How to Find the Best CNC Router Service (3 Types of Shops)

How to Find the Best CNC Router Service (3 Types of Shops)
by Patrick Justice / June 23, 2022

CNC router services are in high demand for their ability to provide ultra-customized design details for a wide range of applications. A staple of modern industrial manufacturing, CNC machining has gained popularity in recent years with brands, architects, artists, designers, and makers of all kinds.

As versatile as CNC router services are, however, they aren’t all created equal.

Just as every CNC project has unique design and material specifications, CNC routing services have different capabilities. If you’re looking for the best CNC routing service, the right question to ask is: “Which is the best CNC routing service for my project?”

In this article, we’ll explore 3 types of CNC router services that are suitable for different project types, as well as what to look for in a CNC routing service, so you can leverage their expertise to get the highest quality results—and the most out of your budget.

What Does a CNC Router Service Do? 

CNC machining is a subtractive manufacturing process (meaning it removes material) that relies on computer-controlled machining tools. CNC stands for computer numerical control, which is an apt description for the pre-programmed, precision cutting and engraving tasks carried out by CNC equipment. CNC routers, CNC laser cutters, CNC mills, and CNC lathes are among the most common types of CNC equipment

CNC routers are guided by a computer program that directs spindles along machine tool paths to cut large panels of materials according to the desired design and shape. It's typically used for machining softer materials like plastic, acrylic, wood, and foam, as well as more malleable metals like aluminum, mild steel, bronze, and gold. However, there are heavy-duty routers with spindles that can operate at higher speeds and offer more power. With the right end mill bit and feed rate, a CNC router service can cut through any metal.

 

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Three Types of CNC Router Services 

CNC router services, just like the equipment they operate, come with different capabilities. Here, we’ll detail the 3 main types of CNC router services and the types of projects for which they are best suited.

1. CNC Router Services for Industrial Machining

As the term “industrial machining” implies, this type of CNC router service is generally intended for the large-scale manufacturing of metal products and parts. Powerful industrial CNC routers can shape any metal, including steel, with the right end mill and RPM.

A CNC router service for industrial machining is ideal for high-volume production. In other words, machines are programmed once and produce many copies of the same form.

The best projects for industrial CNC router services:

 

High-volume CNC projects

Industrial CNC router services are a cost-effective way to produce a large quantity of identical parts with a high-degree of accuracy and minimal waste. 

CNC projects that require tight tolerances or intricate patterns or shapes

The tolerance of a CNC machine refers to how much a cut dimension can divert from a given value, as specified for the form, function, and fit of a part. Tighter tolerances indicate a higher degree of precision and consistency—essential criteria for the manufacture of medical devices, electronics, automobiles, and other technology applications. A CNC router service for these types of products will often be subjected to strict regulatory requirements and quality standards.

Heavy-Duty Materials

CNC router services specializing in industrial manufacturing will have heavy-duty equipment capable of cutting a broader range of materials and thicknesses.

2. Local CNC Router Services and Hobbyists

While many CNC router services cater to large companies, there are also CNC shops that specialize in one-off projects for private individuals and small businesses. These services will typically have smaller CNC equipment that limits material choices, but can be the right fit for projects of minimal size and scope. Signage, dimensional lettering, and residential millwork are often jobs for a local CNC router service.

The best projects for small, local CNC router services:

 

Wood Cutting with Minimal Programming

A local CNC router service or hobbyist can be the right choice for small-scale projects using wood materials and simple programming. Examples include fireplace mantles, custom signage, and kits for patio furniture that include pre-built CAM or CAD files for CNC machining.

Simple Prototypes & Models

Smaller CNC router services and hobbyists won’t be the right option if you’re looking to produce high-fidelity product prototypes or precise replicas. However, if you’re just in need of a basic representation, this can be a cost-effective solution. For these types of projects, you may want to consider the benefits of 3D printing vs CNC machining.

