’s a necessary dialogue to have.
Part tolerances come down to a cost vs. value scenario. When it comes to what’s asked vs. what’s needed, the scale varies significantly from project to project, and it’s the converter’s job to inquire further and bring together price and efficiency for each successful project.
6. “WHERE ARE YOU IN YOUR PROJECT DEVELOPMENT AND HOW QUICKLY ARE YOU EXPECTING TO COMMERCIALIZE?”
Every project needs a timeline.
Depending on where you are in the process, you could be designing, prototyping, sampling, validating, or even in production. If your project is already in the production phase, your converter will want to know your motivation for wanting to switch. Switching your provider or your solution costs time and money, so it will be important to understand the motivation behind that expenditure.
On the other hand, if you’re in the design phase, it will be the perfect time to test out solutions before the cost of switching over becomes too expensive. We can test materials, designs, specifications, and tolerances to ensure the part is designed for manufacturability.
If your converter knows where you are in your project timeline, they can adequately meet you where you are.
7. “WHAT ARE YOUR PROJECTED QUANTITIES (IF ANY)?”
Many converting solutions are designed for jobs of a finite quantity, so it’s worth clarifying any goals you have for scaling up your product.
Not everyone will know their projected quantities, but this question will get you thinking about your future plans and demonstrate that your converter is looking ahead to help you build a timeline.
If you know what your needs are now and you’re confident in what they will be, your converter can plan to scale up your adhesive part at an appropriate rate.
8. “ARE YOU OPEN TO NEW IDEAS?”
This question can trigger a discussion between the converter and the customer regarding cost versus value (mentioned earlier). A converter that knows the origin, application, and end use of a product might spot an opportunity for improvement.
For example, consider paint masking:
A customer uses roll after roll of masking tape (each costing $1) to mask a vehicle before painting. The converter may suggest an alternative: a specific die cut solution kit that costs five times as much as the tape rolls, yet instead of multiple people taking time to apply tape, it takes two people less time to peel apart and apply the masking kit. This value opportunity costs more on materials but saves on labor which lowers the total cost.
9. “HOW CAN WE BE A VALUABLE PART OF YOUR TEAM?”
The best converters have a lot to offer, and to get the most expertise from a converting partner, they need to be treated as a partner and treat you like a partner as well. Converters should try to better understand the technical requirements of a product and manufacturing processes. They need to ask how they can go beyond converting from a drawing into a more meaningful (and mutually successful) relationship.
10. “WHAT TYPE OF QUALITY STANDARDS DOES YOUR PROJECT REQUIRE?”
This isn’t the most enticing topic, but it’s a topic of critical importance nonetheless.
Does your project need to be in a Cleanroom? Do you need 100% part inspection? Both of these cost more, but ensure a higher quality. However, your part may just require basic ISO 9001 or 13485 standards. Your converter’s quality team should sit down with yours to determine a quality plan that fits your needs and specifications.
If you’re thinking about talking to a flexible material converter, you likely have many other questions. Find out more about choosing a material, converting in-house, and what makes a quality converter in our guide: