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Breaking into New CNC Machining Industries

Establishing expertise in your area of specialty takes time in CNC machining. There is a consistent balance of price and quality to serve client needs and gain that reputation for precision manufacturing. Some industries are even more difficult to develop due to certifications and bidding standards. Breaking into new CNC machining industries like defence, aerospace, and the medical field requires a little more than quality equipment.


The quality of finished parts delivered on time must be proven through a variety of standards in these industries. These quality standards are often dependent on other factors like the consistency of your supply chain. Certain applications require registration as a certified supplier and ongoing audits with meticulous record-keeping. Each industry has its specialties, but each demands the highest quality of manufacturing.

Aerospace – Aerospace covers everything that flies, from gliders to rocket ships. Skilled staff and advanced technology are required in aerospace to offer automation with flexible manufacturing systems. Establishing a quality supply network of raw materials like aluminum, titanium, and carbon and boron fibres is essential.

Defence – Many of the criteria and products in the defence industry are similar to aerospace but can also include parts for missiles, guns, and combat vehicles. Strict bidding qualifications and protocols are required to participate in contracts. Supply chain risk due to political unrest or natural disasters may require partnerships to share risk and profit. Investment in both technology and qualified staff are also critical for starting up and growing in this sector.

Medical – The medical industry has two levels of safety and quality; both high. Fixtures, machines, and monitoring equipment require parts suitable for high use and tight tolerances. These can be produced without some of the costs associated with certifications and specialized manufacturing setups, like clean rooms. Other applications include operating tools, robotic arms, and other devices in direct contact with the patient, and PPE equipment for medical staff. Cutting tools for both must be able to work with hard alloys like steel.


Certifications can be a timely and costly process and a deterrent for many CNC machine shops. Consider the application of lean manufacturing principles and the level of excellence you will achieve.  This high efficiency will be valuable to your bottom line and elevate your business to your other markets.

ISO is the internationally recognized standard for manufacturing. The International Standards Association describes itself as “an independent, non-governmental international organization with a membership of 165 national standards bodies.” They have created almost 25,000 international standards for various aspects of manufacturing that act as best practices determined by industry representatives. These standards apply to areas like environmental, information technology, and quality manufacturing. The ISO standard for machining is ISO 9001:2015 which dictates quality management standards.

AS9100D is a second standard added to ISO 9001:2015 that has specific measures for aerospace. Aerospace covers a broad spectrum of parts from any aircraft, to rockets, satellites, space technology, and includes defence. Administration staff must be proficient at dealing with International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) standards in the U.S. Paper trails and material handling are of utmost importance.  NADCAP or IAQG certifications may also be required for North American aerospace manufacturing.

The medical industry uses the ISO 13485:2008 as the added standard for medical devices. As expected, not only precision but sanitary parts manufacturing is also needed in this industry. And there may be other requirements in areas of specific medicine and research.

Moving Ahead

While some machine shops even question if ISO 9001 certification is worth it, you have to decide if you are ready to move your CNC machine shop into one of these new markets. Other factors such as physical location may also have a bearing due to the advantages of proximity to air force bases or training centres, for example. 

It is best to review all the possible certifications and equipment needed first. Then to break into new CNC machining industries, study the industry. Attend conferences and get to know potential partners and competitors. Make connections and build your network to allow for an easier transition when your plans become reality.

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