3D engineering design services
"At the end of the day, I was the one selling it," Shuppert says. "I was the one training on it, installing it, fixing it, and I asked myself ‘Why am I doing all that and only getting a percentage of it?’ It didn't make sense anymore."
With that realization, just a few weeks after asking his wife to marry him, Shuppert quit his steady job to start CAD/CAM Services. Originally, the company was simply an extension of what he had been doing for others, and so it didn't seem too risky, despite the timing.
"I knew where to buy the equipment," Shuppert explains. "I knew all the other parts of it. So, to me, it wasn't a big deal. One thing led to another, and about thirty years ago, I started getting into the services side of it more. Many years ago, somebody wanted to come to work for me but said he didn't really want to go out and sell, and do all the other stuff, but that he knew how to do CAD/CAM work. It allowed me to get my feet wet back then and see how it worked. When I looked at hardware profit margins, and the profit margins on the services side, it seemed kind of silly to continue to try to sell hardware, when if you perform a service, and you do it right, then it's done."
For the last 25 years or so, those design services have taken over as the focus of the company. Now, from his 10,000-square-foot facility, Shuppert says, "The services side is where we're at specifically, and that's the bulk of what we do. We provide 3D CAD services to the big DOD primes. We make data. That's what we do."
He estimates that 90 to 95 percent of the company's business today is Department of Defense or aerospace related, designing and updating major components for a variety of complex projects. Often, the company provides dedicated workers at its facility to a specific company to handle overflow design work for short or long periods.
"Most of the time, with the way the internet has changed the way we do business, they don't need people on site," Shuppert says of these businesses. "We'll have video meetings with the client every couple of days, and we're more efficient, we're faster, and we're cheaper than it is for them to do it in-house. So, the whole idea of outsourcing has been a really good success story for us."
CAD/CAM Services' broad capabilities and expertise in a wide variety of software puts the company in a rarified position with little to no direct competition in supplying customers with the specifications and 3D computer drawings needed to manufacture whatever parts they're creating. "Most of the time, the main competition is 'Do we do this in-house, or do we send it out?'" Shuppert says. "That's the decision customers have to make."
Being in that rather exclusive position, finding qualified, experienced employees can be difficult, as most people well versed in the specific skills needed for the various operating systems are in high demand at manufacturing companies. Mitigating that somewhat is the fact that over the years, CAD/CAM Services has developed a good working relationship with the University of Texas at Arlington that allows them to put out the call for near graduate students, or recent graduates, in mechanical and aerospace engineering to work on specific projects.
Reverse engineering of parts to recreate or improve them is another important area of CAD/CAM Services' work. "With the advent of good 3D scanners, which are really just recently coming into the market, if you give me a physical part, we can scan that with handheld scanners to within five-thousandths of an inch," Shuppert says. "We do a lot of that. Either we scan it, or the client scans it, and we turn that data into a 3D CAD model."
CAD/CAM Services does not have an outside sales force, and Shuppert says the company probably never will. "Most of our new business comes from our website," he continues. "We've spent a lot of time, effort, and money on that, and it's paid off for us bigtime. It's the only marketing vehicle that I've ever seen work because we're a specialized service. If you're an engineering manager and you're under the gun, the first place you're going to look is online."
Challenges: "We wish the economy were stronger," Shuppert says. "And we wish more manufacturing would stay in the U.S."
Opportunities: CAD outsourcing demand is growing exponentially and is expected to continue to do so. "That's a great position to be in," says Shuppert. "That's where our growth potential is. It doesn't matter where you are. With video meetings and all that, it's easy. That's why we don't build software, and we don't sell hardware. It's a distraction to us."
Additionally, the advent of 3D printing manufacturing is opening new design options for stronger, less expensive construction of parts that CAD/CAM is exploring through DfAM, or Design for Additive Manufacturing, which helps choose the most efficient, cost-effective way to create a part.
Needs: To continue to encourage and inform potential customers of the advantages of outsourcing their design work, either temporarily or permanently, for more efficient operations.