Machine Design surveyed some of its readers to better understand how engineers use custom components. Results show 85% of engineers rely on custom parts, which have a median price of about $500. And while many designers specify low-cost custom items like fasteners, switches, and connectors, others spec in custom motor and power supplies, as well as structural parts and machined subassemblies.
Custom parts can range from specialty washers to oversized tires for limited-production off-road equipment, and prices vary accordingly. Our survey shows that prices do indeed vary widely when it comes to the custom parts engineers specify for their designs, with the median being about $500. A vast majority of designers (85%) rely on custom parts, and over half (59%) use them in designs at least every six months. Companies that want to sell more custom parts should work on lowering prices, speeding delivery, making ordering more simple, and then guaranteeing it all. Over two-thirds of the engineering respondents say that getting the right combination of features is the main reason they order and use custom components. Price, materials, and saving manufacturing time each motivate about 5% of engineers to seek out custom parts. Although most engineers seem to have little problem ordering custom parts, almost a third say suppliers make it “much more” difficult to get custom parts than standard versions. But only a small minority (1%) say that ordering custom parts is so onerous they don’t do it anymore. Engineers usually get what they ask for when they order custom parts, according to our survey. But 5% say they aren’t getting what they ordered. Engineers want their custom parts delivered in only a week longer than what it takes to get a standard part. A more-lenient third will give companies a month. Engineers ask suppliers to customize a range of parts, even software. But machined subassemblies are the most commonly ordered customized component, cited by over half the responding engineers. And although 3D printing is a relatively new technology, almost one in five engineers are using it in their designs. Closer is better when it comes to companies supplying custom parts. But a small slice of the engineering population says they prefer to use foreign suppliers for their custom parts.