Almost all industrial manufacturers deal with machine shops in some form or another.  A typical scenario is that a manufacturer will provide their print (or that of their customer) to a machine shop to fabricate a component or sub-component.  In the manufacturing law world, business to business disputes with machine shops outnumber those up the supply chain.

For that reason, I was particularly interested in a recent blog post by Peter Zelinski, who is Editor-in-Chief of Modern Machine ShopThe blog post, “10 Reasons Why Machine Shops Vary So Much in Quoted Pricing,” is an interesting read as it identifies factors as to why there is a variation in quotes from machine shops for identical machining work.  Two of the factors identified that I thought were interesting were entitled “interpretation” and “qualification.”  First, that one machine shop might quote a higher price because of their interpretation of the job (which another shop might interpret differently).  Second, one machine shop might quote a higher price in an effort to recoup costs associated with qualifying for a certain industry.

From a manufacturing law perspective, here are a few best practices for dealing with machine shops.

First, like everything else, you often get what you paid for.  A “low bidder” mentality – particularly if you are in a highly regulated space like aerospace – can lead to problems down the line particularly when the machined parts are out of specification.  Do your terms and conditions have audit / inspection rights?  How long do you have to complain about parts being out of specification and what is your relief?

Second, it is important to protect your intellectual property (read:  processes, know-how, etc.).  Manufacturers should ensure that their terms and conditions are clear on who owns the intellectual property being provided to a machine shop.  While that might seem simple when it comes to a print, it becomes less clear when you are talking about processes – particularly when the machine shop wishes to adopt those processes for other customers.

Finally, read the fine print if the machine shop has its own terms and conditions.  What happens if your customer cancels the order?  Can you then cancel the order placed with the machine shop?  Do you have to pay a termination fee?  This is where a manufacturer is faced with the dreaded “battle of the forms” (we have written several blog posts on this) where your T&Cs are in conflict with that of your supplier.