So you have built yourself a solid short-list of possible new Vendors, now it’s time to reach out and pre-qualify: Here are some questions to ask.

If you have already built a list using our previous post on “5 Simple Criteria for quickly building a new Vendor list“, it’s time to take the next step. Here are some questions that should get to the heart of whether you want this Vendor on your pre-qualified list.

1. How Busy are you?

Is the company hungry and desperate for work? Do they blow off your question with a joke? Companies that are actively hunting for work will be up-to-date with technology and hopefully are demonstrating their uniqueness and what they are capable of through social media or a blog! Being hungry means they will strive to go the extra mile and still have the quality and turnaround time you want, while being very competitive on price.

2. Can you work with X material we call for?

You will need to find out what the company’s capabilities and understandings are with different materials. This can be very important because some industries demand a capability in diverse materials from stainless steel to medical implantable plastics and hybrid materials such as inconel and invar. If they can’t work with your chosen material, strike them off the list.

3. What can you do In-house?

Similarly, what are their machining capabilities? It will be much more efficient to outsource to one company than to three, just for one project. What are their in-house and out-sourcing capabilities, hopefully saving on time and paperwork. If at all possible you want to make sure that the vendor you are considering will be able to handle the majority of your work in-house.

4. Are you a principal in the business?

You want to know if the higher ups at your possible supplier are available to talk. You want to make sure they have the knowledge and expertise to not only answer questions, but make suggestions on ways to trim costs or produce a more reliable product.

5. What is your process capability?

If all you get is silence on this question it’s time to move on. When attempting to assess whether a potential Machine Shop/CNC Vendor has reliable process capability, (in other words are they able to take a design and ensure that the correct resources and planning steps are in place) you want to hear about their understanding of the constraints and needs of both resource allocation and machining. A Vendor who can talk at length about their process of turning a drawing into a finished component will consistently deliver higher quality components with little to no non-conformity.

Conclusion: As you can see, there is more to qualifying a machine shop as a preferred vendor than just a website or clean floors – but if you ask the right questions you should easily be able to get a sense of whether a Vendor will consistently meet expectations or if it’s time to strike them off the list.