November 16, 2023
No pain, no gain: How BLM Group USA overcame a design challenge to build a strong partnership
A leading exercise equipment manufacturer based out of Canada, had tubes that needed bending. Elliptical and highly cosmetic, they wanted these done right.
For years, they had been buying bent components from a separate supplier, but now they wanted to bring that process in-house. They turned to BLM Group USA for a tube bender. Robert Bowden, the North American product manager for tube and wire bending and end forming equipment, and his team turned to us for tooling.
“If you imagine gym equipment, like weight machines, they're not really there to look pretty,” Robert said. “But a lot of gyms, they take pride in keeping their equipment in good order and keeping it looking nice. So, the customer definitely wanted it to all look really good. We sat down, we talked through a few things, and we walked out with an order. It was a good start.”
A good start was important for this project — if it went well, this bender would just be the beginning of BLM Group USA’s relationship with this customer. Future orders of lasers and more sophisticated benders were on the line.
The engineering challenge: shaped, cosmetic tubing
The project was a complex one. Shaped tubing is more difficult to bend than round tubing because there is more variation to the shape. That makes determining the intersections and tangent points for the bending arc more challenging. If that math is even a little off, it is impossible to achieve the desired shape.
On top of that, the customer’s tubes were big, heavy and visible to the end user. After all, they were meant to support gym equipment. If their customers were going to pay thousands of dollars for this equipment, those bends needed to be smooth and free of marks.
“We looked at a number of drawings for the customer, we suggested a machine, and had tooling quoted through iES for the project — based on all that kind of theoretical information — received the order, and started moving forward with it,” Robert said. “Then, in this case, all the stars aligned, and everything went incorrectly.”
Here’s what went wrong before everything went right, and how we helped BLM Group USA land a lucrative partner with high growth potential.
The problem: Small difference, big issue
Before the customer decided to bring the tube bending process in-house, they had been outsourcing their raw tubes from a manufacturer and then sending the materials to another supplier for bending.
But the tube manufacturer and the original bending partner knew something that the customer didn’t. The tubes they had been buying from their source did not match the prints that the customer had initially supplied. The outsourced bending partner had simply adjusted their tooling and continued producing parts (which isn’t an uncommon tribal knowledge practice).
So, when the customer took the process in-house, they were under the impression that their materials matched their component drawings. After all, their gym equipment had been turning out right and they weren’t changing any components.
This meant that when Robert’s team at BLM Group USA sent us the drawings and we built the tooling, no one had any reason to suspect that the tubing would be different than expected.
However, the sample and drawing differed by one to two millimeters in two different dimensions.
“For tube bend tooling, it was drastically different,” Robert said. “I mean, we could typically accommodate a few thousandths of an inch, but when you get into millimeters, that’s a lot.”
The tooling in question cost about $50,000, but the tube bender the customer bought from BLM Group USA cost significantly more. If the issue couldn’t be resolved, it would have been possible for BLM to reconfigure and resell the machine. But it’s a lot more difficult to salvage a broken relationship.
“This was their first machine from BLM,” Robert said. “When a project like that doesn’t go well on the first one, it makes you a little bit stressed out. You’re thinking, ‘Did we just ruin our opportunity with this customer?’”
No pointing fingers: How BLM Group USA and iES resolved the issue
Both our team and Robert’s team jumped into action to both find a solution and safeguard the future relationship. Here’s what happened:
Before we made plans to recut anything, our general manager Doug Pierson jumped in and pulled the data to determine the root cause of the issue.
From there, we worked with Robert’s team to get more tube samples from the client’s supplier.
Doug, along with our tool engineering manager, went to BLM Group USA to look over these samples together in person.
Finally, to prevent another situation like this from happening, we changed our policy from recommending customers share sample materials before we build any tooling to requiring customers share sample materials.
Between these visits and regular Teams Meetings, everyone stayed in constant communication, which eased the situation and resolved all issues as quickly as possible.
“iES is probably one of the better suppliers as far as communication,” Robert said. “They’re not waiting for us to reach out to them. They're happy to reach out directly to our customers, even though we're their customer in this instance, they're happy to jump in and get involved. Other suppliers don't do that.”
Once everyone had evaluated the samples and settled on the size of the tubing, we adjusted our designs.
In the end, we took the time and expense needed to rework the bending die, the pressure die and the clamp; recut the cavities to fit the elliptical tube shape better; and mill the mandrel down to the correct size for the smaller tubing.
Thanks to the quick collaboration and corrective action taken by all three teams, the final tooling fit, and it bent the customer’s elliptical tubing exactly to their print specifications.
We don’t run from our problems; we solve them
Looking back at this project, and thinking forward to the future of the relationship, Robert said this situation could have turned into a big issue for his team.
But instead, it turned into a big opportunity for both BLM Group USA and our team at Innovative Engineered Solutions. Not only has the customer started looking into more of BLM Group USA’s equipment, but they’ve also ordered another five tooling sets from us.
“We gave our customer a kind of a partnership,” Robert said. “They have BLM Group and a [tooling] supplier that have a vested interest in making sure that they're successful.”
If you’re ready to feel like a partner with your tube bending tooling supplier, not just a transaction, let’s talk.