At Wiley Metal Fabricating, how we ship fabrications to customers is an integral part of our business. It’s important to avoid damage and get parts delivered as quickly as possible, all while managing costs, but it goes further. We see shipping as an opportunity to add value to our services by helping customers with their challenges.

This blog explains what we mean.

Challenges in Effective Shipping

Shipping is complicated for us. We say this because, unlike a business that mass-produces just one or a few similar products, we have to deal with:

  • High variety: Our business produces the metal fabrications our customers need. These can range from small, lightweight things like drip caps and headlight brackets to heavy-duty trailer cross-members and fire truck bumpers. There’s no upper limit to the size of the structures we fabricate, except to say they have to get out the door and onto a truck.
  • Variable order sizes: We make some things in quantity – RV window frames for example – while other orders are one-offs. And with some of the quantity orders customers don’t always want to receive the whole lot at once.
  • Customer-specified delivery frequencies: Some customers like to be drip-fed for their fabrications, and others want to receive them at a specific date and even time. (An example is when an order is part of a construction project.)
  • Space shortages: We don’t have a lot of space to hold fabrications before we ship them, and many of our customers have a similar problem. This makes it very important to schedule every order through our shop as carefully as we can.
  • Materials: Everything that leaves our plant has to arrive undamaged. That means applying wrapping and protection as appropriate, plus mounting on pallets or skids or using containers of various types.
  • Shipment tracking: Customers expect to know when their order is on its way and when they should expect it. (And we like to know when it’s arrived too.)
  • Logistics challenges: The road freight industry has had a lot to deal with lately, like high fuel prices and especially, a shortage of drivers, which has increased the workload on our Shipping team.
  • Sustainability: Concern is growing over what happens to discarded packaging. This is something we can work with our customers on.

It’s not just us. We know our customers deal with some of these same challenges. In particular, many don’t have a lot of storage space and would rather receive their orders on a Just-in-Time basis, or something like it.

Shipping Solutions and Technologies.

We like to think of shipping as an added-value service rather than a necessity. Here are some of the things we are looking at and already doing as part of an effective shipping service.

  • Inventory management: We work with customers to help manage their inventory by only shipping when needed.
  • Lineside presentation: In assembly operations, it’s important workers can grab parts quickly and easily. We work with our customers on packaging formats that help them achieve this.
  • Kitting and staging: Kits simplify inventory management for our customers. They can even count a kit as a single SKU, simplifying the amount of data they have to enter and track. We support this by shipping parts as kits.
  • Safety stocks: Some customers like us to hold inventory they can draw from when needed. It’s something we’re open to doing if it helps.
  • Customized skids: For larger fabrications, these can reduce the need to assemble on-site. At the same time, they make it easier to move the job on and off the truck and through a busy plant, warehouse, or other location.
  • ERP/MES: This is an internal solution to the challenge of scheduling orders through our plant so they ship on time but don’t need storage. It also helps with customer communication by enabling real-time order tracking and updates.

Improving Customer Communication

A big part of effective shipping is working with the customer to understand their needs and expectations and keeping them informed about the status of their orders. This starts when we quote work and receive orders: our Quality System ensures we understand the shipping expectations as well as the design details.

Then, using our in-house scheduling system, we’re able to keep customers informed about progress and shipment dates. And finally, we work with freight companies as appropriate to ensure orders are tracked and customers know when to expect them.

Packaging’s Role in Shipping

Packaging protects against damage, and it can also play a role in simplifying handling, storage, and use for our customers. Lineside delivery for example, requires packaging that is easy to remove so parts can be used with a minimum of effort. Every fabrication is different, but this is something we’re always willing to work on with customers.

As mentioned previously, sustainability is a growing issue in shipping, and it’s something else that we work with customers on. In particular, we’re very interested in increasing our use of returnable packaging and dunnage like customized crates and totes.

An Added-Value Service

How and when orders ship is as much of the fabrication process as reviewing part design and choosing materials: it’s all part of ensuring customers are completely satisfied with the work they receive from us.

We believe we’re a very customer-focused organization, and as part of that, we see shipping as an opportunity to help our customers. Whether that takes Just-in-Time deliveries, customized packaging, or something else, we’re open to requests and eager to share our thoughts. Contact us and let’s talk.