269 Third Party
The entire matter about outsourcing the production of bronze label Blackbeaks had spread throughout the entire company. None of the workers under Ves felt very concerned. In fact, everyone felt excited to be part of something big. The option to leave the heavy lifting to another manufacturer was seen as boon to the LMC as a whole.
"Look at it this way." Gavin told him next morning as Ves prepared to go on a field trip. "Up until now, most of your new recruits had nothing to do. The anemic sales of the Mark II generates so little paperwork that most of them felt useless."
Ves raised his eyebrow as he finished dressing. "Is handing over most of our production to a third-party manufacturer going to change anything?"
The way these outsourcing contracts worked in the mech industry was that a mech designer sold the rights to exploit a design to someone else. Often times, the third-party manufacturer also gained the right to sell the mechs based off the borrowed design through their own channels with their own branding.
This last point served to raise the profile of the third-party manufacturer while simultaneously isolating any faults from affecting the original mech designer. Only rarely did the mech designer insist on retaining his company's original branding. That only happened if the two parties entered into a long-term alliance or if the mech designer owned a significant stake in the other manufacturer.
Essentially, it came down to control.
"Ves, just because the third-party manufacturer is going to do their own thing doesn't mean we're left in the dust. A strong surge in sales of the bronze label version will affect the popularity of the silver label and gold label versions as well. We aren't competing against our own partner for the same group of buyers."
Those that wanted to acquire more distinguished mechs could afford to wait for the LMC to produce their premium copies. Meanwhile, those who only wanted to buy the Blackbeak for its performance could order a cheaper copy with much less wait time from a third-party manufacturer.
"I admit, I'm not entirely sold on the idea. We don't actually get that much money from our partner as well. It's only a couple of millions of credits at most."
Gavin shook his head. "That's money that we basically earned for free. It doesn't cost us anything to extend a license to someone else. Sure, we need to keep an eye on them to insure they don't make shoddy mechs, but as long as they follow the agreement, we can sit back and relax while the money rolls in."
Some mech designers made their living licensing out their products. They setup design studios and focused solely on coming up with the best designs they could make. As for turning them into actual mechs? The third-party manufacturers handled all of that. They just went back to inventing newer designs while enjoying the steady stream of licensing fees.
Ves couldn't imagine working like that. He valued his designs and wanted any mechs built according to his schematics to be wholesome products that added genuine value.
To that end, Ves planned to go on a trip. "Gavin?"
"Please arrange an appointment with the three manufacturers we've entered talks with. I want to take a look at their production facilities."
"Why would you do that? The manufacturers have been very forthcoming with informing us of their available production capacities."
"It's not enough to know how fast and how efficient they can pump out mechs. I want to see whether they put their heart into their mechs."
Gavin scratched his head. "If you say so."
The LMC's various departments had been working at full tilt since yesterday. Marketing brought forward their advertising plan as soon as they secured a third-party manufacturer. They also released the virtual version of the Blackbeak onto all of the popular mech sims in order to ease some of the pressure that had been building up.
"The public is getting their fix for the moment. First impressions are very positive." Gavin reported as they sat in an armored shuttle. Ves was already on his way to the company's first potential partner. "We're hoping that will translate to persistent demand for the real thing."
"That will definitely happen." Ves nodded with a confident smile. Even though the virtual interface muted much of the Blackbeak's appeal, it should still convey some of the magic of its X-Factor. "Tell me about our destination. Who are we visiting first?"
His employee pulled up a data pad and browsed through its contents. "We're on our way to a major mech manufacturer called Vaun Industrial."
Ves remembered that company. The director from Bentheim always pressed the others to enter a strategic partnership with Vaun. It made Ves suspect that the two shared some sort of connection.
"Vaun owns three production complexes and produces a range of heavy vehicles and equipment. Still, two out of three of their complexes are devoted solely to producing mechs en masse. Their last public report states that they've been contracted to produce a number of models for seven different mech manufacturers."
They sounded like big players. A company like that should have been out of the LMC's league. "Does Vaun still have enough spare capacity to produce a sufficient number of bronze label mechs?"
"Well, Vaun has offered to dedicate at least eight production lines in the first half year. After that, they'll adjust their resources according to the winds of the market. If the mass-produced Blackbeak ends up being a hit, then they can easily shift their numbers to produce less of one mech and more of ours."
Gavin didn't mention that Vaun could also decide to go the other way. If sales of the Blackbeak slumped, then they could easily shift to more profitable alternatives.
To be honest, Ves already had a bad impression of Vaun. He merely decided to visit them in order to appear more impartial.
The shuttle landed after roughly an hour. Ves spent his time on tweaking a copy of the Blackbeak's design for mass production. He saved his current progress and stepped out of the hatch to the sight of a vast complex of factories.
"Welcome to our third and newest production complex! You must be Mr. Larkinson!"
