Cutting Tool Engineering
October 2013 / Volume 65 / Issue 10

Fixture job doesn't hold up

By Michael Deren

As a manufacturing engineer, I specify and purchase tooling and fixtures for the shop. Based on my past experiences, I typically narrow a long list of prospective vendors to a handful or fewer.

We use one of those vendors, “company A,” to make and rebuild fixtures and make subplates for fixtures and pallets. They are quite dependable. The company bid on the first new fixture I bought for our operation after I started. Their bid on that fixture was substantially lower than the other one, from “company B,” but I went with the higher-priced fixture. This is because company B is a fixture specialist.

Some months later, I was evaluating new equipment, including a machine tool. As part of that process, I visited a dealer from which I had purchased several machines. While he was demonstrating a machine, we discussed fixtures. The machine tool dealer showed me some fixtures from a company he has done business with for several years, and, boy, did they look good, with hydraulic lines neatly and robustly plumbed. The dealer had high praise for this fixture builder, “company C.”

After contacting company B and getting a quote for fixtures for the prospective new machine, I contacted company C. A representative came out and we discussed the machine our shop was contemplating purchasing, the parts we were going to machine and how to best hold them. A couple of weeks later, I received a quote on the fixtures. It was lower than the quote from company B and, this time, I decided to go with the lower bid. That project, however, was put on indefinite hold.

Later, however, our quality group needed three new fixtures for a coordinate measuring machine. I thought this would be a good opportunity to try company C since it came highly recommended. I cut a purchase order. The fixture builder sent some preliminary drawings, which I signed off on after a few changes.

There were problems from the start. I anticipated our operators would be able to lift the fixtures on and off of the CMM. As it turned out, the fixtures weighed almost 50 lbs. each; not heavy enough to require a jib hoist, but heavy enough to elicit complaints from the operators. I incorrectly assumed the fixtures would be made to be lightweight and now know to be as specific as possible when specifying products. Also, the parts didn’t quite fit in the fixtures as expected, and the clamp on one fixture interfered with the CMM probe.

I contacted the fixture builder and, after several weeks of back-and-forth phone calls, they finally agreed to visit and review the fixtures. Then came the finger-pointing. I simply wanted the fixtures corrected, including lightening them, and, if anything was our fault, I would cut a PO for the repair(s). The builder drew up the changes, which I agreed to, and told me it would take 2 weeks to make the changes. After 2 weeks, I began calling to check the status and either did not receive a call back or was told they were working on the fixtures and they would be ready the following week. About 4 weeks later, the fixtures finally arrived as specified.

Would I use that builder again? Not a chance. The cost savings was not worth the aggravation and time. The only consolation was the vendor did not charge us for the additional work. Perhaps our shop wasn’t a big enough customer, but that could have changed. In retrospect, I should have trusted my instincts and given the job to dependable company A or perhaps company B. I suspect they would have done as good a job or better and in less time. CTE

About the Author: Mike Deren is a manufacturing engineer/project manager and a regular CTE contributor. He can be e-mailed at
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