Stecker Machine Blog

In CNC Machining, You Get What You Pay For (which is exactly as it should be)

07/20/2022 | Ken Jones

CNC-machining-get-what-you-pay-for

As consumers, we each have a certain product that we’re happy to pay for. For me, I’m a stickler for a lush yard and garden, and I use a local landscaper here in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

They’re not cheap, yet I know that I’m paying for high-quality work and great ideas for the areas around my home. The same thinking can be applied to CNC machine shops, although the dynamics are a bit different.

The name of the game in high-quality CNC machining is precision and repeatability. When those come together simultaneously, quality and performance can be achieved. But, at what cost? And, how do you know you’re getting what you’re paying for if you don’t have in-depth technical knowledge of CNC machining?

What Factors Affect CNC Machining Costs?

No two CNC machining shops are the same. Skills, experience, areas of expertise, capabilities — even culture and values — create unique businesses. Each of these on their own, and all of them collectively, have an effect on costs.

So, when comparing CNC shops, make sure you’re as close to “apples to apples” as possible. Here are some factors to help you do that.

Types of Operation

Having a CNC operator punch a few holes in a bracket is not a specialized operation; it’s common and easy, and the cost should be minimal. It’s unlinkey that high-end CNC machine shops will be cost-competitive on this project.

To successfully complete complex machining, however, requires uncommon skills, more process operations, and better machines. To help offset the costs of these complex parts, modern part designers follow design for manufacturability (DFM) guidelines that help reduce costs while also simplifying part production and reducing design rework.

Types of Machines

When advanced machinery is needed to complete a project, costs will reflect that. With an increase in machine size and capability comes an increase in costs, with larger machines costing more and carrying a higher burden rate. Plus, they add intricacy and typically require an experienced operator.

There’s a price tag for cutting-edge technology that more seasoned customers understand and accept.

Tolerance of Projects

Going hand-in-hand with CNC machine types, the tolerance level of a part drives when high-end capabilities are needed. Plus, top-level engineering expertise — a long-term investment in a business — ensures that tight-tolerance projects meet specifications.

Facilities

A building alone doesn’t create a great CNC machine shop. Yet, seeing how that shop conducts business can be telling. How clean are the workstations? What safety measures are in place? How proud of their work are they?

Digging even deeper … What is their overall capacity level? In what financial shape is the business? Are they debt-free? Answers here help establish confidence that they’ll be a reliable partner for the long haul.

Outside Services

Occasionally, a project requires additional services that aren’t regularly performed by a CNC machine shop. Having established relationships with these third-party vendors can help keep costs down.

For instance, painting is a value-added service that is subcontracted to focused professionals so that optimum quality, performance, and value are delivered. These services could tip the overall cost of a project in favor of a shop with higher priced machining costs yet lower priced additional services.

Holding Prices

Any new relationship has its uncertainties. Like many other businesses, some companies that specialize in CNC machining may submit an intentionally low bid to win the business only to raise prices later, knowing that it’s difficult for their customer to find another shop for that part.

Getting hit with a 20% increase just six months into a new partnership isn’t a transparent way to do business. This “buying work” — taking a loss to get the work in the door — is a practice that reputable CNC machine shops won’t do.

Workforce Issues

Although just about every manufacturer is in the same boat, it does need to be mentioned that the supply of qualified workers has become smaller and smaller in recent years. That affects wages, which directly affects the costs charged to customers.

Cost Reduction is Always Top-of-Mind

So far, I’ve explained factors that, for the most part, increase costs. Experienced CNC machine shops, though, are constantly looking for ways to reduce costs.

Let’s look at tooling fixtures as an example. While a cheap fixture with manual clamps costs less than hydraulics, the latter can drop volume production machining costs (reduced load/unload times, increased repeatability, less scrap). So, better fixtures add to upfront costs, yet reduce piece price.

Finding the right fit for the job is another way to keep costs in check. It’s what the best shops do day in and day out. Example: use strategically created labor cells to run multiple machines, and match the right CNC machine (and machinist) to meet the requirements.

World-Class Quality Isn’t Cheap 

Stecker Machine Company provides high-quality CNC machining solutions, and our costs reflect that. Our leadership position attracts customers that demand exceptional performance along with dedicated customer service.

Some purchasing professionals in need of CNC machining may not fully understand everything that goes into precision machining. A full capabilities presentation is a good start, yet a visit to see and experience a shop’s operation is priceless.

Questions to ask during your “on the floor” visit:

  • “How fast can you launch a project?”
  • “Do you have engineering expertise in-house?”
  • “Is tooling designed at the shop?”
  • “What are your programming capabilities?”
  • “What is your safety record?”

If that sounds like a lot of questions, don’t worry. Educating others about the CNC machining process is always welcomed by those who do it; especially by those who excel at it.

Not sure about your next step with a CNC machine shop? Read this. Our Value Added Services Checklist examines the benefits a high-end machine shop should be bringing to a partnership.

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Ken Jones

About the Author

As a Sales Account Manager, Ken works with customers from RFQ to delivery. Ken is highly involved with new customers, quotes projects, works on the sales process, and is Stecker Machine's point person on HubSpot Sales. Ken began his career in carpentry and then worked 9 years as a CNC Machine Operator. Current SMC responsibilities also include estimating (costs/cycle times for new work).

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