Projects With Basic Finishes

Smaller CNC routing equipment can leave cut lines and other surface imperfections that require hand-finishing. And, smaller CNC router services won’t necessarily have the extra capabilities to provide the surface finish you need. If your project doesn’t require an elaborate, custom finish, a smaller, local shop may be a good fit.

3. CNC Router Services With Design & Fabrication Companies

CNC router services offered by full-service design and fabrication companies are a great option for complex projects requiring elaborate cuts, expert assembly, advanced engineering, and additional services, such as shipping and installation. 

Design and fabrication companies specialize in one-of-a-kind, often large-scale, projects for brands, artists, event venues, experiential marketing campaigns, and more. When your project needs to be elevated to perfection, the best full-service design and fabrication companies will not only have the most advanced CNC routing services, they will have an arsenal of other technologies and skills to ensure you’re getting the right solution at every step of the process.

 

The best projects for CNC router services with a design & fabrication company:

 

Complex Projects With Full-Service Needs

When creating exhibition designs with many complicated and intricate components, like trade show booths and museums, you need to ensure that everything in the final execution will be faithful to the design schematics. This can be quite challenging.

Brands or companies that regularly produce experiential marketing events as part of their overall business strategy can immensely benefit from CNC router services with a full range of design and fabrication capabilities, as they will have an experienced partner to streamline the entire process.

When Other Services Are Also Required

A custom corporate interior is a prime example of a complex project with CNC routing as only one need among many others. A partner with a broad range of capabilities can deliver much more than just quality CNC services for custom millwork, they can print office wall graphics, create art installations, build a bespoke reception desk or elevator lobby design, and more.

How to Find the Best CNC Router Service: 5 Questions To Ask

Find the best CNC router service for your needs by asking the following questions:

1. How Long Have You Been in Business?

Companies built on years of experience have already developed a streamlined project process, to ensure that work is delivered on time, has the highest quality, and is within budget. 

2.  Do You Supply Materials?  

CNC router services that supply materials have several advantages. The best CNC services will guide material selection and will offer their expertise in helping you prioritize cost, durability, aesthetics, and other key factors. They will have experience working with a wide variety of materials for CNC cutting, that may include metals, woods, plastics, composites, and foams. A quality CNC service will also have existing relationships with suppliers that can reduce costs and shipping times.

3. What CAM Software Do You Use?

When it comes to choosing a CNC router service, technical expertise matters. You’ll want a partner who can accept a variety of file types and translate them into an error-free, finished result. Unless they are designing your project from scratch, a CNC cutting service will ask for a digital file—often a CAD (Computer-Aided Design) file. Your CNC vendor will then use CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) software to translate the CAD file into toolpaths that drive the CNC equipment, turning your digital designs into physical parts. By asking about CAM capabilities, you’ll ensure all technical specifications are clearly addressed early in the process.

4. What Type of Equipment Do You Have?

Whether you're considering an industrial CNC router service, a local hobbyist, or a full-service design and fabrication company, look for a partner who specializes in the kind of project you have. The best way to find out is to ask about their CNC equipment.

5. What Additional Capabilities & Services Do You Offer?

CNC routing is often just one part of a complex project. What other requirements do you have? Address them early, so you're not left hanging when a particular need is beyond the scope of the CNC shop.

Finding the Best CNC Router Service

The best CNC router service is one that can deliver high-quality results and provide a streamlined process, based on all of your project parameters. Identifying the right partner early will allow you to leverage their expertise for design choices, material selection, finish options, and other key details. If your project requires more than basic CNC routing, consider the many benefits a single, full-service partner can bring.

To learn how a full-service, design and fabrication company can help you get the most out of your next project, schedule a no-pressure introduction to Bridgewater Studio today. We’ll customize a free project plan, so you’ll be set up for success from the start.

 

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Address the 10 key details in this checklist to get the most out of your CNC project. With thousands of full-service CNC projects completed, we know how to set them up for success – and now you can too.