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Where Are My Parts? – An Insider’s Point of View

When trying to find the right service bureau to fit your company’s needs there are a number of factors to consider before and during your search.

By Chad Buchanan, Cummins, Inc.

Don’t try to deny it. We have all ordered parts from a service bureau at one time or another and experienced the anxiety of wondering where our parts are. At that point you either got your parts at the last minute or you got the dreaded call, “Houston, we have a problem.” So, how do you find the perfect service bureau that never has to say "We're sorry."?

The bottom line is that no service bureau is perfect. They can’t be. Why not? Rapid prototyping machines are not perfect. Crashes can happen in the last hour of a 36-hour build. Can you restart? Maybe, maybe not. If not, the delivery is missed.

Once you acknowledge this realization, it’s time to implement methods within your shop to minimize your risks. Choosing the right service bureau and creating a good working relationship will make those missed deliveries few and far between. Which service bureau should you choose? Well, that’s a loaded question that only you can answer. To ensure the right decision, there are certain factors to consider and questions to ask.

  • Don’t worry about the location of the service bureau because it’s not an issue anymore – not since the introduction of next day air deliveries and the increasing reduction in file transmission times.
  • The lowest part price is not always the best value. Think about the total cost, including lost value due to late deliveries or poor quality. Consistent high quality and on-time delivery will more than make up for a small cost difference.
  • Does the service bureau have the ability to accept your native CAD format? Many hassles, headaches and effort can be avoided when both of you are speaking the same language.
  • Does the service bureau have a reliable, high-speed connection? Try a few sample file transfers on different days. You want their line to be faster than yours.
  • How does the service bureau quote parts? Is it a spreadsheet, computer program or other quantifiable method? If so, the pricing will be consistent. At service bureaus that do not use this type of approach, you may see up to a 25 percent price differential depending on who did the quotation.
  • Does the service bureau have at least two rapid prototyping technologies? This will allow the “best method” to be used rather than trying to build a part out of a process that is convenient, but not optimal.
  • Does the service bureau have urethane casting ability? Even if you normally do not use urethanes, this is a great option to have available. Urethanes can be a cost-effective option when doing multiple prototypes.
  • How often does the service bureau outsource to other service bureaus? When (not if) this occurs, who do they use? Will you be told when another company produces your part?
  • Will you have one point of contact for everything? Demand this. The process is much simpler and faster when you routinely contact one person that knows your processes and applications. You also will benefit from the ownership and responsibility that the individual has for your work.
  • At what percent of capacity does the service bureau normally run? High utilization is good for the service bureau’s profits, but may cause longer leadtimes on your parts. Look for a maximum utilization of 70 to 80 percent.
  • If you plan on being a small consumer of rapid prototyping, choose a smaller service bureau. The larger service bureaus won’t turn down your business, but they may focus their attention on the larger customers. It’s the old question. “Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?” Being one of a service bureau’s top 20 customers will get you some preferential treatment.

You want your chosen service bureau and its respective account manager to enjoy doing business with you. Of course they want your money, but they also want to make their money without the hassles of working with a difficult client. The easier you are to do business with, the better service they will provide.

  • Build a good working relationship from the very beginning. This is just as much your responsibility as it is theirs. To fall into the trap that “they should do all of the work because they are the supplier” is detrimental to you in the long run.
  • If possible, have one person within your company coordinate all of your rapid prototyping orders. Just as you want one point of contact at the service bureau, they will appreciate having one point of contact at your company.
  • Take a few minutes to review your files before you send them. Use whatever tools you have available to check the quality of your data. This small investment will yield a large payback. Data problems are one of the most common causes of delays.
  • Agree on what file format you will send. Send the same format every time. If you deviate let them know.
  • Transfer files in the same way every time. Make sure that you put them in the proper folder on the FTP site or e-mail them to the correct account. Compressing your files before sending them is helpful in reducing the transmission time.
  • Clearly communicate the intended application of the prototypes and any special considerations. When a service bureau knows what you are trying to do, it can provide better solutions and help you avoid problems.
  • If there is a change to the order or the design, contact the service bureau immediately. Parts are typically turned around so quickly that even a small delay can mean that your parts are already built or are building.
  • For faster delivery, do not wait until the end of the day to send data and confirm the order. This is especially true on Fridays and the day before a holiday. Service bureaus receive a lot of orders at this time. If you send out the work in the morning, you will beat the rush and get your parts sooner.
  • If possible, utilize a purchasing card. (This works just like a credit card.) This will greatly simplify the billing procedure and shorten part delivery time because the service bureau is not waiting on a purchase order to ship your parts.

Service bureaus vary greatly in size, capability and quality, therefore you need to evaluate and choose one that will serve your needs. Just remember that while your chosen service bureau will not be perfect, a good working relationship is as much your responsibility as it is theirs.


Contact information:
printer friendly version Todd Grimm
T. A. Grimm & Associates, Inc.
3028 Beth Court, Edgewood, Kentucky 41017
Phone: (859) 331-5340      Fax: (859) 514-9721


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