Stecker Machine Blog

What Is the Most Powerful Tool in CNC Machine Shops?

08/02/2023 | Matt Oswald


The highly automated equipment and robots in a  CNC machine shop are impressive, and often their “flash” initially attracts customers. It’s certainly understandable, but that initial attraction rarely converts one-time customers into long-term partners.

Instead, it’s the skilled CNC machine operators who make the difference. The team takes your shop and customer relationships from good to great by dedicating their time and talents to meeting customers' needs and going above and beyond their expectations.

Part Quality: The Only Measure of CNC Machine Shop Success?

Undoubtedly, part quality and CNC precision machining is critical to establishing and maintaining a machine shop’s success. Many machine shops do high-quality work and nearly as many rely on tired, overused “quality first” messaging to try to stand out, but it falls on deaf ears.

Forward-thinking shop owners shift their focus to celebrating the importance of their people, and how each CNC machine operator contributes to elevating the customer experience. 

CNC machine shops don’t typically offer numerous opportunities for customer interaction. However, having a reliable team in place to take on new projects — or quickly find solutions when the occasional issue arises — is golden.

The following may not be official job titles, but they’re traits to look for and encourage within your team to enhance responsiveness to challenges, create added value, and offer exceptional customer service:

  • “Problem Solver” — Smart solutions are always appreciated (and remembered)

  • “CNC Expert” —  Your go-to machinists with the expertise, discipline, and grit to setup and run new CNC jobs.

  • “Brand Ambassador” — A positive, vocal employee is a powerful force

  • “Focused Maker” — Efficient and smooth product production with no excuses

  • “Customer Connector” — Proactive people think creatively, bring fresh perspectives, and do the little things customers value

People Power in Action

Having CNC operators who care about the customer experience is only part of the formula for success. That same team has to have the skills to leverage automation to its best advantage for quality outcomes.

CNC precision machining and CNC machine products are the norm in machine shops, and for good reason. Automation is consistent, reliable, cost-effective, productive, and precise.

Usually, computer-guided equipment performs most human actions, but remember that people set up and operate the machines, making CNC work.

People are responsible for adapting to situations where automated repeatability is threatened — a tool breaks, inputs vary, design or programming changes — making “must-have” team members vital to CNC machining in three distinct ways:

  1. Manufacturing engineers design the process to make new parts and establish new process capabilities. A full in-house engineering department shortens lead times and maximizes machine center productivity.

  2. Setup operators change over a machine center by loading a new program, changing fixtures/tools, and machining the first parts. Setup provides flexibility to use the machine center to make different parts and streamline processes.

  3. CNC machinists run production. They tend the machines, process parts, and perform quality control tasks using state-of-the-art inspection tools.

A Culture of Quality

Trusted machine shops invest in both the latest equipment and the best people because only people can:

  • Diagnose problems
  • Solve problems creatively
  • Identify process opportunities
  • Communicate and process unique information
  • Encourage each other
  • Spot industry trends

Plus, employees want to feel like they’re part of something special. A machine shop can develop a company culture that’s rewarding and fulfilling for all: customers, employees, owners, and vendors.

Investing in company culture can be a lengthy process and somewhat costly, but it pays off in the form of a team that’s engaged, empowered, and loyal. That’s where strategic communication from leadership comes in.

The message should be constant and clear: “People are our most important resource.” But they can’t be hollow words. The commitment must be backed by mission-driven, people-centered action steps like formal training and procedures that help develop necessary skills, critical thinking, and decisive problem-solving. 

This culture supports and enhances values that help CNC machine shops meet customer needs beyond just precision part quality:

  • Employee accountability builds trust.
  • Proactive communication increases efficiency.
  • Pride enhances quality.
  • Initiative leads to solutions.

Of course, having the right equipment to handle customer needs is invaluable within CNC machine shops. Yet, to succeed long-term, it’s more important than ever to elevate the importance of employees.

Stecker Machine’s unique culture and family ownership prove our dedication and commitment to learning, innovation and, most of all, employees. 

It also uniquely qualifies us as a proven partner in solving even the toughest challenges, as outlined in our guide, When Do You Know It’s Time to Work With a High-End CNC Machine Shop? Click below to get your copy!

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Matt Oswald

About the Author

Matt leads SMC's Human Resources and Marketing Team. He has worked for Stecker Machine for over 7 years on projects spanning CNC manufacturing, robotics, inbound marketing, and leadership. He enjoys applying his engineering background to any business challenge.

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