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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. It’s at this point that the converter should start asking the questions, and lots of them. The engineering-focused information gathering begins 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).

“What is the application?”

Sounds basic, right? Well, in order to nail performance goals and tolerance specs (more on those below), a true understanding of the application is needed. A quality converter can do just about anything IF they understand the application and how the product will ultimately be 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: application, temperature, environmental conditions, stresses, substrates, intended use, handling, etc.

“How will this product be applied?”

When a converter knows that a robot will be applying the product, it needs to be designed to withstand that level of stress when applied. Also, it needs to be repeatable for the automation, and it likely needs to be on roll with a plastic liner so it’s more acceptable to the machine and can withstand the stresses. If the product will be applied by hand, a tab system may help make application easy. It may make sense to create kitting for the operator with specific instructions.

As you’ll see below, the more educated a converter is on the entire process, the more likely they’re going to be able to create a cost-effective, manufacturing feasible product.

“How will this product be used?”

Uncovering the best solution is always the goal. If a converter knows how the product is ultimately being used, perhaps there could be efficiencies gained earlier in the converting process to make the solution better on their end as well as saving the customer time and effort.

It’s understood that not every aspect of a project can be shared due to confidentiality and/or intellectual property reasons. Yet, to get the full benefit of a converter relationship, it’s important to be as open as possible about the product’s use. It’s tough to develop the right solution without it.

If it doesn’t seem like a wise use of time to share all of these details, think of a converter as if they’re a detective, gleaning insight from the small things to make big and appropriate decisions.

“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. What happens when there are two substrates? Well, it could be more complicated. Are both substrates the same? Great, that makes it easier. 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.

“Why did you choose this material for this application?”

A converter that knows why a material was selected instantly gains insight into the product’s end goals. A material may not be the best fit for the application. Or a material may be overkill for what needs to be done, going above and beyond the project’s needs, and it will come with a premium price point. If paying more for a product that isn’t actually needed suits you, then fantastic. However, if you want a material that meets all of your expectations at a fraction of the price, you need to engage with a quality converter to offer opinions and advice on material selection.

“What tolerances do you think are needed?”

A project’s critical tolerances dictate the 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. If drawings come to the manufacturer from their customer, it may be an over-engineered tolerance, which impacts manufacturing feasibility and cost. A converter’s engineering team can discuss this with your engineers to determine where the 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 an important dialogue to have.

Like many of the questions/answers here, it comes down to a cost/value scenario. What is asked for versus what is needed can vary quite a bit, and it’s the converter’s job to dig deep and bring those two together for a successful project.

“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. They should be asking how 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.

“Are you open to new ideas?”

This question can begin the discussion between converter and customer when it comes to cost versus value (mentioned earlier). A converter that knows the origin, application, and end use of a product may see an opportunity for improvement.

Here’s a quick paint masking example. A customer is using 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.

“Do you want to hear about our operational superiority and our quality capabilities?”

OK, not every converter can claim these, but the point is that a customer should want to hear about how a converter is different (and better). Maybe it’s the ability to use devices to measure and record quality. Maybe it’s a stable process that results in consistent quality.

A focus on manufacturability early in the process results in repeatability of tolerances, which is what engineers are looking for. And, a converter that’s excited about demonstrating their knowledge and talking about their operations and dedication to quality is someone businesses want to be partnering with.

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Scott Chambers

Written by Scott Chambers