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Choose the Right CNC Machine Shop

Stepping into the world of processed parts manufacturing can be overwhelming.  You may need anything from a prototype to a large production run. You could be dealing with plastic or titanium components. Or, maybe, you don’t even know what your material choice or tolerances should be. 

Or if turning or milling, or a combination, is needed for your part. This is where working with a quality machine shop makes all the difference. CNC manufacturing needs are different for every business. A look at a company website will offer some clues. 

Referrals from other businesses are a bonus. But having a conversation with a knowledgeable salesman will help you choose the right machine shop. Here are some things to consider in the assessment of your project and your inquiry.

Communication

Several factors affect price and quality. Be sure to communicate your needs from the start. What is your timeline? Do you require input on design? Is this a standardized, repeatable part? These factors determine the type of CNC machine shop you need to work with. Each shop will serve a particular niche so it is important to assess their services when you are expressing your design and production needs.

Simple parts can be run fairly quickly and without strict tolerances. The material choice may be flexible depending on the price for your desired output. Working with a high-precision clean medical-grade facility for a part in a child’s toy, for example, will cost more, delay delivery based on fitting into demanding production schedules, and maybe even cause you to question your design or material choice based on their exacting standards.

Consider, too, how the manufacturer communicates such information to you. Will they correspond through your preferred channels? Will they allow for video or photo updates of your project in design or production? Communication is also best delivered through one key person from the manufacturer. Their communication should also include inquiries on how to improve your experience. This will improve their processes and ensure customer satisfaction, too.

Quality

Quality of people and staff training is an excellent indicator of a quality CNC machine shop. Shops with employee longevity generally indicate employee satisfaction with pay, training, and opportunities. Skilled machinists are now complemented by design, program, and operator staff. These departments all need to flow seamlessly.

Quality in production has a range of factors and degrees of excellence in CNC manufacturing, but a few things remain constant. Certifications such as IS0 9001 and AS9100 designate a level of overall manufacturing standards regardless of the finish requirements of any one piece. Inquire about a manufacturer’s defect rate. This could indicate poorly serviced machines, improper tool use, low-quality tools, or untrained operators.

Social Proof

A website showing images of work is a good start. This will give you an idea of the range of work and the quality available. The next step should be a tour of the facility, in person, or by live stream video, and some physical examples to view.

Prototypes should also be available for your assessment before large production runs are scheduled. This takes some time from paid production work on the CNC machine floor but indicates the level of client service available.

Proof of workmanship and customer service can also be verified by client testimonials. Follow up with references and inquire if they are regular customers. You may find Google reviews as well to support this research.

Final Analysis

You will also need to consider if there is any secondary machining or assembly needs for your part. Finding a shop that provides these added services makes your project easier to execute. Finding the right balance between price, location, and specialization takes some time. A distant supplier may best provide the price and delivery time you need. Or you may find more comfort in a local shop due to the higher quality demands of your project. Understanding flexibility in their production, raw stock inventory, and delivery standards may help in this decision. The global pandemic showed us the problems we can encounter with part supply from overseas. But it also showed us how centralized areas can be affected – whether it be a major storm or a pandemic. These logistics affect how you will choose the right machine shop for your business.

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