Marsha Stockunas noticed something peculiar upon a visit to her customer’s shop one afternoon. Sitting on the floor of the construction parts manufacturer was a pallet of carbon bar. And here was the problem: for the past two years, the Ryerson sales representative had been selling them carbon plate—A572 grade 50 to be exact.

As she came to discover, the new purchasing manager was experimenting. He had been hearing some grumblings from his operators about the edge quality that the carbon plate created on the finished part. With that, he was in the mode to explore his options.  

“He said that he didn’t think we carried this type of material, to which I told him that we absolutely did and that we could provide some options right away,” says Stockunas. “In fact, upon confirming with an in-house long products specialist, we discovered the mill from which we received the material dual certifies their flat bars to A572 grade 50, which means we had what they were looking for readily available.”

After cutting, drilling, and machining the parts, they were sent out to the customer in no time flat. Not only was the purchasing manager impressed with the quality, but his eyes lit up upon learning that this option would reduce his cost by roughly 12 percent; quite the premium when he considered the 7,200 parts that he would need over the next six weeks.

For Stockunas, this wasn’t a typical way to find out that her customer needed help, but it wasn’t exactly out of the norm either.

In a perfect world, the material is always available, delivery schedules run smoothly, and processing equipment is readily accessible. However, it’s an imperfect world. One that requires creative solutions that tend to stray from the norm and often have no best practices on which to fall back.

All it takes is letting your partner know what’s going on. To which the strong ones will respond: Have you tried this?

Shape Doesn’t Matter

Generally speaking, there are two rules of thought when material isn’t available in a desired shape or size. One is to purchase a larger size of the same grade—which then requires you to cut/machine the material to the right size. Two is to find a comparable grade in the same size—but that opens a larger issue about the alloying elements that affect the properties of the material.

Then there are those instances when you stray from the rules altogether. Confronted with the dilemma of finding a 10-inch square bar for one of her customers, Sissy Nickens offered up a 12-inch round bar. So how does material that is the wrong size and the wrong shape become the right solution?

“It was simply a matter of comparing the cost difference on the cuts,” she said. “After consulting with our processing experts, I knew that it would end up costing less to have us machine the part to the desired shape than to send a larger size to the customer and have them process it to the desired size.”

Do You Want a Cut with That?

Size presented a different type of challenge for Sunbelt-Turret Steel’s Blake Bernard. “The call was for two full 1018 carbon bars, approximately 20-feet long, a fairly common request,” says Bernard. “But I knew that would require LTL (less-than-truckload) shipping, which could really increase the cost of the shipment due to the length of the bars.”

LTL shipping refers to the transportation of relatively small freight, which generally means that it will run at a higher cost compared to standard shipping. Given that carriers have set restrictions on the length of items to be shipped, in this case, both bars at full length would technically be considered ”less than a truckload.”

But here’s the information that the customer didn’t share with Bernard: Upon receiving the material, the plan was to cut the 20-foot bars into smaller lengths and then move into production.

“I knew that if we could cut it for them prior to shipping and put the cut pieces on pallets we could save on the over-length charges,” adds Bernard. “Not only that, but with it now being cut, that meant once the material hit their floor they could start machining.”

In an imperfect world, expect the unexpected. Never be afraid to ask your partners what else can be done.

As Nickens describes it, “It is our job to get you the material you want, when you want it, in the most cost-effective way possible. The answer isn’t always black and white, which is why we like to offer alternatives.”

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