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Producing parts with eMachineShop

Sep 06, 20043 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Design and order custom parts with online machine shop

Despite all the hype about new business models that was spouted during the dot-com bubble, the fact is that new business models are a guaranteed consequence of an online, high-bandwidth culture – it just turns out that they are more complex and more subtle in their implementation than people imagined back when eyeballs mattered more than profits.

A good example of this is a Web-delivered service called, which I think exemplifies not only the value and immediacy of online business but also how specialists can create niche business and extend their market reach. It also underlines how complex creating such a service is. is a fabulous idea. Say you need a custom object fabricated, such as a bronze gear wheel, a plastic cover, or an aluminum bracket. Where do you go? Perhaps you use a local machine shop, but how do you specify what you want? Do you own computer-aided design (CAD) software? Does your local machine shop itemize all of the services and fabrication methods available? Can they quote for delivery of 10, 100, or 1,000 pieces? How good are their prices? can not only provide the fabrication options and estimating, it even provides you with CAD software. Its design tool supports a pretty extensive range of drawing facilities and has all of the pricing data built in. You download the CAD tool from its Web site and design your “part.” When you have finished you select the finishes and other fabrication parameters and then get a quote – all within the one application.

The CAD program has a complex database for rules about how parts can be fabricated, what sequence of machining is required, advice about finishes and production, and pricing of all materials and processes.

This is a really ambitious service but the software shows its youth by being inadequately documented, occasionally running very slow (even on a 1.8-GHz Pentium 4 with 512M bytes of RAM) or crashing, and lacking a few key features such as support for aligning objects in drawings. It also has a pop-up that asks you for feedback about your satisfaction (a really smart thing to include) which has failed to connect to the Web site every time I used it (a really dumb thing).

To use the eMachineShop service you have to submit your design using its software, but if you are more familiar with other CAD products then you can import a design in DXF format into eMachineShop’s software.

Check out the example parts it shows on its Web site and the pricing – once you get your part designed and the job submitted the costs for volume runs are impressively low.

Watch this company – despite the problems I discovered it is a great example of how production-on-demand through a completely automated service based on a Web application will be appearing in all sorts of online businesses in the near future. VCs take note: This is the stuff to invest in.


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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