Author Topic: Finding a CNC Supplier  (Read 801 times)

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Offline dani_

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Finding a CNC Supplier
« on: Tue, 04 February 2020, 01:19:34 »
Hi all,

I have some questions for those of you in the community who have experience working with Chinese-based suppliers. Just for context, I'm working on a design that I'd eventually like to at least prototype if not produce in small numbers if there's interest. There's still a lot of work to be done including a 3D-printed prototype, but I'd like to start the process of looking for a CNC supplier since I know it can take a while. I've gotten a few preliminary quotes from domestic suppliers (I'm in the US) just to get an idea but they've been prohibitively expensive, so off to China it is.

Having talked to some seasoned GB runners at the LA meetup a couple months ago, I understand that specific suppliers are a closely held secret. I would appreciate specific recommendations but I totally get why most people are unwilling to do that. What would be extremely helpful though would be your process for finding and evaluating suppliers. Obviously punching "CNC aluminum prototyping" into alibaba yields thousands of results. How do you narrow your search and what do you look for when talking to suppliers? What kinds of issues should I anticipate in terms of quality, scheduling, or import/export hassle?

Finally, do you have any experience with US-based suppliers with operations in China? For instance, Fictiv, xometry, and some other rapid prototyping shops have an "economy" or "overseas" option for Chinese manufacturing. Has anyone used these?

Thanks in advance!

Offline Leslieann

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Re: Finding a CNC Supplier
« Reply #1 on: Tue, 04 February 2020, 02:56:39 »
The problem with US companies is not that it's really a closely held secret, it may seem that way, and some people do actively work to make it that way but for the most part, most of them simply don't know how to market themselves. MANY, MANY cnc/fabrication shops are run, operated and owned by older guys who simply have not kept up on what is happening. So long as money is coming in, they don't care, and when it's not coming in an expensive website is just an added expense they don't think they need and even if they spring for it could be months before it does anything for them. They are stuck in a perpetual loop based on old thinking. It's amazing to see a shop with all new latest and greatest machines, but they freak out when you even mention "metric". One flat out rejected our cad files because they were metric.

The companies that do know how to market are backlogged for months, the ones who can't are desperate for money but you can't find them. The backlogged ones will charge an arm and a leg because they want production, not prototype work, it takes more effort for the same pay. If you know anyone in the industry, ask them, they may know someone who is hungry for work, some hackerspaces/makerspaces can also be a source of info. Worst case, find one who isn't looking and try to catch one of the employees on break, some will take side jobs but they also may know someone who is looking for work.  When we were looking we talked to other manufacturers (who actually did tell us who they used), shops, friends, friends of friends, we eventually found one to prototype then transferred to a larger one that they recommended for production. If you do find someone, you can do quite quite well, but it can take a while.

China...
China can market and they can do good work, don't let anyone say otherwise. We found some on Alibaba then just started messaging companies to see what they could do for us. We did get our parts, but it was a process. You may get annoyed at how long it takes to find someone local and then weeks or moths to get your parts, especially when China is an email and 3 days shipping away, but trust me when I say this, IT WILL NOT be significantly faster, easier or cheaper in the end.

Finding someone reputable is a problem, bigger companies often have someone living there during manufacturing as it's the only way to ensure quality even when they have found someone, even Apple has trouble here so you stand even less chance. There is no accountability, it's like working with the mob, you wanted fur coats, they brought you fur coats but in child sizes. Too bad, pay us. If you don't like it, there is 50 other companies behind you waiting for their services, "NEXT!" And this is before you deal with logistics of shipping something of decent weight and the even larger issue of the language barrier.  If you do get the right company and the product made how you want, yes, it works great and it's cheap, getting to that point however can bankrupt you. That still may not be the end of it though, if you do find one and they like your product, beware, they may take your design and start selling it, possibly for what you paid and before your product even arrives at the dock. I have seen this happen first hand, it destroyed that guys business before it even got started, and worse, it triggered a whole slew of copy cats that pretty much destroyed a small home grown industry.

We started off looking at half Chinese for our cheaper stuff, by the time we were done we were using less than 1/4, of those half of them had a US based representative we could talk to. It cost us more, almost as much as a US maker, but it eliminated a LOT of communications problems. After fighting to get a point across, it's liberating to make a phone call and have it resolved in seconds.

