Choosing a new CNC vendor is challenging. Evaluating a current CNC machine shop relationship is equally important (and even tougher) because a relationship has developed. This vendor may have been a trusted extension of your team for quite a while, so seeing a clear picture isn’t always easy.
When do you know it’s time to evaluate a current CNC machine shop relationship? Have you properly monitored this vendor’s performance so you can make a wise choice? How can you add one to your list (or drop one)?
One thing you know for sure: if you’re experiencing headaches, frustration, and wasted dollars, sticking with the status quo is a mistake.
This article covers the warning signals that should raise a red flag for you. They may spark a change from your current CNC shop or just an expansion of your CNC vendor list. Plus, you’ll get advice on what to look for in potential CNC machine shop partners.
8 Warning Signs That a Change is Needed
- Quality is suffering — When we recently shared the top six tips for selecting a CNC supplier, “focus on quality” was #1. That shouldn’t be a shocker. Precision machining is the most important reason a product succeeds.
Reject mediocrity! If your CNC machine shop vendor is slipping in any aspect of the manufacturing process — size, shape, finish, tolerance, material, delivery, etc. — it’s time to scrutinize their documented quality system, including product inspections, to ensure parts meet your specifications.
Look for a CNC vendor that proudly and publicly shares successful projects in its social media, within its blog posts, and on its website. Confidence like that is usually supported by solid performance.
- Delivery is unpredictable — Time is critical to any business operation, especially when supply chain challenges continue to create chaos. Delays from a CNC vendor throw off a manufacturer's delivery to customers, which is a real problem.
If you’re seeing more instances of lead times being pushed or even missed, you need to hold that CNC machine shop accountable. Ask these questions:
- How are orders tracked?
- Is there a delivery guarantee?
- What efforts help ensure on-time delivery?
- What is their record on delivering complex orders?
- Focus isn’t on solving problems — Some suppliers perform tasks and nothing more. Yet, the best ones not only consider a partner’s needs today, they invest in long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.
Yes, capabilities are important (see #5 below), but there should also be a dedication to being proactive, not reactive, and quickly adapting to your suggested changes. If your CNC machine shop isn’t truly invested, doesn't share industry insights, and won’t focus on future results, it may be time to search for a higher level of supplier, one that solves pain points and addresses real issues.
- Vision is short-term — Continuing the thought above on “focus on future results,” being able to see the long-term value in a trusted CNC vendor is vital. That’s why choosing a shop based on price alone is an ultimate waste of time, effort, and money. You’ll no doubt soon be searching for another vendor to fix the poor quality done the first time.
I hope that doesn’t sound too familiar, but it’s a reality in every industry. Low price means low quality. Instead, think about a future of value-added benefits, which should be considered when the discussion is cost. Building a true relationship with a CNC vendor ensures they’ll be motivated to exceed your expectations.
- Capabilities are lacking — This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a really big red flag. You may not even realize that your current vendor doesn’t have the capabilities you need to fulfill your upcoming projects. A quick check is to compare your CNC vendor’s facilities with others. Large shops usually indicate many CNC machines, an ability to handle high-volume orders, and a positive outlook for future longevity and success.
Evaluate the many aspects of a CNC shop’s capabilities:
- Volume — Consistently machining large amounts of high-quality parts means a shop has a reliable supply of castings, long-standing foundry relationships, and often secures good prices on castings.
- Complexity — Many things can contribute to a part being “complex” … casting weight/size, fixturing, tolerance, part material, assembly, pressure testing, and more. Some CNC shops search out complex projects that other machine shops won’t touch.
- Engineering — Having a true in-house engineering department — with expertise in design, tooling vendor knowledge, process improvement, and fixture making — helps reduce cycle times, increase repeatability, and drive overall quality.
- Cost Reduction — Upfront investment costs (a new casting setup, a material change, or a new robotic machining center, for instance) create ROI that can pay off within months given the right productivity. Significant cost savings are passed to customers within transparent shops, so you know where you stand.
- Service — Only large CNC machine shops can boast about having an effective customer service department or can assign a project manager for each project. This next-level service can make a huge difference when comparing vendors.
- Equipment is old — It’s smart for a shop to have reliable machines available for everyday or repeat projects, which naturally means using some old equipment. After all, CNC machining centers have automated the production of mechanical parts, driving efficiency, increasing throughput, and maintaining consistent quality for decades.
However, a CNC machine shop can't trust complex new projects to outdated equipment. As historically impressive as the industry’s top brands have been — Toyota, Mori Seiki, Mazak, Haas, Makino, Okuma, etc. — equipment’s age does matter. Older machinery’s wear can make it more prone to breakdown, causing delays in the process. As available technology inspires CNC equipment and software, newer machines have proven to be more efficient and durable.
As vital as the right CNC operators are within a machine shop, newer CNC machines are the key to maximizing productivity from integration with additional equipment and software.
- Certifications are out-of-date (or nonexistent) — Finding a manufacturing partner that operates to high standards should be mandatory. It proves an ability to offer high-quality products/services, to stress customer support, and to prove its capabilities.
While ISO 9001 certification is entirely voluntary, it conveys a shop’s philosophy and operating standards. Even more telling is if that shop has maintained that level of operation over time. Certification met for 1998 standards (but not recertified to meet 2008 or 2015 standards) should be questioned. Demand that a shop be certified to ISO 9001:2015.
For CNC vendors involved in the automotive industry supply chain and assembly process, the certification to look for is IATF 16949:2016.
Lastly, a CNC shop should have multiple processes for checking its performance. Ask how calibrated inspection equipment verifies its precision machining and what digital reports are produced after inspecting products.
- Case studies are few and far between — Success stories are exciting to share and give quick snapshots of a machine shop’s capabilities and culture. Not only do they provide an inside look at services offered, they provide a glimpse at how future projects will likely be approached.
Being “too busy with current work” is no excuse for failing to have case studies to show. The same can be said for customer testimonials. The country’s top shops celebrate achievements and also put effort into marketing themselves by sharing great work.
To help you best choose your next CNC vendor, review Our Value Added Services Checklist, an eye-opening look at the benefits a high-end machine shop brings to a partnership. Click the link below to get your copy.