Stecker Machine Blog

What Is the Most Powerful Tool in a CNC Machine Shop?

01/26/2021 | Matt Oswald


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

Instead, it’s the skilled people behind those machines that make the difference. By dedicating their time and talents to meeting customers’ needs and consistently exceeding their expectations, the team is responsible for taking your shop — and your customer relationships — from good to great.

Part Quality: The Only Measure of Machine Shop Success?

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

Forward-thinking shop owners shift their thinking to celebrate the importance of their people, and how each contributes to elevating the customer experience. Even though CNC machine shops don’t necessarily offer numerous opportunities for customer interaction, having the team in place to answer the call when projects come into the shop — or on those occasions when projects don’t go exactly as planned — is golden.

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

  • “Problem Solver” — Smart solutions are always appreciated (and remembered)
  • “Value Adder” — Fresh perspectives show a company’s long-term value
  • “First Impression Maker” — One person can instantly become the face of an organization
  • “Brand Ambassador” — A positive, vocal employee is a powerful force
  • “Focused Maker” — Efficient and smooth product production with no excuses
  • “Conflict Manager” — Few projects are perfect; a professional response is invaluable
  • “Customer Connector” — Proactive people do the little things customers value

People Power in Action

Having a team that cares about the customer experience is only part of the formula for success. That same team has to have the skills to use and assist 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.

In general, most human actions are performed by computer-guided equipment, but keep in mind that people set up and operate the machines, ultimately 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 qualified team members vital to CNC machining in three distinct ways:

  1. Manufacturing engineers design the process to make new parts and bring on 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 machine operators run production. They tend the machines, process parts, and perform quality control tasks using state-of-the-art inspection tools.

A Culture of Quality

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

  • Identify process opportunities
  • Think creatively
  • Diagnose problems
  • Offer suggestions
  • Communicate and process novel 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’s worth the investment to engage, empower, and retain a quality team. 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, and empowered thinking and decision making. 

Such a culture underpins and strengthens values that help machine shops keep pace with customer needs beyond part quality:

  • Employee accountability that leads to trust
  • Proactive communication that leads to efficiency
  • Pride that leads to improved quality
  • Initiative that leads to solution

Learn more about CNC Machining: Get the Ultimate Guide

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. Interested in exploring a career at Stecker? We love hearing from people that can enhance what we bring to our customers. Contact us today!

Matt Oswald

About the Author

Matt leads Stecker Machine Company's Marketing and Human Resources Manager. He has worked for Stecker Machine for over 6 years on projects spanning CNC manufacturing, robotics, inbound marketing, and leadership. He has 14 years of electrical engineering R&D experience, and he enjoys applying an engineering approach to any project. Matt and his wife Karen are part owners of Stecker Machine Company.

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