I'm sure many of you have heard of eMachineShop. For those who haven't,
here is how it works: you go to their web site and install their CAD
software. The software can provide you a quote instantly on parts or
materials that you design, with a variety of options for delivery time,
materials, and quantity discounts.
This seems to be far more efficient and modern than the classic machine
shop method of calling through the phone book, faxing sketches around,
and so on. It seems like eMachineShop lowers the barriers for the
hobbyist and prototyper by providing an all in one solution.
Will eMachineShop and services like it put anyone out of business? Or
are they simply tapping into a new market? Is anyone thinking about
setting up a website like eMachineShop?
My opinion is that as long as one is forced to submit
designs via a proprietary format the potential market will
be quite limited. Anyone (me for instance) who has spent a
couple months modeling a design in a parametric CAD
package, in order to create an accurate 3D model with
linked detail drawings, is not going to spend more time
redrawing the parts with klunky software just to get a
quote. Or to find out that the part simply can't be created
with the system.
The service may work for the occasional customer who is
content to draw a simple part and doesn't require part
documentation (as far as I can tell eMachineShop's software
does not create dimensioned drawings.)
Neat idea and perhaps a good start, but useless to me at
this point. If the system were smart enough to accept
native 3D CAD models then they'd have something really
slick. While the current system must represent a
considerable investment, what I'm suggesting would be an
Nothing ever springs forth fully developed. If there is a demand, a product
soon will be forthcoming.
One of the problems with a lot of CAD drawings is that the draftsman
"cheats" the CAD by drawing something approximately and then manually
dimensioning it correctly. The paper drawing is fine, but the CAD file is
full of "bugs."
If someone has a specialized CAD program or some sort of translator for
common commercial CAD programs that automates the bridge between the drawing
and the CNC program, it will start turning up in the industry as shops
seeking to improve efficiency and shorten turn-around buy it.
Of course, the early versions of any such things will not be without their
I have made a great deal of use of a similar service for circuit boards.
You use the company's propriatary layout program, e-mail them your finished
design and the UPS guy hands you your finished boards a couple days later.
It's cheap and a great way to make a proto or one of. But it hardly
replaces the conventional board houses who can do far more sophisticated
The small machine shop has one huge advantage: the machinist can talk to
the mechanical designer (customer). Many mechanical designers are glorified
draftsmen who couldn't find the power switch on a Bridgeport. We all know
that it is very easy to design something that is very hard (read, costly) to
make. A little communication can go a long way toward making a customer
satisfied and keeping him coming back.
My take: There is a niche for "eMachineShop" type operations, but they're
not going to make much of a dent in the typical shop's business.
And, if there is a significant demand for such services, it won't be long
before reasonably priced tools become available to enable the local shops to
I tried to get a few parts made but couldn't get through their CAD program.
It took me about 20 tries to get the drawing right, then when it came time
to detail which tools were going to be used I had no idea what the options
meant. If their had been a local machine shop to go to it would have taken
me half as long and I would have had a finished product.
I have drafting experience, have read a lot about machining, but have never
operated a lathe or mill.
I think their software can import DXF. Of course that may be useless if
you have a complex 3-d part. But still, I can see it being good enough
for a lot of people.
I know for a fact that many machine shops out there have a web site and
the ability to provide quotes on line from a CAD file. Why are they not
taking the next step and doing something like eMachineShop? Is the
market too unprofitable? Or is it plain luddism?
"Soon" seems awfully optimistic. Based on the fact that
reliable translation between CAD packages, for which
there's a huge demand, hasn't improved in twenty years (in
fact the prevalence of 3D modelers has made things worse),
I'd say that even "someday" might be optimistic for a
system that can accept data from 3 or 4 of the most common
modelers and generate code reliably. You have to remember
that you're shooting at a moving target in the form of
proprietary file formats that are changing every 6 to 12
It's pretty easy to create an accurate solid model of a
simple prismatic part of the complexity that eMachineShop
is capable of producing. Surface models of "swoopy" shapes
are another matter entirely.
Aren't you describing an ordinary CAD to CAM translator?
I wonder if eMachineShop didn't model themselves after this
sort of service?
Have you tried eMachineShop's software? It does, for
example, attempt to help you decide which process is
appropriate for the part you're creating based on geometry
and material, and will tell you if you attempt to include a
feature that can't be made, or is difficult to produce.
Pretty ambitious, though I found the current implementation
rather flaky. It would do things like recommend a switch
from laser cutting to water jet, then inform you that water
jet is incomaptible with the specified material.
I think you're right. I've played with the software and for
something like a plate with a bunch of holes, importing a
dxf seems to work fine.
Do you think the quoting is automated, or is someone
opening the file and manually generating a quote, or some
combination of the two?
I suspect it's a combination of a perception that it's not
a large market, along with the fact that it's not an easy
thing to do. It appears to me that eMachineshop has made a
large commitment to date, and while what they've
accomplished is impressive, has a long way to go.
The quoting at eMachineShop is fully automated. The recent Wired
magazine article mentions how it's done.
I'm not a professional machinist, and don't know exactly how quoting is
done in the online world. I assume that an experienced person takes a
look at the design or CAD file and gives a quote based upon lead time,
quantity ordered, current workload, and machining complexity. More
complicated parts may require CAM and a CNC simulator for quoting.
Am I missing anything in there?
My two main machinists for robot parts are in Nevada (for waterjetting)
and Wisconsin (everything else), while I live in Georgia. Right now we
get everything done through e-mail. These guys do good work at a great
price. I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this.
I have had a few parts quoted on E-Machineshop. They are returned
much too fast for it to be a human.
At present, they are not a viable option for me. I owe them a debt of
gratitude, because their quotes were so high, I bought DRO's, and a
new 6-jaw chuck, learned to run my machines better, and are now making
the parts myself.
It would have been nice if it has worked out.My problem with local
shops is not prices/part, but quantities. 10-20 pieces. What they
guys really want to do is to load up their CNC's and go watch Oprah, I
guess. Whatever the issue, I did not appreciate being told to GFMS.
I am having waterjet cutting done, which elimnates a few steps and
reduces material removal for me.
I'd wager there is a push to change proprietary formats in order to force
customers to contunue using a certain software. There's really only so much
difference between two CADCAM programs. They all let you draw parts, they
all let you cut them on any machine. Other than specific software taylored
to a specific industry...
I can imagine that these surfaces would be virtually impossible to quote
automatically anyway. I have spent days taking machined surfaces to mirror
finishes using stones and emery cloth. Certain applications cannot tolerate
I think the idea of trying to get software to infer what a designer/engineer
has in mind (or what the appliction demands) is ludacris. The worst case
sceanario is that you get people like Iggy who don't really understand what
they're tying to make and have no idea how to make it trying to use software
to design workpieces.
Perhaps I'm being a stickler becuase I firmly believe things should be done
*right*. This software could do for manufacturing what the internet has done
for literature. Now any idiot can instantly publish their own work in front
of an audience of millions (are we at billions yet?) of people for next to
nothing -and it certainly doesn't have to be correct, or even good.
ME degrees and machinist apprenticeships aren't 3-4 years long just for
"Will eMachineShop and services like it put anyone out of business? Or
are they simply tapping into a new market?"
Emachineshop is certainly NOT going to put any decent machineshop out
of business. Their software is pretty much limited to 2D (I belive they
call it "2-1/2 D"). Their service and supply chains are terrible, and
their lead times are OUTRAGEOUS.
See my writeup here: