Jack Halenkamp at Mazak in Florence, Kentucky, noted what he believes is a misconception between the cost of a CNC machine and the expected achievable, maintainable and predictable accuracy.
“Most CNC machines can make good parts if you have a stable setup, good tooling, program and material, which includes the condition of the shop floor the machine is installed on,” he said. “It takes all parts working together to make consistently good parts every day. Take short cuts on any of these items and you will pay for it in the long run with continuous rework.”
The most important aspect of the modern business, whether an automotive machine shop or other small business, is efficiency, said Tim Whitley from T&S Machine Tools in Gainesville, Texas, whose company spends as much time as possible in the field with its customers to help promote efficiency.
“It’s interesting that a shop owner won’t think twice about adding a new employee when business picks up, but he looks at the price tag on a machine and immediately backs up,” he said. “One employee is more expensive monthly than a CNC blueprint system, and, if the shop is busy, the machine will make the current employees efficient enough to pay for a new employee if they want one.”
Whitley recommends finding a niche, no matter what it is. Shops that find one, he added, have the most lucrative businesses. “It seems they invariably have taken advantage of the vast business found on the Internet. These owners control their time and generally do less local business,” he said. “Developing an effective website can drastically change the way a shop does business.”
For any machining, OEM production of vehicles that are lasting substantially longer has affected the industry in a “very negative way,” with considerably lower numbers of shops than just a few decades ago, said Randy Neal from CWT Industries, Norcross, Georgia. But it’s not all bad news.
“Changing the demand-to-supply ratio and the requirements of much tighter machine tolerances has allowed survivors the opportunity to price themselves into a legitimate business, with opportunities to invest in new technology and receive a good return on those investments,” he said. “There are a limited amount of shops that are still functioning with marginal equipment and low-ball prices, but they are doomed.”