8 Reasons Engineers Should Spend Their Free Time In The Machine Shop


machine shop 1950s

8. Machinists will often need to alter your part to machine some of the features.  Work through this together and you’ll both be happier.

7. When you first bring your drawing to the machine shop, it’s common to scribble notes and explain what’s “not that critical.”  This is a valuable exercise, but take the time to alter the drawing in your design software before giving it back to the machine shop.

6. For many parts, the machining costs are 5X or 10X the cost of the raw materials.  Planning with a machinist can reduce the material costs.

5. When you send your part to be machined, you will (hopefully) get the exact part you drew.  Great, except that your part needed 4 unique tooling setups and 15 different bits.  Walk through this process with the machinist.

4. Often, adjusting relatively unimportant features of your part will make it half as difficult to machine.

3. You can draw a lot of things in Pro/E and SolidWorks that you can’t make in the real world.

2. Machinists know more about machining parts than you do.  Say it with me … Machinists know more about machining parts than you do.

1. Learn from Machinists.  They have made thousands of parts and seen amazing design solutions.  They always have creative input.

What tips have you learned while hanging around the machine shop?

(Picture of a 1950′s Volkswagen Plant.  Courtesy

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39 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Engineers don’t have free time.

  2. @OlhoNaTV says:

    It’s so free time!

  3. anonymous says:

    Working as a machinist part time has given me a lot of insight as an engineer :)

  4. Anonymous says:

    My Grandfather was a machinist
    My father was a machinist
    I made the leap to engineering and never build anything without consulting them first. two generations of experience beats an expensive 4 year degree every time

    • Anonymous says:

      Wow, 2 life times of real world experience beat 4 years of abstract learning

    • joe says:

      machinist will out do engineers anyday

    • joe says:

      what to do about those armchair engineers/machinists that know everything there is to know ?

      and cant produce a single part…..

      there a ton of those guys out there and i happen to blessed by working for one LOL

  5. Loved your post. We commented on it on our blog:

  6. Gopan says:

    Physical verification at shopfloor with machinist is an ideal way to work than listening to oral statements

  7. peter olivier says:

    How does one reverse engineer wisdom or experience?!
    If you consider a potter who decides upon a design,and then digs the clay from the river side,prepares it,then turns it upon the oldest machine on earth(all this,with already Having decided upon heat treatment and glazing etc.)
    This scenario I call engineering!
    Engineers need to realize that without having touched the medium,and having an aversion to dirty hands,equates to total ignorance!We do not need theorists,we need active and dynamic artists!Start were it begins?

  8. Anonymous says:

    #2 is dead on. As far as free time, I always seem to find plenty of designers at trade shows with beers in their hands, but all the machinists are still at the shop working.

  9. Anonymous says:

    In Japan, every mechanical engineer must be a machinst for 5 years before going to engineering school. And then why are Jap cars better you wonder?

  10. Anonymous says:


    What part is BS? Please defend your position, if possible.

  11. Daniel says:

    My engineering coursework makes us design and then machine an air engine so we know the constraints and difficulty that machinists encounter. I would hope other school demand the same

  12. [...] an engineer, do you spend enough time in the machine shop?” The person posting the item listed 8 reasons why engineers should. In my case, my past background on the shop floor has been extremely valuable in my eventually [...]

  13. John Yater says:

    It is invaluable for an engineer to get out and visit the place where the work actually happens. Whether it is a machine shop, weld shop, wood shop or the sort, the place where work is performed is full of opportunities for an engineer to learn. To be able to watch your designs come to life, to see first hand what problems the workers are having will give you great insight when designing in the future. If you are able to keep your ego in check long enough to observe and listen, you may find solutions to those problems from the people experiencing them.

    And let’s face it those engineers that think that they are too busy to visit the shop, also think that they already know it all.

  14. machinist says:

    my dad made the prototypes for the apollo back in the 60′s he worked with an engineer standing next to him most of the day LOL

  15. foxcross says:

    I think ALL mechanical engineers should be required to have a machining degree on top of their engineering degree!!! Oh and to take away their zero button on their key boards :P

  16. Matt says:

    I’m working on a degree in experimental physics, and I can attest that spending time with machinists is vital. Seldom do any of the physicists on the beam speak the language of the machinists, nor do the machinists speak the language of the scientists. It creates problems, and if for no other reason than to ease communication, the two groups should spend more time together.

    I think it is especially important for the scientists to learn about machining the parts they need. It is far more important that the scientists who are requesting obscure parts understand where they come from, than that the machinist learn about high energy nuclear physics, or about star formation in galaxies. If a machinist were expected to have even a basic understanding of EVERY experiment from whence a piece they built came, they would never do anything but read and could never get a single thing done.

  17. mang jose says:

    what.. the machinist and engineer has no free time.. really…

  18. mike says:

    i am a 3rd gen, machinist, we own our own machine shop. and we are farmers to boot. so having creative solutions is nice, but i also went and got my engineering degree after highschool and well, i gotta say yes a machinist knows the real world aspect of the material and can build just about anything, where as a engineer can design a machine that catches farts. but by being both, and understanding the limits and the tooling and the practicality of everything i design i can usually contact our local machinist and go over plans and usually not every time, but often he says hey i can whip this out in by the end of today occasionally i will get over zealous and he laughs me outta the building, but he appreciates my ability to design easily made parts

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  19. Milkshakes says:

    Listen, every bit of free time an engineer has should go towards social interaction.
    All the guys in my engineering class are the “forever alone” type.

  20. Accumulator says:

    As an engineer, I would have to agree with this! Trips to the machine shop are really important. It is a haven of creativity and it brings so much joy especially when you find some parts you have been looking for for the longest time. I also enjoy going here hoping I could make some stuff out of various parts.

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