Professional => The office => Topic started by: Skunk Gear on February 07, 2017, 06:00:59 AM

Title: Contract manufacturing questions
Post by: Skunk Gear on February 07, 2017, 06:00:59 AM
I'm currently in a situation where I think some of you have been before. I tried searching the forum, but couldn't find topics about contract manufacturing. So here's my "problem":

I'm a one man show and normally I do fine with the orders I get in. But now there's a big chance of getting a couple of government orders (at the same time off course  :o)
These orders will be too much for me to finish within a reasonable time. I could do a part of it, but for the rest I need more hands to work.
It is a sudden spike of big(ger) orders and I cannot anticipate on what comes after that, so I can't really start hiring people full time to work on production.

What are the things to look for when doing contract manufacturing?

How do you do quality control? I have to make sure the finished product is exactly what's been ordered. How do you cover the risks?

Does anyone of you know good quality contract manufacturing, preferably in Europe?

And what about hourly wages? Is it doable money-wise to have a 1000 fairly complex pouches made? Selling price would be normal when compared to the same class of product. Or is 1000 pieces still too small scale?

I don't want my company to risk a "grow too fast and fail" scenario. On the other hand, I want to sell my products and I don't want to let the customer down.

Looking forward to hear about your experiences....thanx


Title: Re: Contract manufacturing questions
Post by: Gear Dynamics on February 07, 2017, 12:24:27 PM
I've looked into contract sewing, and had some dialog with a few reputable outfits in the U.S. The general process that has been explained to me, is that you provide your specs to their designers and they replicate your design. After that, they should provide you with a quote and a fully constructed sample, for you to inspect. If it's good to go, you place your order.

Most places want at least 100 pieces, but some will go less. You may or may not want to provide some of the materials to them. If a company doesn't normally stock a certain material (maybe colour of Cordura), they may charge you a premium to source it. If you can, you need to locate a company that specializes in military gear.
Title: Re: Contract manufacturing questions
Post by: Bootcat on February 07, 2017, 02:40:18 PM
(I assume that when talking about a complex pouch, you mean for example your Wolverine pouch).

I've done contract manufacturing since 2013 so my experience is slowly building up.

Generally speaking you want to set up the relationship before having the need of it i.e. have enough time to try out the production before having a contract that depends on the outcome.
The start is normally slow, expect 4-6 months to discuss things over, spec/choose fabrics, webbing and plastics, send the sample and get the factory sample then do it again if something must be changed.
So the correct way would be to find the money, contact a factory about one of your current products that sells well, and organize production.

Generally speaking you'll need 100 to 300 pieces per color at least to make it worthwhile for the factory to work with you. Also, if working with Asia, you'll need to purchase all components, meaning you'll end with 200-600yds of each type of fabric, you'll need to use it because the factories don't store it for you. Slightly easier in Europe and the USA if going with a fabric distributor that sells rolls in standard colors.

Quality control: done on site. Find a factory owned by Westerners or a middleman that does QC. Less of a problem in Europe but still. You'll need a factory sample, for a large production demand a first run of 50 to ensure that they can actually serially produce your goods.

Blueprints: not needed unless laser cut. Just send your product sample. Desired components are critical, you must know what exact type/color/specification of every component you want in the product.
For your 1000 pieces you'll want to look in Eastern Europe including Ukraine. The price/unit will be dramatically less if you go to Asia.

Risk coverage: a matter of trust and checking the outcome before it's required for a contract. It's all on you to find a solution if the factory fails you.

If you still want to go with it I can put you in touch with a guy that works in Vietnam, we are working on setting up production there for my needs. Alternatively I can hook you up with a Chinese factory staffed by French people. All have proven experience in contract manufacturing of the type of products we do here. PM me for details.
Title: Re: Contract manufacturing questions
Post by: Skunk Gear on February 08, 2017, 07:51:47 AM
Thanx a lot for your replies!
Title: Re: Contract manufacturing questions
Post by: mogensbeck on February 08, 2017, 08:40:52 AM
I agree with everything that Bootcat wrote. Our company is also very small and we do it in our spare time so we are also looking for someone to make standardproducts for us.
Its fucking boring to make the same thing again and again and it has stopped us for selling to dealers but we hope to get other to make standard products for us so we can focus on R&D and our customwork for units from different branches.

