7 Things To Consider Before Choosing Your Next Machine Shop
Looking to make a change? Wondering what questions to ask when looking for a machine shop?
Choosing the right partner for machining needs can make or break your project.
At a certain point, many companies are faced with the need to find another machining company to work with. In some cases it may be related to capabilities. Maybe you’ve got a project that requires wire EDM services, or waterjet cutting, for example and your current CNC machine shop doesn’t offer those services.
Perhaps their service or quality levels may have dropped, and you’re looking to see if there might be a better fit for you?
The good news is, with today’s global marketplace, you’re no longer confined to looking for machine shops in your area. At Blanda, for example, our machine shop is in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but we ship our parts across the world.
It’s not always easy to know what questions to ask when shopping for machining services, but your decision can make or break your project. Owner Bob, and the team at Blanda have decades of experience in the machining industry and have seen quite an evolution over the years.
Based on this experience, here are a few things you may want to keep in mind when choosing a machine shop to work with.
While many of the principles behind machining haven’t changed, the technology sure has. With it comes benefits such as improved accuracy and capabilities, more efficient production, as well as cost efficiencies to create your parts.
What machining processes are best suited for your particular needs? Does the machine shop offer those services, or will they need to involve a third party to complete your project?
Even without the latest in CNC machining technology your shop may be able to produce the parts you need, but it may come with added expense and time, due to the lack of efficiency.
In general, you’ll want to find out if the machine shops you’re considering have the capabilities to handle your project, and have invested in modern CNC machining technology. It’ll make a difference in your overall experience.
Each new generation of CNC machining equipment offers advantages, and at Blanda, we regularly invest in the latest in machining technology.
Service and Support
If you’re shopping machine shops to find improved service levels, you already understand how important the quality of service is when it comes to working with machine shops. Missed deadlines, quality issues and errors can, and do happen.
How well does your machine shop react under these circumstances? Obviously, it’s difficult to predict service levels without actually experiencing what it’s like to work with that particular machine shop, but ask a few questions.
What’s their quality policy? Do they have one? What happens if the machined parts don’t meet your expectations? What are their hours of operation? How long have they been in business?
Asking a few questions will also give you an idea of what it might be like to work with this particular machine shop. Are they friendly, helpful, and willing to answer your questions?
If not, you might consider calling another machine shop that offers better service on your initial call.
Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMM)
When precision matters, ideally your machine shop will have a CMM, or coordinate measuring machine in their arsenal.
With our in-house CMM we’re able to precisely measure the physical geometry of a part. Measured against the design of your drawing, the CMM will us a variety of probes in capturing precise measurements of the X, Y and Z coordinates.
Resource: What is a CMM?
Of course a CMM can help to ensure that your precise tolerance needs are met, which can lead to a higher overall quality standard. But what about the shop itself?
If you’re able to visit the machine shop, what’s the overall cleanliness look like? Is it dark, dingy, and appear unorganized? A clean and well-organized shop is often a significant indicator of a quality operation.
If you ask to visit their machine shop, and they discourage your visit, that should raise a red flag.
Do you need help with prototyping? Do you need a single machined part, or are you looking for a larger, production run of machined parts?
Again, every machine shop is set up differently when it comes to their “sweet spot”, so you’ll want to make sure the company you’re speaking with is set up to handle your specific production requirements.
For your high tolerance requirements, does the shop have the capabilities to meet your needs? What are their capabilities when it comes to tolerances? How and when do they measure those tolerances?
Do they ship their parts to a dimensional lab for measurement, or do they have in-house measurement capabilities such as a CMM (coordinate measuring machine)?
At the extreme end of tolerance requirements, we do a lot of precision work for aerospace, defense and the computer industry, which require perfection.
Today, if your project doesn’t require the tight tolerances required by the aerospace industry, might you have a need in the future? These are things to consider when evaluating different machine shops.
Every machine shop has different areas of expertise, and different types of equipment. This also includes the materials that they are capable of working with.
You’ll want to make sure that the company your speaking with has both the experience and capabilities to handle your particular needs.
If your material is hard, brittle, or fragile, as an example, your machining project might be best suited for an expert in wire EDM services. Does the company you’re considering offer wire EDM services?
Your Future needs
Basing your decision on current needs may not align with your future needs. To avoid the need to look for new machine shops with each new machining project, you might consider versatility as part of your decision making process.
Highly versatile machine shops will offer a variety of machining operations, potentially eliminating the need for you to shop around again in the future.
In other words, if your current project only requires CNC milling expertise, you might factor in machine shops who offer services you don’t need today, but may need in the future.
Ideally, the machine shop you choose to partner with, has the machining equipment and knowledge to do a great job supporting both your needs today and in the future.