How to Choose a Toll Processor: Don’t Ignore These 7 Key Considerations
Justin Klinger, Jan 13, 2022 9:05:00 AM
Manufacturers in nearly every industry can point to critical moments when they need toll processing services to get the job done.
Whether you rely on toll milling and grinding services, blending, extraction, or other material processing capabilities, finding the right toll processor just makes your job easier.
But before you entrust your materials, processes, and the value of your brand to just any custom processor, be sure to take a close look and consider every angle of your relationship with this critical service provider:
- Processing capabilities
- Equipment capacity
- Experience in your industry
- Expert teams on hand
- Quality assurance
- Clear and reliable communication
- Location, logistics, and efficiencies
The effort you put into initial research and advance planning can really pay off when you finally need that partner.
How Can a Toll Processor Fit Into Your Manufacturing Operations?
Plenty of circumstances call for the access to experts, equipment, capacity, and experience that a toll manufacturing company can offer. Consider these examples:
- You recognize the potential to create additional products using the same raw materials, but you don’t have the equipment to mill it to a finer gauge, blend it with other ingredients, add a surface treatment, etc.
- You want to expand into markets like food and beverage, but you don’t have the certifications to meet regulatory requirements
- A surge in demand has you running your equipment around the clock, and you still can’t meet it
- Issues like cost or supply chain disruptions forced you to procure raw materials from new sources, and now you’re struggling to meet specifications
These are just a few reasons many top manufacturers work to develop strong relationships with tolling partners in advance, even before the actual need arises. That’s why it makes sense to reach out now and start talking to potential toll processing service providers, to find the right match for your needs. Use this list of considerations to make sure you’re comprehensive in your search.
1. Processing Capabilities to Meet Your Needs
It’s obviously important to know that a custom processor has the specialized equipment to handle your immediate need, such as particle size reduction services like jet milling, universal milling, or wet milling. But it’s smart to look beyond the basics and identify potential needs you don’t yet have, like wet or dry blending, surface treatments, or extrusion.
Why? The more you know about your toll processor’s capabilities, the more you can broaden the vision for your own products — and the more peace of mind you’ll have knowing what’s possible.
2. Equipment Capacity to Serve Your Volumes & Timing
Often, customers look to toll manufacturers when they need to quickly increase outputs. After all, installing additional lines is not only expensive — it can also be time-consuming or outright impossible in terms of space, permitting, personnel, or other constraints. If you know your tolling partner has the line ready and rolling it’s simply a question of when, not whether, you can get started.
And sometimes a toll processor comes in clutch when a project is smaller in volume. Pilot or trial-size equipment, and the space and experts needed to operate it, can be an invaluable asset when you’re investigating new materials or exploring new processes.
3. Processing Experience in Your Industry
When evaluating candidates, be sure to ask about their experience within your industry. A toll processor with experience in your industry is more likely to be aware of not only the nuances of your materials, but also the competitive landscape, end uses, and customer expectations. Their experience could also come in handy if procurement challenges or other issues arise.
4. Access to Material Scientists & Engineers
It can be tempting to think of a toll processor in terms of equipment: types, sizes, floor space, and availability. But it’s important to remember the people behind the processes.
Technical teams of material science experts and engineers provide important insights, experience, and troubleshooting capabilities. That’s good to know in case a newly sourced raw feed behaves unpredictably.
But a dedicated team of experts will also approach your projects with a goal of optimizing your manufacturing processes. Over the course of a long-term business relationship, that expertise can lead to efficiency improvements, quality enhancements, and cost savings.
5. Quality Assurance, Testing & Controls
The toll manufacturer you choose should give you confidence to stand behind the quality of your products that pass through their facilities. A formal, third-party validated quality management system (QMS) can go a long way to provide the kind of transparency that engenders trust. Look for a processor that’s implemented a QMS like international standard ISO 9001 and a commitment to continuous improvement.
For those in food or pharma, be sure your processor is good manufacturing practices (GMP) certified. And if your target consumers care about specialty labels like organic or kosher, it’s absolutely vital to make sure those standards can be met.
In-house lab capabilities can make quality testing and analysis faster and more convenient, too. It may take some extra effort to visit and even perform an audit, but quality control, your brand, and your peace of mind are worth it.
6. Communication & Customer Service
It’s obviously important to know that your technical service team will reach out to you with questions or concerns when they’re processing your product on their equipment. But good communication starts long before that. You should be able to expect straightforward estimating, quoting, and scheduling.
Likewise, part of your toll processor’s job is to protect your products and your confidentiality. If you do visit their facilities, pay attention to their treatment of other customers’ materials while you’re there.
7. Geography, Logistics & Supply Chain Support
It might feel like a no-brainer to start your search with “toll processors near me,” but the closest possibility might not always be your best choice — for several reasons. First, a nearby location doesn’t guarantee capabilities or quality.
And depending on your service provider, plenty of other considerations could be more important. If your materials move on railcars, can your toll processor take them? How close are they to a port, if raw feeds come in or products ship out that way? Does your toll processor have warehousing capabilities or storage space? Refrigeration? Can they offer logistics to help you get your material to the next step faster?
You’d be even smarter to explore other capabilities they may offer upstream and downstream of the services you’re already using. Maybe it’s a drying step before a milling process. It could be automated liquid bottling for your botanical extraction or other blended liquid product. Consolidating multiple process steps under a single roof can save time and money, increase efficiency, reduce administrative burdens, and even shrink your product’s carbon footprint — and improve your bottom line.
Get Started Comparing Options
When it comes to custom manufacturing and processing, it’s rarely an apples-to-apples comparison. But the details that matter most are up to you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and request documentation. Visit the facilities if you can, and perform a quality audit if needed.
You can get started by taking a closer look at contract manufacturing and toll manufacturing, to explore which option suits your needs. (They’re similar, yet different.) Just click the link below to download our free guide, What Are the Differences Between Toll Manufacturing and Contract Manufacturing? Get your copy today!