Exploiting Web-Based Resources to Launch a CNC Shop

Feb. 1, 2017 helped a tool designer and consultant to adopt in-house, customized CNC precision machining capability, and the skills and business tactics necessary to compete successfully in that sector.

Chris Swaim founded Arsenal Products, based in Austin, Texas, several years ago as a medical device-consulting firm. Using his background in mechanical engineering, he assisted research and development teams in early-stage device development, often taking responsibility for a specific component. He would send his designs to be manufactured by outside machine shops, but soon he saw this step as a business opportunity for his one-person company.

Swaim’s idea was that could create a new revenue stream by doing the machining himself. At first, he leased machine time at a local shop, to manufacture the components he designed. The venture proved personally satisfying, and it demonstrated that precision machining was a good source of additional revenue for the Arsenal.

For the next step, Swaim wanted to expand the precision machine shop side of his business.

The staff at another machine shop, where Swaim leased production time, advised him about, the online manufacturing marketplace that brings together buyers and suppliers. He reviewed the site and opened an account in February 2016. After training by’s customer support group, he started using the platform to bring in CNC machining work.

Swaim found that offered a large array of job opportunities, and he successfully bid on many. Then, his satisfied buyers sent him follow-on orders. The revenue he generated helped him to buy his own machine, open a machine shop on his firm’s premises, and hire his first employee—all within six months.

Today, Arsenal Products offers CNC precision-machined components using all types of standard and exotic materials. Swaim offers machining services using five different vertical CNC mills and two CNC lathes. In addition to its machining capabilities, the shop offers TIG welding services.

Arsenal’s business philosophy is centered on quick quotes, rapid turnaround times, fair prices, and high-quality components and services. It promotes its “concept to reality” approach to manufacturing, offering customers a portfolio of services from early-stage concept development and prototype testing to tooling, automation development, and component inspection and refinement.

Swaim credited’s customer support group and the platform’s quoting tool—ShopIQ—with his success. “helped me (to) start a successful American manufacturing business in six months,” according to Austin, Tex., entrepreneur Chris Swaim. “I think that says it all.”

“I don’t think I would have ever won a job on if it wasn’t for ShopIQ,” he recalled. “The shop hourly rate I was bidding was much higher than the rate successful bidders were offering. Having this kind of feedback helped me figure out a competitive shop rate for Arsenal.”

ShopIQ draws from’s historical database of RFQs, allowing shops to compare their quotes retroactively with all competitors, as well as the successful bidder. The tool generates a variety of reports for comparing the standing of a user’s quote versus competitors, awarded price(s), region(s), price compared to suppliers’ regional distribution, price compared to supplier certification, and average quote price compared to supplier company size. The tool also displays the user shop’s RFQ statistics.

How Pricing Stacks Up

The results offer the users a range of analytical standards to determine whether they are underbidding or overbidding, how their pricing stacks up against all competitors in a specific region, and the regions in which their RFQs are most competitive.

The level of detail allows manufacturers and suppliers to identify those jobs they are more likely to be awarded and offer bids more reflective of the marketplace. And, shops considering entering new business areas can project their likelihood of success, while limiting risk.

“ShopIQ is a revolutionary analytics tool that gives small to medium-size manufacturers the same analytical capabilities as ‘the big guys’ without the investment in staff, hardware, software, and other resources,” according to Bo Hagler, chief executive officer,

The ShopIQ analytics convinced Arsenal Products’ Chris Swaim to reduce his bidding level, and recalls, “While it was difficult to do work at the reduced rate initially, it helped me to win jobs and establish a reputation with buyers in the marketplace. Without ShopIQ, I always would have been overbidding and never known it.

“When it comes to overseas suppliers, I know I can’t even come close,” Swaim continued. “I may pay 12 dollars just for the material per part, and they quote 10 dollars per part. So, I also use the ShopIQ data to see where a buyer is awarding work. If most work goes to Asian suppliers, there is no room for me to compete. So, I save time and increase my chances for success by being selective in the quotes I prepare and submit.”

ShopIQ is one of several recent updates to that have helped entrepreneurial machinists like Swaim. Other innovations launched recently include supplier location verification and buyer reputation scorecards. Collectively, these improvements have added transparency and boosted confidence in the platform.

“It helped me start a successful American manufacturing business in six months. I think that says it all,” Swaim reflected recently. When asked if he would recommend again for business startup and growth, he did not hesitate to say yes.