My advice, reconsider the US option, if you do go China take your time and do your research. DO NOT use Western Union, no matter how much they insist, in fact if they start talking about that, don't walk, run far away. There is a lot of shady companies over there, there's no enforcement and they all LOVE Western Union. A reputable company will take Pay Pal or something similar, if not a credit card. The latter is safer in getting your money back, but also easiest for them to steal, so it's a toss up.
Filco MJ2 L.E. w/Vortex case, hand milled case, custom feet, custom paint, Klaxxon key caps, lubed and o-ringed Jailhouse Blues made from vintage Cherry MX Blues, HID Liberator, stainless steel universal plate, 3d printed adapters, removable cord, sound dampened. Winkey blockoff plate | Magicforce 68 w/Outemu Blues |KBT Race S L.E. w/Ergo-Clears, custom WASD keyset | Das Pro w/browns (Costar model) | IBM Model M (x2)

Offline DALExSNAIL

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Re: Finding a CNC Supplier
« Reply #2 on: Tue, 04 February 2020, 10:19:18 »
US Road is a tough one....Almost all of my quotes for prototypes have been above $1k for a 5mm plate, then China has quoted me around $200. But I do understand what you're saying, the QC on that $200 quote, I expect to be incredibly shoddy.

Offline dani_

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Re: Finding a CNC Supplier
« Reply #3 on: Tue, 04 February 2020, 12:01:07 »
Interesting, thanks for the insights. That does confirm my main concern with using a Chinese supplier which is that I'd have very little leverage in resolving any disputes. I'm less concerned about quality to be honest because so far in my experience (PCB fab, laser cutting, 3D printing) China has mostly outperformed domestic shops. The stakes for milling are so much higher though due to the costs.

I'll send out emails to the local shops though my hopes aren't high because most of the local industry is defense and bio-tech, able to shell out huge sums for prototyping. I expect that next to them, my order will be pretty unappealing...

Offline mikenogo

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Re: Finding a CNC Supplier
« Reply #4 on: Tue, 04 February 2020, 12:35:59 »
Unless you personally know someone in China to help you find a reputable manu or have some sort of connection, it's going to be a hard road for anyone. Even Chinese runners have trouble keeping their manu in check. Imagine that.

Offline Leslieann

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Re: Finding a CNC Supplier
« Reply #5 on: Tue, 04 February 2020, 21:49:23 »
I'll send out emails to the local shops though my hopes aren't high because most of the local industry is defense and bio-tech, able to shell out huge sums for prototyping. I expect that next to them, my order will be pretty unappealing...
This is another issue US manufacturers have, especially where aerospace/military is big.
These shops become addicted to that easy money and in the end their business becomes depending on that one contract. A simple product change by the company, a new head of purchasing, shift in management or direction and your entire business is now toast.

Don't rush things.
Seriously, this is not a 2 week or even a 2 month process, it could be 6 months or even a year depending on your drive before you're holding a functional model in your hands. If you plan on selling it, expect double that before you start shipping a final product, and that is conservative.


By the way, if you can design your keyboard around one or two extra parts but most of it can be laser cut or water jetted instead of cnc you will have a MUCH easier time finding a shop to do it. It may cost a bit more for material but you save money on labor and machine time, and it's a whole lot less hassle finding a shop willing to do it in a reasonable amount of time.  We never had a problem finding shops to do this sort of work and I don't think it was ever more than a 2 week lead time on anything. You may not get the keyboard you want, but you might get it faster and close enough for a lot less money and hassle if you go this route.
Filco MJ2 L.E. w/Vortex case, hand milled case, custom feet, custom paint, Klaxxon key caps, lubed and o-ringed Jailhouse Blues made from vintage Cherry MX Blues, HID Liberator, stainless steel universal plate, 3d printed adapters, removable cord, sound dampened. Winkey blockoff plate | Magicforce 68 w/Outemu Blues |KBT Race S L.E. w/Ergo-Clears, custom WASD keyset | Das Pro w/browns (Costar model) | IBM Model M (x2)