No matter where in the country you are, chances are theres a machine shop within 15 miles of you. Many times, working with a local shop is preferable, for ease of communication and transportation. However, these days you can set up a Skype meeting with your machinist and they can ship a full box of parts from coast to coast in two days for under 20 bucks.
Geographical location should not take precedence over choosing the right shop for the job.
While many shops work across several industries, there are many specialty shops out there who have experience and skills that can be relevant to your project. For example, our specialty is motorsports, so when we have a new client in racing, off-road, etc, there’s a lot of advantages to be had.
A Deeper Understanding of the Product
Often when clients approach a shop, they don’t have a full dimensioned drawing – maybe just a sketch on paper or an example part. When you choose a specialty shop, you’re working with someone who understands how the entire assembly works, so they can help provide proper tolerances to make sure you get parts both work perfectly and are economical to make.
Prior Experience With Your Parts
I’m going to speak from the perspective of Motorsports here – 90% of parts we make, for a range of different clients, fall into one of the following categories:
- Link – Cylinder of a given length and diameter, threaded in both ends
- Clevis – “U-shaped” part which assembles with a thru-pin or bolt, and either a female or male thread on the end
- Sleeve / Bushing – Cylindrical part used as a standoff or to adapt one diameter to another
- High Misalignment Spacer – Allows greater articulation of a heim joint
- Bung – Threaded part which is generally welded to the end of a tube
- Pin – Cylinder of a given length and diameter
With this in mind, if you bring your part to a specialized machine shop, they likely have made your exact part before, or something really close. This means that they already have all required tools, fixturing, and likely an existing program to work off of, which eliminates cost, time, and trouble, ultimately saving you money and reducing turnaround time.
Specialized Shops Across the Industry, From Race Cars to Wine
A great example of this is York Machine Works in St Helena, CA who built a strong following within the wine industry by machining custom components for fluid processing (such as venturis and flanges) as well as releasing their own product line. While each part is unique, the application is similar, allowing many parts to be designed and manufactured based on proven designs and on-hand materials.
So How Do I Find a Specialty Shop?
It’s actually really simple – just ask around. Often times parts companies who sub out their work tend to be a bit stingy when it comes to sharing the details of where their products are made, but if you have an existing relationship with a friend in the industry, just say “Hey look, I want to have this made. Know anyone?” If they make their products in-house, its likely that they also do contract manufacturing, and if they don’t, they probably know somebody.
Looking for a motorsports manufacturing shop? Shoot me an email, maybe we can work together.
Footnote: This is the first in a series of blog posts about manufacturing and product development for small and mid-size firms. If you’d like to follow these updates, please go give our Facebook page a like. Thanks!