Whether it is your first design, or you are an old hand at manufacturing, choosing a CNC machining prototype service can be tough. While there will be no shortage of businesses available to you, it can be hard to tell them apart. There is also a lot on the line – pick a good one and it could be the start of a long and highly profitable working relationship; go with a bad one and the cost could be massive, both financially and in terms of missed opportunities.

CNC machining prototype service vs production service – what is the difference?

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Before we get into specifics on what makes a good CNC machining prototype service, we need to make an important distinction. While many machine shops will offer both prototyping and production, these are different services and require slightly different skills. Also, chances are that, even if a shop offers both a CNC machining prototype service, and can support large production runs, they will be stronger at one type of job.

Generally speaking, a shop that specializes in providing CNC machining prototype services will be better at analysis and providing advice. Usually, they will be experts in helping their clients tweak their designs to maximize ease of manufacture or minimize the impact on existing assembly processes. They will probably also have a strong focus on problem-solving and finding ways to turn a job around in the shortest possible time.

By contrast, a shop that does more production runs than CNC machining prototype services will be all about volume and efficiency. The cost will be a major driver of their business and probably the main reason their customers choose them. Also, as their primary focus is producing and delivering a set number of parts by a set date, customer communication may be less important.

As you can see, the differences between a CNC machining prototype service and a production service are subtle but important. Keeping this in mind as you research potential service providers will help make sure you choose a business that suits your specific requirements.

The technical elements of a good CNC machining prototype service

When choosing a CNC machining prototype service, the first thing you should look at is the shop’s technical abilities. Specifically, you should pay close attention to:

    • The type and variety of machines they use: When it comes to the tools used for a CNC machining prototype service, generally it is the newer, the better. CNC machines are quite expensive, so a shop with the latest and greatest tools clearly invests in their business. Having access to cutting edge tools should also mean they can provide a more innovative approach and a higher quality final product. That being said, it is not just the age of their machines that matters. Depending on the complexity of your design, multiple tools may be required to get you the result you are after. This means a good CNC machining prototype service provider will also have a range of machines in their shop.
    • Whether they can provide design support: Prototyping is all about testing designs and solving issues. A good CNC machining prototype service should be able to help you identify any issues and work out any kinks. They should also understand design for manufacturing and be able to help you optimize your design for production.
    • The materials they specialize in: Not all shops can machine all materials so you will need to make sure the CNC machining prototype service you choose has experience working with the material you require.
    • Their quality assurance processes: Sometimes the controls in place for prototyping are less stringent than applied to production runs. However, this should not be the case. A good CNC machining prototype service will be just as rigorous with their quality control, regardless of whether it is a prototype or a production part.

The service requirements of a good CNC machining prototype service

While the most experienced or best-equipped shop may seem like the obvious choice, a CNC machining prototype service is exactly that – a service. As such, it’s important that the shop you choose is just as adept at working with their customers as they are at turning out highly technical cuts. With that in mind, when choosing a CNC machining prototype service, remember to look at:

    • Their customer communication approach: A good CNC machining prototype service provider will understand that the process is often a collaboration between them and the client. They will have a clear approach to keep you updated and respond to any questions, concerns, or changes.
    • Where they actually do the work: Increasingly, CNC machining prototype services are being provided by international companies. While there are some benefits to producing your prototypes offshore, using a local shop is usually safest – particularly if you are operating on a tight timeline.
    • Who they have worked with previously: A business’s clients are a great indication of the service they provide. If a CNC machining prototype service provider regularly does work for market-leading clients in technical industries (e.g. aerospace, automotive, medicine), you can be fairly confident they provide a professional high-quality service.
    • Their business continuity arrangements: The last thing you want is to be left high and dry by your CNC machining prototype service. It is in your interest to make sure anyone you are considering working with has protections in place to guarantee the successful on-time delivery of your parts. This includes alternate suppliers for any materials required.
    • The cost of their services: At the end of the day, it may all come down to the price. However, you should keep in mind that, when it comes to a CNC machining prototype service, you usually get what you pay for. It is usually better to look for the best value for money rather than the cheapest service.

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