My North American facility is looking at a major shut down this fall. In the area, three other large facilities are also doing either shutdowns or expansions in the fall.

A last minute project that I have been assigned requires a couple of weeks of machining custom components. This is an issue as none of the local machine shops are likely to be able to fit the work within their schedule in the required time frame.

At this point I think my only option is to start looking beyond the local shops. What should one look for when trying to source non-local machining? Are there any red flags to look for when talking to a shop?

  • $\begingroup$ Myles - I have edited your question to make it a bit more constructive. I'm not certain that this question fully fits within the scope of the site, but we have had other questions about machining that have been well enough received. $\endgroup$ – user16 Jun 17 '15 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ @GlenH7 Thanks for the edit. The last part won't work here? I'd want to know if this level of business is the norm in North America or if it's just my locale. $\endgroup$ – Myles Jun 17 '15 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ Myles - not really. StackExchange aims to build lasting value for future visitors. Asking about current shop activity levels is purely ephemeral and heavily localized. Neither of which contribute to creating lasting content. Asking about shop activity levels is better asked in Engineering Chat. $\endgroup$ – user16 Jun 17 '15 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ @GlenH7 That's unfortunate, all SE chat is inaccessible for me at work and with the coming shut down my wife has forbidden work outside of work hours until absolutely necessary. $\endgroup$ – Myles Jun 17 '15 at 21:56

I've dealt with this in many ways. Ultimately, here is what I look for when I have to go beyond local sourcing of custom parts:

  1. Responsiveness. You can have the best website in the world, but unless I know you are there for me when I need to change anything, I can't rely on you.
  2. Questioning. The best vendors I have for custom pieces ask questions and explain to me every step of the way, so I know exactly what's going on, and what they might want to change.
  3. Compliance with my specifications. Ultimately, if it is really complicated, I draw up a specification. If they question my spec, that's a good thing. If they quote and except themselves from my spec, that's a bad thing.
  4. Openness to visit. Your local machine shop is usually willing to let you come in for a visit. Your non-local machine shop should do the same.
  5. Quote comes in with an honest lead time. Ultimately, if it isn't there on time, it isn't there. Make sure they state lead time and are willing to back it up.
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    $\begingroup$ Depending on how critical the parts you're outsourcing are, I would also ask for a copy of the company's Quality Control Manual as part of the bid and consider the possibility of hiring a third party inspector as well. You could also decide to only qualify bidders who meed ISO 9001 - it doesn't prove much but means that at a minimum, they understand what a quality control process is supposed to be. $\endgroup$ – Ethan48 Jun 18 '15 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ Great answer! Especially the point regarding excepting themselves from spec. Currently in this situation because all vendors excluded themselves from providing the specified internals for a pressure vessel replacement. $\endgroup$ – Myles Jun 18 '15 at 15:14

At very highly level the three areas that need to manage are scope, cost and time also known as the triple constraints.

Make sure the sponsor clearly defined the project. It is highly unlikely that the sponsor will document the scope. Therefore you need to document the scope and get some type of agreement from the sponsor. An e-mail might be a good start.

Make sure all drawings and other documents are clear with sufficient details. Recently I encountered there was a situation where specification state, use ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), without any other details. These types of situations create confusion, delay, and unnecessary costs.

Make sure your sponsor, you and the vendor clearly understand the project related cost. It is good to request for quotes from multiple sources, and understand all the deliverable. Considering the current situation expect pay more than the market price. It is good idea to have about a 10% buffer.

Make sure the machine shop clearly understand the project timing. Don’t push the machine shops, they may agree to timing that they are unable to fulfill. Make an attempt to have regular communication with the vendor. This is very important.

It might be a good idea to seek recommendations from your current local machine shops.


  • $\begingroup$ Good project advice. I'm not sure about why you included the "Follow your dreams" reference as it seems completely irrelevant to the question. Can you clarify why that advice would seem appropriate in this situation? $\endgroup$ – Myles Jun 18 '15 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ That's an amusing interpretation. Solving technical problems is following my dream. I recently left a career that I hated (teaching) to do what I had studied in school and felt passionate about (engineering). I came here for advice because I want to be awesome at my job not because I felt overwhelmed or hopeless. $\endgroup$ – Myles Jun 18 '15 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Myles That is great that you are enjoying your work regardless of the situation. Enjoying your work is the most important part. $\endgroup$ – Mahendra Gunawardena Jun 18 '15 at 22:52

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