CELINA, Texas—Over the last year, few industries have witnessed demand skyrocket like material handling and logistics. The pandemic forced a shift in shopping habits and challenged an already thriving industry into satisfying the sudden boom in demand from online shopping and home delivery. Amazon alone hired more than 100,000 new workers in 2020 to beef up its operations. The typical ebb and flow quickly turned into flow and even more flow.
Companies that design and service the backbone of these operations—namely, warehousing and distribution centers—struggled with the decision on whether to hire more CAD engineers or, finally, to outsource. For some, the option to contract out has proven to deliver increased savings and flexibility, while ensuring their workforce is made up of cutting-edge designers who are easy to train and manage.
“We are slammed,” said Chris Perry, engineering manager for Bastian Solutions’ conveyor division. Bastian Solutions is a Toyota Advanced Logistics company that specializes in providing some of the most complex material handling services throughout the world. “We’ve got an engineering team that’s often working at 110 percent capacity. So, my challenge was to figure out what to do when two huge projects get thrown on top of that. We just felt that outsourcing the CAD modeling and drafting would give us greater flexibility and take the pressure off our internal team.”
While the material handling and logistics industry was at the forefront of the inhouse versus outsourcing decisions in 2020, a number of manufacturing and engineering operations have been wrestling with this conundrum for years.
Conveying the Message
Bastian Solutions is well known throughout the world for, among other things, its conveyor systems, which can reach several miles long, handle unique dimensions, and carry a wide variety of loads. Every project is tailor-made by a system designer to optimize throughput at each particular facility. The part requirements are then fed to the engineering team, which Perry manages.
“These conveyor systems are always customized,” he said. “If the part for a configuration that gets ordered is not in our standard library, it has to be drawn up, modeled, and added to the library.”
On top of that, Perry and his team are also working on internal product development design projects. Therefore, the topic of outsourcing or adding a full-time employee was often debated.
“For budgetary planning reasons, it just makes more sense to be able to flex our muscles using an external contractor rather than bringing on permanent headcount,” he said.
Last summer, when warehousing and distribution centers were preparing for what wound up being a record-breaking holiday rush, Bastian Solutions decided that it made sense to outsource some of its CAD engineering work to ensure its in-house design engineers would not be overworked.
Perry said it was a struggle to find a firm that could handle Bastian’s internal process control and quality management systems while still being in or close to the company’s eastern time zone.
“Quality and on-time delivery are the major metrics for me,” said Perry. “CAD / CAM Services is hitting the mark with high-quality work.”
CAD / CAM Services (www.cadcam.org) is a computer-aided design and engineering firm located outside Dallas, Texas, with expertise in 3D scanning, modeling, and conversions. It is reported to be one of the few CAD engineering firms in the world certified for high precision conversions by both the aerospace industry and the U.S. Department of Defense.
“The benefit for me is being able to assign the contract engineer the routine work,” said Perry. “This frees up my internal team to tackle product development and continuous improvement projects.”
Currently, Bastian Solutions is seeing great potential in its initial outsourcing to CAD / CAM Services, and is already considering flexing to a few more outsourced CAD technicians to add to the team.
Perry pointed out that while his team was mainly focused on flexibility, there are a number of reasons why a company could benefit from the outsourcing of some or all of its CAD work. The top reason obviously is cost. A company that chooses to outsource could save on a dedicated salary and benefits package, as well as by reducing the need for another seat of high-priced 3D CAD software. There are often additional savings with computer hardware and even office space.
Furthermore, staying on the leading edge of CAD technology can be time-consuming, and it is often more convenient for companies to be able to turn to well-trained specialists at a moment’s notice without going through the process of recruiting and hiring, he said.