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Pros and Cons of Shops, Service Bureaus, and Manufacturing Networks

Whether deciding between individual shops, service bureaus, or all-in-one manufacturing networks, here’s what to look for when deciding where to bring your parts.

Serena Ngoh - Xometry Contributor
By Serena Ngoh
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There are many options available for custom manufacturing parts. Designers and engineers are typically focused on the process and materials to use as well as how to design a part to be manufacturable. But another key question, often left to purchasing managers and directors, is “Where should I get my parts made?”

Individual shops often have specialized tooling for one or two processes. For example, a machine shop may run mills and lathes, whereas a fabrication shop may focus on sheet metal brakes, punches, and dies. Service bureaus typically offer a selection of materials and processes. A 3D printing services bureau may have platforms for several additive manufacturing processes like SLS, FDM, and SLA. Manufacturing networks utilize a marketplace of shops and service bureaus to combine a large variety of processes, materials, and customization options under one umbrella and often in one online platform. Here’s what to look for when deciding where to bring your parts.

Pros and Cons of Service Bureaus

Service bureaus are the gold standard when you want your parts fast and at a competitive cost. 3D printing service bureaus may house dozens of industrial 3D printing equipment and stock materials. Because of this, you may receive parts with higher levels of redundancy and standardization.

However, the advantages of service bureaus are also their Achilles’ heel. Service bureaus’ hyperfocus on speed and cost-efficiency may come at the cost of customization. This means that the supplier may not take as many complex jobs, and will consider things that are outside of their tolerance range, dimensions, and specifications as “non-standard.” The parts you order may come back as more simplified, and you may have to compromise on your project needs.

Pros and Cons of Individual Shops

While job shops can be more flexible to your needs,—machinists or fabricators can provide personalized feedback on your parts and efficient machining strategies—shops with a limited number of machinists and machines may not be able to provide this value when your manufacturing needs scale. or overwhelming your job shop’s capacity limit with returning work.

Individual shops, such as a CNC machine shop, can often be flexible with project requirements and needs by engineering project-specific solutions. For example, small sub-assemblies and fabrications may be achievable through a shop for a turn-key solution. Unlike a service bureau, a shop works on fewer active projects and may require minimum quantities to achieve minimum material or lot requirements. Shops often are manually estimating work, which can take days or weeks to fully price a complex project.

Pros and Cons of Manufacturing Networks

Manufacturing networks are the best of both worlds: they unite thousands of job shops, service bureaus, and other vendors like injection molding, urethane casting, and die casting shops in a single online platform. Manufacturing as a service, another name for manufacturing networks, can offer high customization at low quantities, instant quoting, a large variety of alloys, plastics, polyamides, and even live and online design resources.

However, one disadvantage is that while flexibility exists pre-sale, there can sometimes be a middle-man delay between the buyer and direct manufacturer on any post-order requests. Multiple processes in a single order may arrive in different packages if the parts were sourced to several suppliers on the network.

Logistically, manufacturing networks also allow your designs to be sent to multiple vendors in parallel to maintain consistent lead times and ensure delivery faster. With a network, there is an almost limitless capacity to fill so you don’t have to worry about single-handedly overwhelming your go-to vendor with jobs nor compete with other local engineering and design companies for capacity.

With your local shop or service bureau, there may be back and forth in the quoting process, but with a manufacturing network like Xometry, you can upload a CAD file and instantly get a price and lead time in one step. This cuts hours or even days of waiting for a quote.

And in contrast to machine shops, a wide variety of both job shops and bureaus with varying capabilities means that your job can be sent to those who are the best fit for the job, so you can achieve a high level of customization without sacrificing quality, speed, and cost. With a global network, it’s likely that you’ll source shops with open capacity that are willing to take on jobs with no minimum quantity.

With manufacturing platforms like Xometry, you can request certifications and inspection reports like CMM inspection and FAI inspection. These parts will ship from the shop or service bureau to the manufacturing network platform itself, which has an external QA team in place to independently assure the quality of your parts. Large manufacturing platforms like Xometry may also offer secondary finishing services for parts already made, tapping into the same network to finish parts that are already made.

Xometry as the Manufacturing Network for Custom Parts

Whether your part needs to be printed, machined, or you’re still choosing manufacturing processes, you’re likely to receive the advantages (and few of the disadvantages) of both a machine shop and a service bureau through a manufacturing network like Xometry. Xometry’s manufacturing network unites over 3,000 suppliers globally and offers all the processes, materialssupplies, and customization options you need to make your parts. And if you do not know what material, process, or type of manufacturer you need, speaking with Xometry’s sales and engineering team for a free consultation can help put you in the right direction.

If you’re ready to try the power and reach of a manufacturing network, get an instant quote through Xometry’s all-in-one quoting platform today.

Serena Ngoh - Xometry Contributor
Serena Ngoh
I write about Xometry and all things manufacturing. You might also see me hosting webinars, designing infographics, producing videos, and working directly with customers to tell their manufacturing success stories. Reach out if you'd like to share yours!