It’s Time To Stop Calling Contract Manufacturers “Machine Shops”

contract manufacturers

The precision machining industry has come a long way in a short time. In the past few decades, many shops grew from small teams built around institutional knowledge to digitally driven, automated companies solving complex problems with innovative solutions. Precision machining companies of today are investing heavily in digital technologies and automation to allow for lights-out machining and real-time documentation, visibility, and accountability throughout each process. 

So why hasn’t the terminology used to refer to these companies caught up? The term “machine shop” no longer does justice to the high-level services contract manufacturers like RPI provide. 

Why “Machine Shop” Is an Outdated Term

Our capabilities at RPI are far more sophisticated than those of a standard machine shop. We invest in cutting-edge technologies to provide holistic, efficient solutions to every customer. Our machinists achieve incredibly tight tolerances with highly complex equipment, which requires a substantial amount of in-depth training and GD&T knowledge. 

And our work doesn’t end when the machining operations are complete. Complex production runs require intensive documentation and rigorous inspection processes to ensure mission-critical parts meet the strict requirements of industries like space, defense, and medical.

We take pride in machining intricate components that contribute to medical devices, as well as fighter jets, airplanes, and satellites taking to the air, and the terminology we use to describe ourselves should reflect that. 

Referring to ourselves as a machine shop diminishes the technically complex, holistic manufacturing solutions we provide. It gives customers the wrong idea about the quality and depth of services they receive when working with a precision machining company like RPI.

From “Machine Shop” to “Contract Manufacturer” 

RPI is not alone in moving away from the term “machine shop.” 

Like it or not, there are stigmas about machine shops: Machine shops rely exclusively on institutional knowledge or tribal knowledge. Machine shops lack processes & procedures and the discipline to drive them. Machine shops have limited capabilities. Machine shops offer minimal training. Machine shops are reluctant to adopt new technologies. Of course, these assumptions aren’t always correct, but that doesn’t stop people from making them. And we certainly don’t want them to affect perceptions of our company. 

As traditional machine shops consolidate or go out of business, we believe many precision machining companies will  transition into becoming contract manufacturers—just like we’re doing here at RPI. Our work environment relies on processes that are carefully documented. Automation (lights out machining) and data driven decisions are relied upon to constantly improve throughput and efficiencies. 

This shift represents so much more than a change in terminology. It represents our determination to improve continuously, embrace new technologies, challenge ourselves to evolve, and ultimately find better ways to serve our customers.

RPI Is Championing Change—You Should, Too

The precision machining industry has overcome many challenges in recent decades—what’s one more? Our terminology should reflect our capabilities so customers feel confident bringing sophisticated, mission-critical assemblies to our doors. 

When we call ourselves a contract manufacturer, we emphasize that we are a reliable and savvy machining partner who keeps your best interests at heart—and has the capabilities to bring your most challenging parts to life.

At RPI, we strive to be better today than we were yesterday. Request a quote to experience the difference first-hand.