CNC machining lead times explained: how to get your parts faster

16th Apr 2024
by Sam Brown

Lead time reduction


Time is money. Time is of the essence. Every minute counts. Whichever your preferred idiom, timing is undoubtedly a crucial factor in your role as a buyer of CNC machined components.

When speaking to customers and prospective customers, it’s clear what a crucial role CNC machining companies like Penta play in their supply chain. From production schedules to inventory management, and overall cost optimisation, lead times can be a linchpin of a successful manufacturing project.

Of course, it’s not as easy as just saying “Well let’s get a fast lead time”. Yes, that can be achieved but at what cost? Is it the quality of your component as it’s rushed through production? Or are you going to take a hit on the budget?

Perhaps it’s time for a bit more creativity! In this blog post, I’ll guide you through what sort of lead times you can expect from a CNC machining supplier plus I’ll share my top 5 tips for securing more favourable lead times.


What lead time should you expect?

To kick things off, I think it’s worth setting realistic expectations about expected lead times. Most reputable CNC machining companies won’t have the immediate capacity to fulfil urgent orders, unless at an absolute premium.

If a company is offering you almost instant delivery without a premium price tag, it might be a red flag. Are they up to the job or perhaps they’re misleading you about when they can deliver.

So, what is a sensible lead time? In my experience, the lead time for a good CNC machining company is typically between 4-6 weeks, although this can vary depending on the complexity of the component, the availability of materials, and the supplier’s workload.

Before I delve into my tips, I wanted to address the elephant in the room: the best way to secure a favourable lead time is…order in advance. By ordering early, the machining team can efficiently allocate resources, optimise scheduling, and address any potential challenges with ample time for resolution.

But of course, I know that’s not always possible so let’s look at some creative ways you can reduce your lead times…


How to secure a favourable lead time: top tips


1. Focus on your design and drawings

This may not be what you expected to see at the top of a list about securing good lead times. But you’d be surprised how often incomplete drawings or ineffective designs can hold up CNC machining projects.

The first point to note is that it’s essential to ensure you have clearly defined acceptable tolerances and surface finishes. You don’t want any grey areas that could be open to interpretation or leave the CNC machinist with questions that may hold up the process.

Secondly, it’s worth taking the time at the design stage to optimise it for more efficient machining. Design for manufacturability (DFM) is the process of optimising your design for more cost-effective machining without compromising on quality. Good DFM can save dozens of hours or more for bigger production quantities.


Technical drawings


2. Consider alternative buying methods

The two obvious buying methods are:

  • Placing an order every time you need parts and accepting whatever lead time the supplier is offering at the time.
  • Placing a bulk order so you have plenty of stock – but perhaps you don’t have the capital to do this.

However, there are three buying methods that often go under the radar but could effectively reduce your lead time to just 24 to 48 hours!

Which you choose will depend on your requirements. Let’s look at each one…

Call-off orders

This is where you place a large order of your machined components and then request portions of your order as you need them. This can give you great forward visibility with the added benefit of securing bulk prices.

Schedule orders

Similar to call-off orders, with the difference being that you agree a delivery schedule in advance with your supplier. It needs a bit more planning but is a great way of tying up your CNC machined part deliveries with other parts of your supply chain.

Production - parts lined up


Kanban orders

This is distinctively different from the other buying methods. It’s an example of a just-in-time (JIT) approach to inventory management, guaranteeing seamless production by initiating component replenishment precisely when required. Upon reaching a predetermined inventory level, the system alerts the machining supplier which will trigger the prompt refill of your components.


3. Opt for a one-stop shop

When selecting a CNC machining supplier, it’s worth considering one that provides a ‘one-stop-shop’ service. This is a supplier who manages the entire process, from ordering material to machining, coordinating coatings and finishing processes, inspection, and even assembly if required.

Not only can this notably reduce your lead times, but it can also streamline your production and reduce your personal workload. The onus for carefully orchestrating all the elements no longer falls to you but to the supplier. It can help mitigate the risk of delays and minimise potential complications.

A one-stop-shop service has the benefit of improving predictability when it comes to lead times as there are fewer moving parts for you to manage yourself.


4. Reshore

Were you previously enticed to choose an overseas supplier but it’s no longer paying off? I’m speaking to more and more companies who were previously tempted by the cheaper prices of offshoring but are suffering from extended lead times, disruption to their supply chain, and general unpredictability.


Global routes reshoring

Reshoring with a British manufacturer can offer a compelling solution to these problems. Domestic shipments of a couple of days will feel worlds apart from the six to eight weeks for sea freight from the Far East.

More predictability and stability in your delivery schedules will allow you to plan your production and sales cycles with greater confidence, a real stress-saver.


5. Build strong supplier relationships

This one might sound a bit “fluffier” but believe me, it’s one of the most effective strategies for managing lead times. The onus here is less on you communicating with your supplier and more on choosing a supplier who prioritises clear and consistent communication.

Whether it’s asking you the right questions at the quoting stage or keeping you in the loop during machining, open channels of communication can alleviate the time and mental burden of chasing your supplier.


Get a quote from Penta Precision

Occasional delays are unavoidable, but a reliable supplier should promptly communicate with you in such instances which will allow you to make the necessary adjustments in your production schedule.


What now?

If you are navigating the delicate yet demanding balance between lead time, cost, and quality of your CNC machined components, you’re in the right place.

We’ve put together a comprehensive e-book that will help you evaluate your priorities and provide you with all of our tips for maximising quality, reducing lead times and keeping costs in check – you can download it via the button below.



Want to book a Discovery Call with Penta?

Penta Precision is a one-stop shop CNC machining supplier who deliver CNC machined components with communication, care and consistency.

Book a Discovery call with us to discuss your next project here or email .