Ves shook hands with a graceful looking woman. "My name is Melody Vaun, and I'm the director of this complex. Please follow me!"
They walked towards one of the enclosed production facilities while Melody narrated the history of the company. "Like many mech manufacturers, Vaun Industrial started out when my grandfather achieved a lot of success. He excelled in both mech design and business, so his company grew fast."
What followed next sounded similar to the stories Ves had heard before. Her grandfather became increasingly proficient at designing mechs, but his children proved to be a disappointment. They all grew up learning how to design a mech and how to run a business, but they pretty much only cared about money.
This gave grandfather Vaun a lot of grief, and due to some incidents that Melody quickly glossed over, he died an early grave.
His death presented a crisis for the company, which had expanded to the point where they operated five whole production lines for mechs. Without any new designs, Vaun would quickly fall into irrelevance. His children frantically sought another mech designer to take over in their grandfather's stead.
"We managed to enter a number of short-term contracts with various people and organizations that need things done. They never lasted more than a year or two, but it kept our company afloat."
Vaun Industrial never managed to find a mech designer good enough to produce as much sales as their late founder. A few years passed while the heirs kept accepting contracts, until they suddenly realized that Vaun Industrial didn't need to appoint another lead designer to survive as a business.
"When times became hard, we started cutting costs." Melody spoke."We eventually became quite good at efficient mass production, to the extent that our company was able to reinvest our profits into expanding our production line."
Fifty years later, Vaun Industrial ended up as a large manufacturer of mechs and other heavy gear that worked with multiple mech designers every year. Melody bragged that the secret to their success lay in their pursuit of efficiency.
"Our production lines are some of the fastest on Bentheim." She claimed, though Ves doubted their veracity. "We're able to maintain some of the highest rates of production."
"What about defects?"
"They're barely noticeable. You just reminded me of their existence."
They finally reached the closest facility. After Ves went through a thorough inspection, he followed Melody inside a cavernous white hall filled with lots of white production equipment.
He immediately turned his gaze to the 3D printers, which appeared to be smaller but faster than the Dortmund in his own workshop. Ves immediately noticed that all of the machines had been dedicated to fabricating the same components over and over again.
Melody walked over to the nearest machine. The printer worked so hard it emanated a lot of steam. "We utilize a batch production system where we fabricate enough parts to assemble hundreds of mechs at a time. These printers are highly efficient and self-sufficient at their jobs. They detect most defects on their own and scrap their current progress is the deviation is severe enough to impact the quality of the end product."
That meant that Vaun retained the components with only minor deviations. Ves would have tossed them out regardless, but Vaun obviously thought differently.
After admiring the largely automated fabrication process, they moved on to the assembly area. Large amounts of half-built mechs stood at a row. Parts were being lifted into place by a combination of advanced anti-grav technology. This prevented the assembly area from being cluttered by a sea of lifter bots.
"Similar to our fabrication process, our assembly process takes advantage of the automation processes that we've developed in-house. Incidents are rare enough that only a single person is needed to look over the assembly of thirty mechs at once."
"What kind of incidents can happen?"
"Oh, you know, screw ups that our bots have difficulty processing." She explained. "Sometimes, the bots mix up the parts for one model for another. Other times, the anti-grav system acts up and drops a couple of components. This doesn't happen more than a few times a year, so don't worry about our capabilities. We never fail to meet our production targets."
Ves wanted to talk with some of the mech technicians that worked on the factory floor, but Melody strongly denied his request. He frowned at her. "Why can't I have a simple talk with them?"
"Our apologies, Mr. Larkinson, but we've already been generous to you by allowing you to take a look. Much of our success lies in our proprietary methods and we can't insure that our technical staff will know what to say and what to withhold. In order to maintain our trade secrets, it's company policy to never let anyone speak with our experts."
As an apology, Melody guided him to an office in which he could view a variety of different designs they produced over the years. Many of the designs came from promising Apprentice Mech Designers or newly advanced Journeyman Mech Designers who hadn't expanded their own facilities yet.
Ves didn't doubt Vaun's competence as a mech manufacturer. They worked with so many different designs that they required no adjustment time to master the production of a new design.
Vaun ran a tight ship. They could be trusted to take his design and produce hundreds of bronze label Blackbeaks without any sweat. Out of the three possible candidates to entrust his Blackbeak design, partnering with Vaun appeared to be the least riskiest option.
He still disliked them, though. Beyond the disconcerting level of automation, Ves hadn't been allowed to talk with the mech technicians or supervisors who operated the production equipment. The only person from Vaun he really talked to was Melody Vaun, who mainly tooted her company's horn.
Mentally, he already crossed them out of consideration. He'd probably have to argue against the entire board for refusing to work with Vaun. Hopefully, the other two mech manufacturers offered something better.