Depending on your situation, we might have some shared life experience in the assembly world.
If you’re like me, have children (or shop at IKEA), you have more than likely had a box with an insane amount of parts and pieces and the little saying “some assembly required”.
Thinking to ourselves: “SOME?! I have to build the whole thing!”
In the moment, that’s a believable statement, but in reality, who are we kidding?
Along with the parts/pieces, there’s always a list of supplies that should be included within the box; you know, the list we are suppose to check off before we begin building, but ultimately we skip over it to get to building.
Lists like those are called a “Bill of Material” in assembly work which some companies will offer to their customer in order to either ensure fitment of components that go together, or to eliminate some steps in their final assembly process.
In a metal shops around the globe, capabilities to assemble will vary for several reasons.
Type of Assembly
Depending upon the industry, the two biggest categories of assembly fall into either mechanical, or electrical.
In this type of assembly, there is some complexity, but is typically straight forward.
In mechanical assembly, a technician will use their hands, tools or machinery to join one or more components together to produce a “closer-to-final” product.
Though this aspect can be the completion of a product, it’s not typically the case.
A lot of companies outsource mechanical assembly to remove a step from their production line.
If a blueprint is well made, engineers thought through the product, and skilled craftsmen executed on proper production of the assembly components, life is good.
If parts don’t fit together, it’s due to one (or more) of three reasons:
- The assembler has made a mistake (flipped over a component/backwards, measured incorrectly, or has no idea what they’re doing).
- There is a design flaw that does not allow the product to go together the way an engineer had envisioned it.
- The part(s) were made incorrectly, which does not allow everything to line up properly.
Median Salary: $48,000
The more complex brother in assembly will always be electrical.
Within this field, a technician will have to route, solder, and connect wires from a power source to a main system or board, along with grounding locations and other requirements per the job and/or customer.
There are too many reasons to list why an electrical assembly has the potential to cause a lot of stressful days.
Some people are bang-up techs when it comes to running wires, but others do not have the patience for it.
Median Salary : $32,520
The salary difference is so more than $15,000.
But, if I say electrical assembly is more difficult, then why is the mechanical assembly paid more?
Because of the reference I made to the IKEA assembly earlier. Mechanical assembly sometimes comes with a thousand DIFFERENT/UNIQUE part numbers that all need to go together.
There are only so many gauges and lengths of wire or cable, and most are routed the same direction.
What level of assembly does the customer require for the job to be considered “complete”?
This would fall into a mechanical assembly category in most cases.
Typically a customer if a customer orders a cabinet and a door together, they may want the two mated together with any hardware or gasket required to do so.
If the extent of the assembly is some hinges, bolts and gasket, then it’s considered “light”.
This is where some manufacturers will draw their imaginary line in the sand and choose which projects they can offer more assembly on that others.
Take the same cabinet in the above example, only add a window in the door that requires glass to be assembled to it, and to have some wire mesh epoxied over some vent holes inside of the enclosure.
Consider that level to be moderate. It’s not extremely difficult, and the product does not go to its’ final (end) customer in that condition, but to your customer for the next step.
FULL BUILD/Full Assembly
Being the most difficult of the three categories, this is one of the services that a lot of shops won’t even consider providing.
Services like this could require a certified clean room, depending on the industry being served (medical, semiconductor, etc).
This can include following up after mechanical assembly with electrical assembly, more mechanical assembly, complete plumbing and leveling, followed by a “final test” to make sure the machine/product works in the field as it should.
If all of the assembly technicians rely on the purchasing manager to get all of the items they’ll need to do a project, some days might be rough.
When assembly begins, and some components are not there, it leaves techs with nothing to do except blame the purchasing manager.
There are two routes to make a job get through the shop. It comes down to being responsible for your own components, hardware, or parts that are required to fulfill the job.
Be prepared to get a lot of blame thrown your way (whether you are ready or not).
This is the ideal situation; if given enough notice that an assembly job is coming through, having knowledge of the components you’ll need certainly helps in ordering appropriately.
Also, when each part is checked in after ordering, the assembly technician will know exactly where it was stored when it’s time to put things together.
I dread relying on anybody to do a job for me to be able to do my job.
When an important project comes through, it’s not helpful to find components were never ordered, and now the lead time is 2 weeks to get those components, so the project has no hope to be completed on time.
That’s not to say all purchasing managers are forgetful, sometimes it works out great.
All they have to do is stick to the customers listed “Bill of Materials”. If all of those items are ordered for each job with enough time to receive the components in, then assembly is a breeze.
Being compensated to do a task (aka: a job) is nice. Having a paycheck every week is what most people look forward to.
How much time given to complete a task is a variable that will directly affect the quality of work, as well as the mental drain on the technician.
Tight deadlines/short lead times
The most stressful situation possible.
Everything we do take time, and when that time is shaved off in an effort to increase profit margins, friction is guaranteed.
If a project takes 2 days to complete if no problems are present, and the boss only allocates 1.5 days to do it, and promised the customer delivery… It’s time for the technician to rescue the day.
If overtime is not available to complete the project, it may require two technicians, or the use of clever “corner cutting” skills that the tech has learned through experience.
Long builds/long lead times
It’s not unusual for some complicated projects to have months or even years for a schedule on them.
Certain systems in the semiconductor industry require 6-8 months from beginning to end of production.
While these systems are certainly complex, a lot of the time is a buffer for an troubleshooting that must be done, and to go over their work several times to ensure accuracy.
Long builds are typically followed by a final test sequence as well.
The final test could take a couple of hours, or weeks to tweak and compile data to present with the product to the final customer to prove it’s quality has been accepted by a certified inspector.