Stecker Machine Blog

6 Questions to Find a Great CNC Machining Partner

10/16/2019 | Scott Waak


You’re not asking for much, are you — just reliable parts and products that ultimately make customers happy. Simple!

What’s not so simple is finding the right CNC machine shop. The perfect partner that understands your needs, has the right capabilities and proper certifications, goes the extra mile when you need it most, and keeps its pencils sharp so prices remain consistently competitive.

Let’s explore what an ideal CNC machine manufacturing company looks (and acts) like. The easiest way is to explore the six most important questions you should be asking when evaluating a potential partner. Ready?

1. “What are the CNC machine company’s capabilities and size?”

Scrutinizing capabilities is obvious. Can the CNC machine company deliver what you need done today and in the future? High-end machining is only possible by using best-in-class CNC machining equipment: CNC machine tools, CNC lathes, milling machines, robotics, and other equipment.

Find out what casting materials can be handled by this CNC machine shop. What types of iron (gray, ductile, austempered ductile)? Aluminum? Steel and/or stainless steel? Brass? Bronze? Are there reasons why the shop doesn’t handle certain materials?

As valuable as capabilities are, size does matter. You need to be sure the CNC machine company has the capacity to handle your needs. Obviously, a company growing its capabilities or expanding its facilities is a sign of progression and the ability to take on large projects and meet customer demand. Just be upfront about what your needs may be.

2. “What kind of customers and industries do you serve?”

It’s a good sign when a machine shop has experience in various industries. It shows flexibility and a willingness to take on unfamiliar projects. Plus, it likely means that CNC machine shops can run complex parts with long cycle times just as easily they can run less complex high-volume parts.

Ask about specifics and listen for industries that demand high-performance parts, such as agriculture, construction, military, industrial equipment, and automotive. If professionals in those industries have had success working with this CNC machine manufacturer, you probably will, too.

Lastly, inquire about that shop’s Tier 1 relationships. Nothing will give you more peace of mind than knowing this shop has extensive direct OEM/Tier 1 customer interactions.

3. “What certifications have you achieved?”

Capabilities? Check. Recent growth? Check. Various industries? Check. So far so good. Another quality check that every machining vendor handling complex challenges should pass is having an ISO 9001-compliant quality management system (QMS). Plus, the IATF 16949 standard — designed to be implemented as a supplement and in conjunction with ISO 9001:2015 — helps ensure that products consistently meet requirements and quality is routinely improved. 

4. “Are you able to procure castings?”

High-end CNC machining companies value and respect the casting process; knowing that, without casting, many intricate metal commercial and industrial products would be too complicated and too costly to produce.

Speaking of costly, did you know that design decisions can make up 70% of a product’s manufacturing costs? It’s vital that a part’s tooling and casting needs and costs are explored during the casting design stage. A strong partnership between the CNC machine shop, the customer, and the foundry, offers cost-effective input on casting/machining designs.

A respected machining partner should help you compare both the advantages and disadvantages of different types of molding processes. Look for solid, long-term relationships with many quality foundries, meaning customers enjoy a reliable supply and the ability to hit deadlines.

Even better? Find a CNC machine manufacturer that owns the supply chain. If that shop takes responsibility for managing foundry relationships and simply delivers completed machine parts, your life is much easier and worry-free.

5. “Do you have an in-house engineering department?”

A helpful engineering team – with numerous professionals of varied expertise – gets involved at a project’s early stages, helping develop the best possible part, efficiently and economically. The expertise these folks bring helps with design for manufacturing and creates a trusted partnership between the customer, the CNC machine manufacturer, and the foundry.

Quality in-house design teams provide designs/tooling quickly and cost-effectively, and can rapidly prototype a project for cast and machine tools. In addition, good in-house engineering departments have a continuous improvement team that stays on top of the latest technologies, identifying applications that could benefit customers.

6. “What sets you apart?”

This open-ended question may seem unlikely to separate one shop from another, but the answers you get should tell you something. Here’s what you want to hear.

“Tolerances.” Different materials and processes involve different standards. Your CNC milling machine manufacturer should put a premium on how its precise processes meet tight tolerances to satisfy customers’ requirements and specs. Knowing associations’ guiding standards is critical, too. For example, a CNC machine shop that works with aluminum die casting should know and follow Aluminum Association standards and the North American Die Casting Association (NADCA).

“Quality control.” While all reputable CNC machine shops check parts, some do more by combining their workforce expertise with automated audits to ensure consistency and accuracy. Some examples: CMM inspection, Millipore testing, Custom Gaging, High Accuracy Bore Gages, Hardness Testing, Surface Finish Testing, and Roundness Testing. The best quality control is error prevention, so ask about poka yoking, which removes mistakes from the machining process and ensures a superior part.

“Our people.” OK, this may sound cliché, but take note of exactly why people are so valuable. When you hear phrases like “better communication,” “culture fit,” “good collaboration,” “schedules and deadlines,” and “customer feedback,” it lets you know that your goals become their goals. And, because they’re a valued partner, they’re more willing to work hard for you and give you extra attention.New call-to-action

Scott Waak

About the Author

Scott pushes Stecker Machine forward. He brings a hands-on approach to a dual role of Sales Account and Customer Service Manager. Scott has over 25 years of experience in the CNC machining industry, starting as a Machinist, and advancing to his current roles. He credits his success to hard work, dedication to manufacturing, and a drive for excellence.

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