Design considerations and best practices? Check. Raw materials? Check. Machine shop? That’s next. So how does one go about finding “the right stuff,” a shop with engineering expertise, reasonable pricing, quick turnaround, an online/interactive quoting system that includes design for manufacturability (DFM) analysis, and above all, the ability to make good parts on a consistent basis? Consider the following:
--Some shops specialize in low-volume and prototype parts, like PFT, while others are geared toward production runs in the tens of thousands and more. Determining which part volumes any given manufacturer is most competitive with is an important first step.
--The most efficient shops are those that use standardized processes and toolsets. These reduce setup times, tooling costs, and above all, surprises. Don’t be afraid to ask a shop what makes it tick.
--Standard toolsets, however, come at a cost. For example, a lathe or machining center with a fixed number of tools may need to make those tools perform double-duty—using an end mill to drill a hole, for instance, or a grooving tool to turn a journal or shaft. This approach, however, often produces the low cost or fast turnaround you need.
--Look for a shop that can see the big picture and offers multiple manufacturing options. For instance, you might think that 3D printing is the clear path to quick delivery of prototype parts. This might be the case, but if your part design allows, machining is often a more affordable prototyping option. And what happens when part volumes rise? Designing parts for one specific manufacturing technology might very well paint you into an expensive corner. And, speaking of the big picture, make sure you also consider a supplier’s on-time delivery rate, its overall machining capacity, whether it is a service provider with in-house production vs. a broker, and its ability to scale from prototype quantities to low-volume production.
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