This week I had the opportunity to take a site tour of Embraco’s facility in Apodaca, Mexico.

Embraco, a manufacturer of compressors, sits in the manufacturing district of Monterrey. Monterrey has burgeoned in the last 10 years due in large part to increased foreign investment under favorable import changes such as the Maquiladora laws.

Until two months ago, they were owned by Whirlpool, but were recently sold to Nidec, another Apodaca inhabitant and the owner of St Louis’ Emerson.

Parts Are Just Parts

The purpose of the tour was more than just site seeing, it was a data gathering mission for a project we have been partnering on for over two years.

This week’s visit concerned a small standard part. Standard parts are produced in high quantity out of highly available materials and thus are low cost. They satisfy the majority of commercial applications and uses. Based on the print for the part we were discussing today, the part was a small standard part.

Beyond this, the part had four to five dimensions. For those not in the small-priced, standard parts business, even a fastener has 10 - 20 dimensions if you reference the ASTM specs.

So this was going to be a fairly quick visit I thought.

Applications Set Requirements

The first part of the tour was to see final product in which these are used. There is an inspection and traceability marking area before packaging. As part of this process they injected the compressor with various type of air to pressure test the it.


Compressors are a vital part of refrigeration. To quote Daniel Dettmers:

The function of a compressor is to increase the pressure, and corresponding saturation temperature (boiling point) of the refrigerant vapor to high enough level so the refrigerant can condense by rejecting its heat through the condenser.

So the compressor itself is exposed to freon, and therefore any internal parts are or may be exposed to freon.

Including our standard part.

To keep the science at bay, this means that it is crucial that the

  • the material can hold up to the environment
  • there are no material particles or substances on the standard part.

From talking to the chemist, they have seen issues from hand cremes used by workers in production, to bits of iron or zinc left from the manufacturing process.

So from the print this standard part seemed easy. However, after seeing (and understanding) its application, it was clear that there would or should be some special requirements including:

  1. Freon exposure test
  2. ASTM D1722 Miscibility Test

From here it is important to see how crucial understanding the application of a part can be in setting the supplier requirements for processes such as

  • procurement
  • production
  • inspection
  • storage
  • logistics

Industrial Methods Are Key

After my reminder that standard parts don’t equal standard supply, we headed to watch the assembly where this part was used.

They were using a machine to punch or “push” this part into its final place. This means that certain part characteristics, if off, would result in the automated setting process being shutdown and resulting in a line down.

Off the top of my head I quickly thought about the importance of

  • straightness (not on the print)
  • metal integrity
  • angle of attack (more process based)
  • lead in angle (not on the print)
  • diameter (more critical than I realized given its application, mating part, and purpose)

Speaking with the floor manager later on, we quickly calculated the number of issues per month due to machine mis-fires, average time down, and then backed into a rough cost based on lost revenue, lost employee wages, and extra repair charges.

The total came to over 20% of the actual annual cost of the part.

In short, this means if they paid 10% more for a part that met stricter criteria as mentioned above, they would still be saving money in the average total cost of assembly over a given year.

Just a thought for those always looking for the cheapest price.

Understanding the industrial application of this part further enhanced our inspection plan and though slightly longer and more costly, I believe we will drive the risk of issue down substantially resulting in overall lower cost for the customer.

All this over a simple basic part…

It call comes down to communication

Besides the obvious lessons above, I think it is important to realize the importance of communication with suppliers. Our firm is both a heavy supplier and a heavy buyer. Rarely do you get to see both sides, but seeing them I am fairly empathetic with suppliers.

It is important to share information to suppliers in order to prevent issues at your own facility. While a part may be standard and available anywhere, a supplier who understands the what and why of the part will be able to offer a better supply with a lower overall total cost of ownership and assembly.

Over and over I see the poor state that information, communication, and relationships stand in the general manufacturing and supply chain industries.

Over and over again I am reminded of the hard cost savings to improving all three.