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Techno Group and the Iron Triangle

The Iron Triangle. The Triple Constraint. The Flexibility Matrix. However you refer to it, it has been a cornerstone of project management since the 1950s. Its clear depiction of the delicate balance between cost, quality and time has been successfully used by managers across industries to visualise the trade-off between these three key factors.

In recent times, the Iron Triangle has somewhat fallen out of fashion in favour of more modern philosophies such as Agile, which adopts a more incremental approach to planning. This contrasts with the centralised, big batch planning methods that are common in traditional project management methodologies. However, I would argue that, especially in supply chain management, the Iron Triangle is as relevant today as it was when it was first conceived 70 years ago. It reminds us that success of a project, or a product, hinges directly on how much you are willing to invest in the three critical factors, and how a different level of priority on each factor will directly affect the other two. For example, if you are looking for world-class quality, then expect to pay more and possibly wait longer. However, if low cost is your priority, then you may have to be realistic with your quality and delivery expectations.

Quite rightly, this methodology has been accused of encouraging short-term thinking because project teams are too focused on achieving these three deliverables. This is often at the expense of longer-term business values such as strong, trusting and productive relationships with both your internal and external production partners, something Techno Group prides itself on. However, in my opinion this is a clear case of operator error and a failure to pick apart the key factors of time, cost and quality in order to expose the intricately woven fibres that contribute greatly to the efficiency of modern supply chains.

So, how exactly does this relate to Techno Group and our culture? Let’s explore.

Time

“The easiest of all wastes and the hardest to correct is the waste of time, because wasted time does not litter the floor like wasted material.”

Henry Ford

When you break it down to the bare bones, essentially the core product of any subcontract machine shop is time. It is in both our interest and the interests of our client base that we use this non-renewable resource wisely, and ensuring that this does not come at a detriment to other factors. Therefore, it is of critical importance to understand its sub-factors and how these can both make and break a project or production run. In manufacturing, time is made up of input, planning and production and is probably the area where you as a customer can have the most control over the level of service and quality of product you receive from your supply chain partners.

Time is always a resource that I am hesitant to compromise on. If we do not allow enough time in the input and planning stages of the process, it only extends the time spent in production due to inefficiencies that could have been identified and resolved beforehand. In essence, by pushing for a quicker completion date than is perhaps ideal, you may well be exponentially increasing the risk that your project will run late to schedule.

So, what can you do to ensure the quickest possible turnaround from your production partners? Well, the key to every efficient process is the quality of the input. Rubbish in, rubbish out is the polite way of putting it, although I would perhaps phrase it another way in a different setting…

At Techno Group, and both of our manufacturing sites at Technoturn and Technoset, we make a concerted effort to reach out to our customers at the very earliest opportunity, ironing out any possible ambiguity and ensuring that our vision of a successful project mirrors our customers.

Although it is the responsibility of your supply base to establish exactly what it is that you classify as a premium service, you can help support this process by being able to articulate your specific requirements for CNC turned and milled components. The less time your production partner needs to focus on making sure the inputs to the system are correct, the more time they can spend on planning and producing your product.

The plan, or the design phase, is fundamental. After all, without a plan you only have hopes and dreams. Allowing appropriate time for planning ultimately saves on cost as it works to avoid setbacks, optimises processes, and ensures resources are used economically. If you do not allow sufficient time for planning, then it is likely that the quality of service you receive will be compromised and neither yourself nor your production partner is likely to benefit from this.

Production is where the magic happens. Every step of production takes time, whether it is the production process itself, quality assurance or packing adequately for transit. To achieve efficient, on-time production it is key that all processes (and associated development activities) are properly planned out before manufacture begins. Without effective planning, process development activities that are carried out ‘on-the-fly’ (with the goal of reducing cycle time) often lead to production slow-downs and potential delays to the delivery schedule.

Techno Group’s added value services, coupled with a burning passion for what we do, makes us the measuring stick for the industry. We improve our customers’ supply chains by providing quicker manufacturing times, but still maintaining a high level of accuracy along with full traceability, one-stop manufacturing, stocking and flexibility.

