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Thread: Making money from CNC? Naive?
02-28-2010, 06:04 PM #61
Jim is right about the trig:
Trig IS important for all sorts of machining stuff and sadly, many newbies figure that a Cadcam system eliminates the need for trig knowledge
I am ashamed to say that lately ( In the past 10 years), my Trig is rusty.
There are things that used to be in my memory that now have to be looked up. I rely on the cad because it is easy/lazy.
But, if I have to, the paper, pencil, & calculator will come out.
Last edited by jackal; 02-28-2010 at 09:00 PM.
02-28-2010, 06:53 PM #62
Without the debt and bills hanging over me like a Damocles sword, I can "take it easy" and be creative and hopefully make some $$$ without taking any undue risks. Worst case is I will not make extra money, not that I will ruin my own life.
02-28-2010, 06:56 PM #63
I have had a shop in my garage for 10 years now. I retired from the day job 3 years ago and work on my own. I can honestly say that I have been fairly successful with my garage shop. The shop paid income taxes 9 out of 10 years.
A few of my thoughts:
1) I don't know of any business that is doing well these days. Just because shops are failing right and left is no reason not to start one. Eventually this economy will turn around. I don't know when or what opportunities there will be when it does turn around. I feel down the road working for someone else is going to be more work and way less rewarding than having your own biz.
2) The guys I know that make and market their own product seem to be the happiest these day. I'm trying to find a product I can make and sell. Not looking to get rich but a way to make a little pocket money. I don't even care if I only make $25/hr.
3) Starting a shop with just CNC machines sounds like a failure looking for a place to happen. I have a CNC Bridgeport retrofit and the rest is manual machines. I think to be successful with a garage shop one must be diversified. I'm comfortable running my CNC mill and my manual equipment and I know how to effectively apply either one. I can figure out what a customer needs even when they don't know what they need. You have to design, engineer, machine, debug. Whatever it takes to keep a customer happy.
4) Stay out of debt and don't spend any money on shop equipment that is need somewhere else at home.
5) To me the red flag goes up when people that say they cannot make money with a manual machine. That tells me they are to narrow minded to be in business. I love CNC machining and I know how to apply it and apply it well. At the same time, at least half my shop income is generated off my manual machines and the other things I do.
6) Having a business is just not for everybody. It takes common sense, money management skills, hard work and self discipline. All the things people seem to lack these days.
02-28-2010, 07:23 PM #64
The controls on my Cyber-TIG welder died. Some benevolent corporation donated me a SCR driver board. (I am grateful to this day, thank you PCTI). I made a SCR rectifier bridge on a heat sink. Also a system of contactors that switched between low (welding) voltage and high (plasma cutting) voltage. It was like rewiring the transformer from series to parallel, but instantly with contactors.
Then I installed a Cubloc microcontroller to control the whole thing.
The welder had a CC mode, CV mode, high voltage, low voltage, general power supply mode (specify volts and amps) , high frequency arc starting, gas solenoids, welding cooler control, the whole nine yards.
All was controlled by a Cubloc microcontroller based on a BASIC program that I wrote. The program is GNU copyrighted and is here
The whole thing worked really great, but was a little cumbersome to use. I welded with it for quite a while.
In some ways, it is a precursor to the current project: I used a microcontroller and did quite a bit of process control, but without being realtime and without any "closed loops". It was about opening and closing contactors and relays and valves, and regulating current and voltage signal to the rectifier board by PCTI.
I have some info that I have been collecting for a few years on different cnc retrofits. I'll gather all of the Bridgeport stuff I have and e-mail it to you in a zip file. Give me a little while.
02-28-2010, 07:31 PM #65
02-28-2010, 08:13 PM #66
I would like to add, I started just like you little over a year ago. I never even ran a lathe. I progressed to 2 manual lathes and a manual mill and now one CNC lathe.
BUT I would not do this to be doing other peoples contract work. No way. I'm not qualified. I make my own products, and once I have production where I want it, I don't change a thing unless it is an improvement.
There's no way I would be without my manual machines. Aside from using them to develop my ideas, I make parts on them while my CNC is running, so I double my production. Well for some parts far more than double when considering the speed of CNC.
I figure out enough programing to get my part done, and then it's finished.
03-02-2010, 07:35 AM #67
I have been reading along with great interest. I think the common theme here is we all love machines and making things. Making a living or making some extra money doing what you love is something we all dream of. Like many others I have the same vision. Passion is the primary key ingredient. I have seen people who so love what they are doing they would do it for free.
Competing with such a person could be impossible or difficult to say the least, if you are not just as passionate. This is the person who is still working long after all the employees have gone home or comes in on Saturday. You don't hear them complaining because they so love what they are doing. Competition is the way our society works unless you are the government.
Starting a CNC business is just like starting any other. I would compare it to planting a seed. From day one you must nurture it, protect it and grow it over time until it one day produces fruit. Don't ask people what they think about your desires. They will plant seeds of doubt in your mind by telling you of their own failure or someone they know who went under.
