Prototyping vs Production and How We Stay Competitive

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    In the machining world, more often than not, you will find that machine shops lean more toward production jobs and many will not even look twice at a prototype job. Being new to this industry I had to familiarize myself with not only types of materials, vendors, lead times, and best practices, but also what sets my company apart from other machine shops in order to find out how to stay competitive in this fast paced industry.Before I go any further, let me break down some key terms for you.

    Prototype -Companies working with engineers are still designing and testing these parts to make sure they are developed correctly. Companies will send these out, usually in small quantities, in order to test them and make sure they are engineered correctly and that no new changes need to be made. This may happen over and over before the desired part is achieved.

    Because these parts are manufactured in smaller quantities, and need to be completed in shorter time frames, and may need to be made out of several material types and finishes, these parts are significantly more expensive to produce than parts that have been approved for production.

    Production – After prototypes have been tested and all parts of the design have been approved, the part enters the production or batch phase. Production jobs have quantities of over 50, into the thousands; with these types of jobs, a demand has already been secured and parts are often manufactured in batches to meet the demand.

    With higher quantities the setup costs are extended over the total amount of parts, the materials cost less per piece, and finishing minimum lot fees are met, making the price of each part substantially lower.

    Being a budding CNC machine shop, it is hard to compete with bigger companies when it comes to production jobs. Often times, we are either beat out on the price or simply cannot turn these high quantity jobs out as quick as bigger companies who are more equipped to do so. In order for Pioneer Cuts to stay competitive we have had to find ways to compete with bigger machine shops.

    Pioneer Cuts has used and is willing to machine parts from all types of material. Although aluminum is a very easy material to work with and is preferred in many machine shops, we understand that we have to be familiar with and be willing to produce parts from all types of materials.

    We work regularly with all metals including but not limited to aluminum, titanium, steel, stainless steel, and brass. Plastics are also worked with frequently and we have experience using all types including but not limited to acetal, nylon, polypropylene, UHMW, G10, and PEEK. Working with all types of materials gives us a competitive advantage because we know what types work best for each job and allow extra time for materials that may be harder to machine. We also work with many vendors and know which vendor specializes in each type of material and who can give us the lowest price for our customers.

    One of the things that I learned right off the bat in the machining industry is that rarely does everything go smoothly and run according to plan. Once the order is placed there are hiccups every step of the way, from getting material delivered on time, to getting parts back from metal finishing by their due date. I found out very quickly that in other shops there is not a huge emphasis placed on getting parts completed on time. We at Pioneer realized this and honed in on it.

    Our number one goal aside from producing amazing parts is making sure our orders are shipped to our customer at or before the time we promised them. This means that we have to constantly track every step of the process to guarantee on time delivery. We start by ordering materials and supplies from vendors who we trust and are familiar with their standard delivery routines. Just trusting that a vendor tells you that your material will arrive by a certain date is not enough. We do our due diligence to be in constant contact from the time the order is placed until it arrives at our facility. As soon as an issue arises with shipping we do whatever it takes to get our material on time, whether it be cancelling the order and ordering from a more expensive vendor who can get the material here faster, or even driving directly to where the material is located in order to obtain it.

    We are just as particular when choosing our finishing vendors to guarantee deadlines are met. Getting quote requests out to vendors right away to determine lead time is key when working with vendors.

    Once the material is acquired our awesome programmers and machinists work together side by side to make sure machining runs smoothly. If there are setbacks we work as a team to come in early, stay late, and do everything necessary to ensure jobs stay on schedule. We keep communication lines open to all customers, suppliers, and vendors to avoid any major setbacks, and for those that are unavoidable we reach out to our customers immediately to keep them updated and informed.

    Our company also specializes in parts with complex geometry. This is achieved by using the latest CAD and CAM software as well as using high RPM 3 and 4-axis machines that are equipped with high speed machining software and renishaw probe systems that enable our machinists to setup easier and allow parts to be inspected through all operations of machining. All of our machines are 2012 or newer. We carry a large stock of micro and specialty end mills which make even the toughest jobs quick turn possibilities.

    Pioneer Cuts bead blasts and tumble finishes in house. All other types of metal finishing is outsourced including but not limited to anodizing, chemical conversion coating, powder coating, electroless nickel plating, passivating, and heat treatment. Every part is inspected by our quality department and comes with a final inspection record.

    While we do not want to be excluded from production jobs we have found ways to stay competitive in our industry without having the luxury to rely on high quantity production jobs. Staying up to date on all of the latest technology, machining all types of materials, offering all material finishes, and being on time all the time have not only kept us in business but have given us a competitive edge in the world of CNC machining.

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