Like us, many of you will have customers to answer to. So you’ll understand that they’re not always aware of all the factors that impact order lead times. The trouble is there is just so much to learn with so little time to learn it. In any industry, customers who understand these factors are much more likely to get an order on time, simply because their brief will be better informed and as a consequence the ETA they receive will be more realistic.

We want to be the first in our industry to describe the lead time journey, by mapping out the most common delays, obstacles and bumps in the road. This will provide you with all key areas to consider when compiling your brief and will ensure your foam insert(s) are delivered on time.

A comprehensive brief

Setting off on your road trip, making it on the motorway only to realise you’ve left your toiletries in the bathroom at home.

It might sound basic, but incomplete or inaccurate information is the most common and sometimes the most significant cause of a delay. A good example of this would be you sending in an outline tracing of an advanced two way radio communications kit, only to realise when the design is already in production that you left out the detachable antenna (believe it or not, this has actually happened!). The more detail we get, from design requirements all the way to required delivery date, the more accurate our ETA will be. When it doubt, just call – no question is a daft one.

DIY Design

Trying out a brand new short cut and ending up in a field.

There’s a whole article giving advice if you’re looking to do your own design to save time or money, but to sum it up – similar to the point I made at the start of the article – there are so many variations to the cases and containers beyond basic dimensions it is almost impossible to know them all unless you design case inserts every day. There’s no shame of pulling over and asking for directions! Failing to do so can result in the design having to be redone completely, which undermine the original objective of doing a DIY design.

Late Changes

Adding new via destinations en route.

Sometime referred to as ‘scope creep’, making changes to the brief of a design mid-way through the process can sometimes even take a project right back to square one. Often the cause of this is not simply adding a fresh idea, but can sometimes be including a piece of vital information that was missed out in the initial brief. It’s important to be aware that adding late changes will extend the ETA, so it must be certain that including this change is of a higher priority than keeping to the initial deadline.

Design approval

Realising you missed your turning two hours after you passed it.

Another significant factor that stretches lead time is a delay in customers approving a design. In some cases I’ve known this to take many weeks, which inevitably caused delays. The general rule is that if you provide approval within 48 hours of receiving the proposed design, the stated lead time should be met. Failure to do so puts a design at risk of missing its planned space in the schedule.

Type of design

Is the journey all motorway, or scenic country road?

The complexity of design required will always have an impact on an ETA. The more layers and shapes added to a foam insert will add to the time it takes to design it, and even increase the potential for changes and alterations to be made as there will be so many more elements to the design. If time is of the highest priority, simplicity of design is going to be your biggest ally. If your priorities are clearly stated at the initial briefing phase, your designer will be able to navigate compromises between conflicting priorities for you.

Design & Production Schedule

Forgetting to check the traffic reports

Many services have only one or two designers (unlike us!) so scheduling a new job around existing commitments can have a huge impact. It’s important to remember that at the design stage, complexity is king over quantity – by that I mean, it makes no difference if a customer needs one hundred of one design manufactured or just one, both take the same time to design. Quantity levels do, however, have a bigger impact in the production phase. If all the information is provided, i.e. design considerations and timeframe expectations, your designer will be able to better consult with production to give you a realistic ETA.

Type of Tooling or Cutting Machine

Will you be going on a ferry or the Euro Tunnel?

The tools used by a cutting machine vary according to the size and shape of the cuts needed. The more shapes in a design increases the chance that multiple tools will be required. If this is the case, the production of the insert will be done in stages, which will obviously take longer than a job that requires one type of tool. The same principle applies to the amount of machines needed to complete a job. If all the information is provided, your designer will be able to tell immediately what tools and machines will be needed and will factor this into the ETA. Except for exceptional circumstances, i.e. a design that requires a custom tool, expect an average of 7 to 10 working days after the design has been approved for the manufacture and delivery of your insert(s).

Material Stock

The final destination

For many custom foam design jobs, the insert is just the beginning – additional items like cases or containers may be required, for everyone these items are subject to stock levels, so the earlier you decide on what case you want for your insert the quicker it can be provided. In addition to this, some of the more specialist foams (i.e. some colours and grades) could also be non-stock items, which will need to be ordered in. In both of these instances, detailing these requirements right from the outset minimises the chance of any extension on deadlines and will are you with a realistic timeframe to report back to your organisation.