It’s not always easy to find a precision CNC machine shop that can handle delicate projects. There’s a lot more than the skill required, and everyone claims to be the best. So, how do you know whether you’re working with a good CNC shop or not? We’re glad you ask. 

cnc machine shopWhat Is a Precision CNC Machine Shop?

CNC stands for “computer numerical control.” A CNC machine shop is where precision manufacturing takes place using programmed software and heavy-duty machinery. High-end tools such as industrial grinders, lathes, mills, and routers are commonly used by trained artisans.

The 7 Qualities of a CNC Champion 

If the shop you’re working with doesn’t have all 7 of these qualities, it may be time to reconsider their role in your project:

1. Thorough Review of the Project Specifications 

No two projects are the same, and any reputable CNC shop will respect that. Their staff should review the specs of your order carefully. Furthermore, the review process should be initiated soon enough to give plenty of time for questions on both sides. This is your time to collaborate, so don’t miss out. 

2. Order Confirmation Prior to Cutting 

Material cutting can only begin once the machine shop is on the same page as the customer. So, a final summary of the project specs should be presented and confirmed before anything starts. This is where you make final adjustments and sign the service contract in most cases. 

3. Efficient Speed and Consideration of Schedules 

Most precision CNC machine shops are busy filling demanding orders all year long. However, the best shops will either make room for you on the schedule or communicate the expected wait time before your project starts. Either way, the company should be as efficient as possible to accommodate your schedule. 

4. Legitimate Data Security Measures 

Private and /or personal data is often used to initiate contracts and create customized cuts, so work with a CNC machine shop that offers an extra layer of security. Encrypted websites and email addresses are also essential, especially when you plan to communicate remotely. 

5. Intellectual Property Protection 

The integrity of your creative designs and branded images should not be compromised for any reason. Alongside data security measures there should also be confidentiality clauses provided. If you suspect your intellectual property is at risk, request it back immediately and cancel services. 

6. Updated ITAR Certification 

ITAR certificates aren’t always necessary for civilian projects, but they’re mandatory when serving the defense community. Certification ensures the implementation of strict procedural regulations. It both controls and protects the technologies used and guarantees maximum efficacy for our national security. 

7. Job Success on the First Attempt 

With all those qualities in place, the shop you choose should achieve job success on the very first try. Rarely is there enough time, money, or material to attempt it more than once. However, try to be patient about unforeseen accidents and unpreventable circumstances. 

Keep in mind that quality CNC work isn’t cheap. Tooling is expensive and volume processes are generally inadequate for prototyping. Material costs should be factored into your budget as well. Talk to the shop you’re working with for more detailed pricing information. 

NOTE: Most manufacturers use only one material per machine, which could prolong the process and increase the cost. 

How to Save Money on Precision CNC Machining

There are several ways to keep some cash in your pocket when paying a precision CNC machine shop for services. Here are five foolproof money-saving tactics to get you started: 

  • Get lots of quotes.

Believe it or not, CNC shops are extremely competitive. Usually, their prices reflect that. Gather at least 3 to 5 project quotes before signing a service contract or paying for anything. 

  • Create an accurate project summary. 

Be prepared when asked important questions about your project. Accurate measurements and image dimensions are always required for successful completion, so don’t approach the shop without them. 

  • Reveal your proposed budget. 

Play hardball when discussing prices. Most companies don’t want to lose good business because of budgetary concerns. Let them know your parameters and try to be as inflexible as possible. 

  • Go over special project considerations. 

Every CNC project is different. Don’t expect the lathe operators to know exactly what’s in your mind. Talk about special features, creative ideas, and deal-breakers while gathering quotes. 

  • Ask about a satisfaction guarantee. 

Once the design specs leave your hand, it’s the CNC operator’s responsibility to complete the job successfully. Feel more confident about spending money by requesting a satisfaction guarantee.

For even more money-save opportunities, wait for company sales, look for online service discounts, and consider procuring your own materials. 

What to Ask the CNC Shop

Another attribute of a high-quality precision CNC machine shop is transparency. You should be able to ask any of the following questions and receive accurate and honest answers: 

  • Have you ever done a project like mine before? 
  • Do you have examples of your previous work for review? 
  • Can I see references from former customers? 
  • What documents and materials do you need from me?
  • Am I allowed to make changes to the initial concept and how is that done?
  • Are there any fees for canceling the project before it’s finished?
  • How long do you think this will take to complete? 

Remember, complex projects usually require more time to complete successfully. On average, the process takes a few days at least. Also, some of the answers to your questions may depend on your budget, schedule, and expectations. 

The Takeaway 

Quality precision CNC machine shops share the same basic characteristics. They’re dependable, accurate, timely, and efficient. They’re somewhat pricey, but you can get around that by doing your homework and making strategic moves. 

Don’t expect all shops to operate the same or offer similar services. Approach the situation ready for surprises and disappointments. Ask the right questions and seek security above all else. There’s no better way to work with the best than that. 

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