We designed a medic bag for Siemens for a medical company and it was massproduced in China and it would have costed around 300euros to do in Denmark but it costed 30dollars in China.
Title: Re: Contract manufacturing questions
Post by: essal on February 08, 2017, 02:45:45 PM
As an interesting point, I helped a couple of buddies in Vancouver build 300 backpacks in 30 days. We were 3 people who could sew, some other people helped but that was mainly with stuffing shoulder straps, cutting webbing and the occasional bartacker. They rented a vertical fabric saw at cut out all the pieces in under 2 days, which is the step that would have absolutely taken the longest if it was done 1 by 1. If you are able to optimize the design or make some good jigs then it's all about being able to repeat whatever step over and over. Keep in mind that this was people who had never done production sewing before. It's obviously no fun in repeating a step 100x times, but it is doable. If they had outsourced it, the lead time would have probably been 60-90 days.

The obvious benefit of outsourcing is that you can keep doing new designs and other projects while another project is being manufactured. I've talked a lot to the guy behind Ferro Concepts and before he started to outsource products they (the 2 of them) had no time to develop new projects. Also, if you're talking about 1000 pouches then we're talking about a significant time if you were to even try it yourself.

Personally I've only worked with 2 US based companies. They have both had 25 as their MOQ (minimum order quantity), and that seems to be fairly common with brands that also offer a OEM service. I think I've mentioned it here before, but if US based manufacturing is a possibility (I realize that you might not save anything on it compared to European companies) then I'd recommend that you reach out to Honor Point USA. We never made it to production, but their samples were quick and correctly built.

For QC I'd at least do batch testing unless you have agreed to some formal QC from the factory (it sucks to say, but don't trust your manufacturer and ship directly to your customer unless you've used them previously). Anywhere between 10-25% of the order should cover it, just remember to check multiple products from each of the boxes. Of course, the key is to provide the factory with as much information about your product as possible. A prototype that is built as close to 100% as possible, in addition to a technical package if you are able to create one- it's basically line drawings of your product (including call-outs for specific details and different types of stitching), will ensure that the prototype you receive from your factory is most likely (almost) perfect on the first go. Honestly, I wouldn't give them the go unless the prototype they supply is 100%, and that includes using the correct materials and trims.

As for price, I've always received a quote per unit FOB. Seems to be fairly common. Of course, as Bootcat is saying, it might not include fabrics and trims if you're working with someone who doesn't stock said fabrics and trims.
Title: Re: Contract manufacturing questions
Post by: Bootcat on February 09, 2017, 03:27:54 AM
I didn't explain the reason for the parts sourcing. Basically each factory in Asia builds a big range of products for lots of customers, it could be groceries' bags alongside technical mountain packs. Stocking "standard" parts doesn't make sense as most of these are fashion-driven and change regularly (also, colors.) So the deal is, each client buys his supplies at the suppliers' (unless the factory knows these and can handle that) and has the leftovers shipped with his order/disposed of unless the client has a storage solution close by. This would seem inefficient but remember that most of sewing jobs are in the 10,000-100,000 pieces range - at that scale you can optimize supplies. US "tactical" factories can afford low MOQs because of the wide standardization of parts used between clients.

Also, outside the USA, there is a much wider range of polyamid and polyester fabrics used for tactical gear production, most of them cheaper to acquire. Cordura has a distinct advantage over most in abrasion resistance but not in tear strength, so unless designing a drag bag other fabrics make more sense (30% to 50% of the cost of Cordura at a similar performance, even less if you use airsoft-grade fabric).

Impressive stuff Essal! Indeed cutting (and marking) fabric and webbing is the longest part if done serially. Webbing can be done by an automatic cutter, fabric not so much unless using a continous roll feed laser cutter.
Title: Re: Contract manufacturing questions
Post by: Skunk Gear on February 10, 2017, 04:25:56 AM
Great replies...helped me zoom out on the matter. The MOQs are much lower than i expected at first. This brings out a lot of possibilities. Especially once there is an established relationship (trust) with the external manufacturer.

But also Essal's story with the 300 backpacks makes me wonder. Why not get some handy people (no sewing experience needed?) to work and divide all the work in easy, repetitive steps.  Like most of you, I like the design part a lot and i like to create new things, but on the other hand (and especially when i'm tired) I don't mind to do some repetitive boring work. Especially when it pays the bills.