Businesses fail for primarly 2 reasons. Lack of demand for their servicies, poor business management or both. The business owner whose business failed due to poor management will seldom admit it. They will always blame it on some other factor. None of us like to admit it but we as humans seem to gravitate toward the path of least resistance.
I get reminded of this when I pull up to the post office, there is a path cut thru the flower bed to the front door because people are to lazy to follow the sidewalk which is only a few steps further. Yet when you look around there is still some of those passionate few business owners still open and prospering in the same trade that others are failing in.
Search out a successful business doing what you want to do and observe them. Their success is proof that it can be done. Depending on the owner he or she may be willing to offer some information.
Some very important things to remember, is it a business or is it a hobby?
Risk and effort versus reward? Is it worth it?
What is your skill level versus the business you will be competing with?
Your machinery limitations will define your scope of work.
Going into Debt? How deep are your pockets? How long can you wait for a profit?
Be informed and realistic about your expections.
You must be an expert at what you do.
Above all don't listen to other people, believe in your self!
03-02-2010, 01:33 PM #68
I am in / was in exactly your shoes.
I spent roughly 10k on a cnc mill. -having only just had an old manual mill a couple years as a hobby. and I didnt know crap, or have any tools or tooling at all just 5 years before that.
I still dont know much.
It's not my day job, I'm not dependent on it whatsoever. I spend about 5-10hrs a week on average, but I am VERY easily distracted and inefficient. my spindle runs maybe an average of 4 hrs a week. (i really wish I knew for sure.)
for the last 5 years I average abou5 5-8k per year income from the sale of the stuff I make. I reinvest most of it in tools.
It's all paid for the mill, welders, lathes, all sorts of tools. it even makess some money.
I suppose, if I was gone from my day job. ..... If I was very carefull I could put food on the table with my mill. But I dont think I could do that at my current standard of living with only 40hrs/week.
It's true there are a ton of potential markets wanting little widjets on which you can make very good money, but it takes a huge amunt of time to develop and maintain a presence in any one of them.
for instance, my "golden goose" was making handlebar risers. I made at least $$$$ worth of parts out of peanuts in material. -untill I was undercut, and they quit making Buells.
03-02-2010, 01:35 PM #69
03-03-2010, 09:39 PM #70
IMO, you need to make something difficult or someone will just copy your idea and sell their version.
I have worked from home since 1993. I'm busy. I'm in the Yellow pages and the phone book but I haven't advertised since 1994. I had a radio ad in the beginning. That got the word out and that was all I needed to get the ball rolling.
IMO there is a need for "handy man" machine shops. The CNC is nice but there is a lot of "grunt" work that needs doing. Tractor front ends need custom bushings to fix worn out and neglected axles and such.
When I was shopping for my CNC I looked at a retro-fitted Bridgeport. The guy was selling it because it was too slow. He had a new Hass to replace it. He said all he wanted to do was load the machine and hit the button. I see his point. I would like to do that too. I just think you need to skin a few knuckles here and there. If it was as easy as hitting a button, everybody would be doing it.
03-03-2010, 10:59 PM #71
You guys got me freaked out about this eBay, so I pulled one of my products I had on there. Didn't need them anyway.
It's very unique, and would cost someone to much for labor and materials to compete with what I've done, inless they went full throttle as I have.
Plus I have brand name recognition and pattent pending, so the would have to flat out rip me off.
03-04-2010, 01:14 AM #72
I am a physicist and mechanical engineer and have had a personal shop for some 35 years - currently 11 lathes, 7 mills, 2 grinders, 2 - 20 inch bands saws and 2 - 14 inch ones, 50 ton press, 400 amp tig, and all the little tools and support and inspection equipment. It is my personal man den and toy box.
I have also had a career in engineering product development, manufacturing management, marketing, and finally in corporate profit and loss management as part of a 4 billion/year corporation. I have had responsibility for plants in 7 countries arround the world and thousands of employees. I even taught small business management in a junior college. Not bragging - just setting the stage.
One the one hand - you have got to be out of your freaking mind! Guys - good hard working and knowledgeable guys - are throwing in the towel or going bust and being forced out of business every day all over the country - and it is not going to get better in this decade. There is a gross oversupply of machining capability caused by migration of manufacturing to off shore sites and as small shops get faster more powerfull machines that make parts quicker it just gets worse. That is why equipment is so cheap and so available - it is a piss poor investment.
Listen to all the folks here telling you just how cheap others are willing to work just in the hope of keeping the doors open and avoiding bankruptcy - and they are skilled and experienced and have contacts - at least to some extent. You have none of that!
Now - I feel compelled to insert the standard economist joke here: With economists every question is always answered with "on the one hand ....... and then again on the other hand......."SO, What the world apparently needs is a few good one armed economists - and then maybe we could get a staight answer.
I still have both arms - for now at least.
So, on the other hand:
If what you want is to go do something you like - that is called going into a hobby and this is a great time to do it because so much stuff is available and cheap. But understand this clearly - there is a pile of statistics to show that people who go into business for any other reason than to make money usually fail, they do so in less than 2 years, and they do so at a very very much higher rate than those that go into it for the money. They also get divorced at a very much higher rate than the general population.