Cost

When you are assessing the cost of the part, it is very easy to just focus on the type and amount of metal used, but this only makes up a fraction of the cost. Yes, a lower price tag can often be a sign of efficiency, but it can also be a sign of lower quality service from lesser skilled staff in an organisation with a less robust infrastructure. Techno Group’s position in the market as a leading precision engineering company means that our stance on cost is that it is worth what the customer pays. The effort, the time and the quality is always reflected in the cost, and our customers know that they are getting value for money.

“The bitterness of poor quality remains longer after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”

Benjamin Franklin

When it comes to efficient supply chains, especially in specialist fields such as precision engineering, cost should not just be considered as a financial transaction for goods. A poor service costs time, compromises quality, and reduces customer satisfaction, all of which are less tangible than the short-term financial transaction but have a significant effect on the long-term success of your business.

When prioritising costs in supply chain management, you should be asking yourself the following questions:What is the process the supplier has gone through to create your quote, and can it be relied upon to be truly representative?

Techno Group’s competitive advantage does not lie in its ability to supply products for various sectors at rock bottom prices. The value in trading with Techno Group is our ability to provide you with a personalised customer experience where you are dealing with real people with your best interests at heart.

Quality

“Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of an intelligent effort.”

John Ruskin

Again, quality is a factor where it is far too easy to focus on just the standard of product you are receiving, but it is so much more than that. In the modern world where globalisation has resulted in a super competitive market, there is no excuse for a poor standard of product and so the meaning of quality is much broader than one might first think.

Quality can be broken down into the three sub-factors of capabilities, know-how, and diligence. Each factor is underpinned by the other two, for if one doesn’t exist then none of them exist. Capabilities are the most evident when building a relationship with a production partner as it is often what we advertise most. Our investment in machinery, inspection equipment and value-added processes are generally plastered over our marketing literature as they are the easiest element of our service to market.

However, you can have all the latest tech at your disposal, but without know-how it means relatively little. Know-how makes the difference between a good supplier and great supplier, but only really becomes evident when you start to get to know the people behind the brand. This is why it is so important to build more personal relationships with your production partners. Visiting a production facility gives you more of an insight into who you are dealing with and what they are capable of than any marketing material can ever tell you. On that note, if you would like to see more of what goes on behind the scenes at Techno Group to gain an understanding of why we are a leader when it comes to precision engineering, you can book your factory tour now.

Nowadays, we all wear our quality accreditations with pride as it is no secret that it is very difficult to achieve and maintain standards such as AS9100. Switched on employees will know how to navigate their way around your quality management system to ensure they are complying with the rules, but is this really the medal of diligence that we expect it to be? Of course not! Diligence is the quality standards we uphold when no-one is looking. It is a product of the values that an organisation embodies and should be a constant thread that runs through organisational life.

It is the belief of all at Techno Group that as soon as something becomes a box-ticking exercise that it has lost all its context and is no longer worth doing. AS9100 is fully embraced throughout our organisation and has resulted in our Quality Management System growing into something that resembles more of a Business Management System. It is a fully live system which does not allow for the processes and procedures to stagnate and become irrelevant. This stems from the common thread of continuous improvement that runs through the organisation and goes a long way to preventing death by bureaucracy! Our blog entitled It’s All About The Detail discusses more about our approaches to quality control and continuous improvement.

Some argue that the Iron Triangle is outdated, but I would beg to differ. No theory or philosophy will directly answer the needs that we have on a daily basis as the world is just too complex to be defined by a one-size-fits-all approach. Sometimes we just need to dig a little deeper and reframe the question we are asking. Instead of looking at cost, maybe we should be looking at value, for this can take many different forms as well as the traditional monetary sense. Instead of looking to complete in the quickest time possible, we should be looking at what is the most effective use of our time. And when we are assessing quality, we should broaden our scope beyond product conformance to encompass the service as a whole.

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