Top 5 Things to Insist on Prior to Subcontracting Precision Machining

When subcontracting precision machining, it is crucial to ensure that your partner has the right capabilities and internal desire to meet your industry and company specific requirements. Here are the top five things that will help give you peace of mind when ordering subcontracted turned and milled parts. You may be surprised to learn it’s not all about the machinery they have!! 

1. You are Important to them

Why It’s Important:

We have all heard the phrase ‘small fish in a big pond’ which is the last thing you want to be with your subcontractor. When you are placing work it is critical to know that the company really wants to do business with you. If you are just seen as one of many you won’t automatically get the levels of flexibility and proactive change you need when there are issues.    

What to Look For:

Comparable Customers:

Have a look at the subcontractor’s existing customer base and the amount of actual work they do for them. Visualise your company amongst them to gauge the amount of relative revenue you will be contributing. If your company would be a significant contributor to their portfolio, this can give you strong reassurance of your importance. 

Strategic Alignment:

Ask yourself the question, how does the subcontractor gain strategically from your partnership? It may be the case that your work facilitates a greater depth of sector penetration, or opens up new opportunities for them in one they want to establish. Ultimately, your life will be made easier if they have compelling reasons to serve you well.

2. They Have the ‘In-House’ Machinery Capability to Accurately Machine your Parts

Why It’s Important:

Precision and accuracy are non-negotiable in industries like aerospace, medical, automotive, electronics, and jewellery. Make sure your subcontractor is using the latest technologies to meet these exacting standards, and that they can machine parts of the actual sizes you require. Suppliers tend to operate within their own niche based on their capabilities and preferences. Typically, the core competence sits within the materials they process, the industries they operate in, and the optimum part sizes for their machines.  

What to Look For:

5-Axis Milling Machines for Milled Parts

Many subcontractors have 3 and 4-axis milling machines however only the higher-end ones invest in the more capable technology. These machines can handle intricate shapes and features in a single setup, reducing the need for multiple fixtures and repositioning, which ensures higher precision. 

Sliding Head Lathes for Turned Parts

These are the thoroughbreds of turning machines. Verify that they use guide bushing support to provide superior precision, particularly for small, intricate parts. Additionally, their ‘lights out’ running capability helps reduce your cost per unit.

CMM Capability:

Alongside having dedicated Quality Inspectors, it is critical that the measuring capability of the subcontractor is comparable to the work being undertaken. If the subcontractor has Computerised Measuring Machines with programmable probes this demonstrates a strong ability to measure accurately. Shadow Graphs also demonstrate a high level of competence in this area.  

3. Suitable Experience within the Business 

Why It’s Important:

If the business is experienced in a particular sector or type of work then it is likely they have the necessary process control in place. If this is coupled with experienced operators, mistakes and repeatable errors are far less likely. De-risk your supply chain by working with proven suppliers as opposed to business start-ups. If a business has been trading successfully for many decades it is more likely they will continue that progress with you.      

What to Look For:

ISO 9001:

Having a supplier with ISO 9001 certification ensures they adhere to internationally recognised quality management standards, enhancing product reliability. It indicates a commitment to continuous improvement and customer satisfaction, reducing the risk of defects and issues.

Industry-Specific Affiliations:

Being part of industry bodies such as the British Turned Parts Manufacturers Association (BTMA) demonstrates a commitment to quality, advanced technologies and industry thought leadership.

4. Sufficient Capacity for Your Work

Why It’s Important:

Too many companies sell without having the manufacturing or service capacity to deliver on time for their customers. To ensure delivery the subcontractor needs to understand the correct level of resources that are needed for their customers and plan their people, machinery, management structure and supply chain accordingly.  

What to Look For:

Dedicated Resource Planner:

Having a specialist in resourcing is a strong indicator that the subcontractor takes resource planning seriously. Planning resources to cover the current levels of work while maintaining sufficient capacity for short term demands is crucial to success. This person is critical to coordinating the forecasted sales requirement across budgeted headcount, supply chain capacity, skill levels, work queues and scheduling.    

Visible Management & Capacity Check:

When you walk around the factory, performance metrics should be visible across each function, for both the factory and back office. These indicate what is important to the day-to-day working life of the operational and service teams. If none or little are present this indicates a lack of focus which could be detrimental to your work. Measures of Productivity and Process Times are typically evident in strong subcontractors. Ask to see the actual working capacities and sense check how your work can be accommodated.

Key Suppliers Website Check:

If there is external processing of your work, find out who the subcontractor typically uses and look at their website. By having a quick look, you will be able to see if the work being undertaken will be comparable to the work you wish to be done. Ideally, you are looking for a company that invests in its services and has a keenness to demonstrate their capabilities through their website. If the website is poor, it is likely they are a smaller business without the service or process control you require.

5. Strong Back Office Support 

Why It’s Important:

When you place the order for your parts you want the piece of mind that the parts are going to be delivered on time, in full and to the correct quality standard. Therefore, it is important the subcontractor fully understands the context you are working within, why it’s important and has the internal resources in place to make it happen. If the company’s focus is purely on the manufacture of parts, you will find yourself dealing with little transparency and when delays occur you will experience a lack of ownership. Likewise, if the company is just focused on service without a controlled process, you will find yourself dealing with nice people with no real influence.

What to Look For:

MRP System:

Ensure your subcontractor uses an established system for the core processing of your work. Using a system creates a single view of the work which can be readily shared with customers. Additionally, having a system to control the processing of work has major benefits in terms of consistency and control. There are strong systems out there such as Redthorn and MieTrack which are specialist systems for those manufacturers in the engineering sector. 

Live Tracking System:

Look for subcontractors that have scanning systems in place to track work progress through the process. This live tracking enables Project Managers to compare planned versus actual progress highlighting issues that need proactive management.

Proactive Service Team:

No one person can ensure your project’s success, that is why it is critical to ensure you have named points of contact across the subcontractor’s business. These people collectively ensure your success. As part of the account set up process, you should have been given the key contacts with details of how to contact them. Being allocated a Project Manager to oversee all of your work and a day-to-day service contact are good indicators. Make sure you know who is the actual person who will be coordinating your work across internal production teams and external suppliers, they are your customer champions who will have the ability to improve lead times and fast track the resolution of issues.   

If you have a precision machining project you would like to discuss with us, we would be glad to help.