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Buyers of composites are playing an increasingly important role as the industrygrows. Their responsibilities are vast. When all is said and done, both the companiesthey work for and the manufacturers they work with depend heavily on them.
(Published on March 2006 – JEC Magazine #23)
The company employee responsible for purchasing composites is one of the most important positions for the firm’s success and in the composite industry. They are in charge of selecting the right composite for the company’s project – an enormous responsibility that can greatly affect the company’s success or failure. The buyer also plays a decisive role in the success of the manufacturers of composites. Manufacturers must ensure that the materials they hope to sell are viewed by the buyer as effective, affordable, and of high quality.
A day in the life of the buyer
Darcy Frampton purchases composites for Covey Island Boatworks, a firm that builds a range of custom-made boats, frequently with wood/epoxy composites. Her job is difficult, as the types of materials needed can vary greatly from project to project. It is her responsibility to obtain the right kind of materials at the best possible price.
In describing how she selects a particular composite she said, “Our composites are generally specified by the project designers. I look for what is requested by the designer. When I need to find these things, I will first call my best suppliers (those that are consistent with good prices, etc.). Then I will do an internet search, and then call the most relevant of these. Finally, I will check the availability, then pricing and quality.”
Once Mrs Frampton receives the materials, she does a quick quality and quantity check, and then the composites can be used.
Buyers of composites are rarely experts in composites when they begin their job. Many start at a lower position in the company to gain experience and knowledge, and then move on to the position of buyer. Like Darcy Frampton, Russ Macsymetz, the procurement manager at Boeing Winnipeg, knew very little about composite materials when he started.
Mr Macsymetz’s position puts him in charge of a number of important responsibilities, such as management of the supply base in terms of quality, cost and delivery; the development, administration and negotiation of supplier contracts; and the support of new or derivative airplane programs for material requirements.
He said: “I entered into this industry 17 years ago by responding to a career opportunity in a local newspaper to work at Boeing Winnipeg as a cost analyst. I knew very little about composite materials but, being an aviation enthusiast, I did know that there had been a significant increase in applications of composites on military and commercial aircraft.”
Along with its many responsibilities, the role also has a number of challenges that the buyer must deal with on a frequent basis. Mrs Frampton explained that prices are constantly rising, which prevents her from buying from a single supplier on a regular basis and forces her to look into several different suppliers. In addition, she noted that supply and lead times seem to be getting worse.
Mrs Frampton added, “The biggest challenge I find, here in Canada, is finding steady, consistent suppliers who know what they are doing. Even some of our best suppliers know very little about the materials they sell, and I need them to send me the specifications to review and make sure that it is the right materials.”
Mr Macsymetz sees a significant challenge in the supply base in reducing costs or mitigating price increases. He said, “Petroleum-based products used in the manufacturing process to produce prepregs, adhesives and sealants have created upward pressure on pricing, during a time when we need to be even more competitive on the pricing of our products to our customers.”