Industrial customers need to know exactly who they are trusting to make their parts. There are several factors beyond price to consider when choosing a machining vendor. Many shops quote attractive pricing and aggressive delivery dates in order to secure work and sometimes these shops deliver but in many cases they don't. When things go bad a customer can find themselves dealing with scheduling headaches, cost overruns, financial penalties, legal problems and even a damaged reputation.
There is a tendency at times for purchasers to identify price as their primary criteria for selecting a specific shop for a project. There's no denying that price is important but there are several other factors that need to be given consideration before a customer issues their purchase orders.
The first thing that springs to mind when we discuss machine shop production capabilities is machinery. A shop should offer their customers access to a variety of machines and machining capacity that meets their production requirements. Having the right machine for the job helps shops avoid costly setups and quality issues. Having access to more machines and modern equipment can help a shop avoid scheduling conflicts, minimize downtime and eliminate late deliveries. Ultimately a well equipped shop will produce high quality parts faster at lower costs to the customer.
Beyond machine capacity a buyer should also ask questions about a shop's production facilities. What sort of cranes are available and what is their lift capacity. How easy is it for trucks to access the shop and how big is the entrance to their production facility? What technology does the shop employ to help them manage their tooling and machining processes? What design software are they using?
All these things will have an impact on a shop's ability to deliver. Buyers should look at what they are getting for their money and ensure a vendor is capable of producing their parts before choosing a machine shop based only on their pricing.
The best equipment in the world is useless if you don't have the right people in place to run it. A shop needs to employ skilled machinists, experienced management and support personnel that have a proven track record in the production of quality parts. Skilled workers provide a high level of workmanship, technical skills, industry knowledge and troubleshooting capabilities that can prove invaluable.
Manufacturing is a complicated process. There are many moving parts in any given project that all need to be monitored and managed from the initial engineering stage all the way through to shipping the finished product. A modern machine shop needs to have the systems in place to ensure their projects progress smoothly, on schedule and within budget.
An ERP ( Enterprise Resource Planning ) or MRP ( Manufacturing Resource Planning ) program needs to be in use. These programs give a shop the tools required to digitally process and monitor every aspect of a project. A good resource planning system will manage estimating, production planning, material procurement, budget, quality assurance, documentation & traceability, shipping and accounting. A shop that still relies on spreadsheets to manage their production will find it difficult to keep up with the needs of today's industrial customers.
A shop should also have a QMS ( Quality Management System ) in place. Simply put, a quality management system documents how a company functions and it lays out the benchmarks and goals a business strives to achieve with regards to performance. A company's QMS can be as complicated as a certified ISO manual or as simple as a few pages that detail a company's critical procedures. The QMS is designed to guide a machine shop through every step of a project with the ultimate result being control, consistency, quality and a focus on continued improvement.
Safety and Security
Many industrial customers won't work with a shop that doesn't have a strong workplace safety program. Machining is a dangerous business with a high risk factor for serious injury or even death. Buyers should always consider a shop's safety culture and their safety record before trusting them as a partner.
Security has always been important to industrial customers and engineering firms but its become even more critical in recent years as the industrial community has become more reliant on technology. It is now common place for customers to communicate and share sensitive information such as part drawings and contracts digitally between themselves and their suppliers. Machine shops need to prove that they have the systems and policies in place to ensure their customer's data is safe. Buyers should be asking shops about the status of their IT systems, what tools and policies they have in place to protect themselves from cyber attacks or data theft and exactly where and how their data is backed up and stored.
Stability and Diversification
Industrial customers need to work with machine shops that they trust will be around for the long term. Sometimes a shop that relies on winning bids with low price quotes and razor thin margins can find themselves in financial difficulty when a job costs more to complete than expected or if a customer is slow to pay. Customers need to know that their selected vendors are financially stable.
Its also good for customers to choose machine shops that have a diversified customer base. When a shop only works with a small amount of customers or when they focus on doing work for a specific industry they leave themselves exposed. One customer leaving or a downturn in the industry they service can be devastating. In addition, a machine shop that relies on work from a small group of customers will understandably give those customers priority. It may be difficult for these types of shops to schedule work from a new customer which can lead to slow delivery.