I am now going to punch another hole in your overinflated balloon: You do not understand the first principle of business - know who you are and stick to what you are good at. Your plan depends on your ability to identify a market need, specify a product to fill it, design a product to fill that specification, design a manufacturing process to produce that product, identify select and obtain all the necessary equipment to manufacture it, learn how to tool up and operate and maintain that equipment, provide adequate developmental testing and final product QC, produce a marketing plan, set an appropriate price, gain market attention, get orders and obtain market penetration, purchase all the parts and materials, produce and ship to demand, and then collect the money due - and do all this better than all the others who are going to rip off your idea and try to beat you to the customers.
You simply can not do all of those thing on a low volume part time basis and be very good at much of any of it. You really need to think through who you are and what you are good at and specialize in JUST THAT. If making parts does not fit the list - forget the part making equipment and be the entrepreneur who identifies the market opportunity and comes up with the product and then pushes it into the customers hands and let those other hungry starving and near death and want to keep the doors open one more day shops jump at the chance to make it for you - cheaper - and probably better than you can. If you get lucky and pick a winner, they (and some other shops in the area) can up production rates to meet demand. You can not!
If you think you really should do it all yourself, you are probably practicing self delusion in order to justify doing what you really want - really would like to - and that is not a business decision nor a good reason to go into business. It is going into a hobby - and there is nothing wrong with that either IF you strip out the self delusion.
Now, a very few start out with your mind set, learn quickly and change approach, work hard and get sort of lucky, and manage to make a reasonable business out of their hobby. They are by far in the very minute minority.
A few more do the same and end up with an enjoyable hobby that pays for itself and generates a bit of free cash - but no where near enough to live on. They are often very happy with this outcome. They have day jobs that pay the bills - so they can afford it!
Unfortunately, all the rest who do this ultimately get discouraged and give up, blame the econonmy or something such, and turn to their next great idea, and then the next...... They are by far the over whelming majority.
Problem is there seems to be an endless supply of these unrealistic dreamers and they whore up the market for those Pros who are seriously in it for the long run. I do feel sorry for the old Pros.
All this said - (and I do know business) - business advice is maybe worth what you paid for it - and we all know how much that was - don't we.
Last edited by aninventor; 03-04-2010 at 04:53 PM.
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03-04-2010, 03:42 AM #73
one thing that most people don't think about is that nowadays you just can't buy a machine, some cutting tools and stock to open up a shop...try getting a contract if you're not ISO...companies will just hang up once you tell them you're not ISO....
03-04-2010, 04:51 AM #74
Great post and appreciate your time and interest.
I would like to point out that a home based machine shop is the only choice some of us have. Without my own shop I do not know where I would find employment. I'm almost
60. If I had to, maybe I could find a job. I know I could pass a drug test and I would show up every day for work.
A lawn mowing business is pretty much out of the question because there is a glut of people doing that. Plenty of other people sealing blacktop driveways.
I still think there is and always will be a demand for people that can make things, fix things and make things work. A person will just need to be vary flexable. There have been times when all you needed was a few CNC machines and some button pushers and you had a money making business. That is not the case now. Shop work is still out there. All you need to do is find it and be able to do it whatever it may be.
As for working cheap: I try to make $45 to $50 per hour. Sometimes I take whatever I can get. I worked for a company for 30 years before I retired. The last few years pay increases were few and far between. In Illinois, we hear everyday about cities and towns cutting back on police, firemen, teachers and other government jobs. What kind of jobs and for what pay will these people find.
Most of the people I know are not looking to make big money, just survive. If there is a career field that has pays well and has job openings these days I would sure like to know about it. Until then, I'll continue making chips.
03-04-2010, 08:02 AM #75
Lee, great post. Very thoughtful.
Just to share something. I have a history of making money from all my hobbies.
I had a hobby of writing perl and shell scripts.
I wrote a bunch, first a free program for newsgroups, for which I offered hosting as a service. That in a few years turned into a source of several k $$$ per year and I had to do almost nothing on a regular basis to keep it going, it was all automated and scripted. The only real effort is taking checks to the bank and invoicing.
Then I made several websites, one of which is algebra.com, that, shall I just say, keep me very happy and take next to no effort to maintain because they are automated.
Then I started buying things on auctions and selling them on ebay, very part time, so as it does not interfere with my day job or anything like that, just a bit in evenings. It is also profitable.
I also have a hobby of investing, and here, also, I avoided losing money too and found ways to invest that do not take inordinate amounts of time and offer a nice reward to risk ratio.
Going back to CNC...
I think that if I set myself up with proper software (emc2 and my own scripts) so that I can make parts at low overhead in terms of personal time, I could make money. If this hope does not materialize, which is very possible, then it does not materialize. What I refuse to do is putting in any substantial capital investments. This way a failure will not be a disaster, it will not put my family at risk, just a dashed hope.
I have a personal principle, which is I refuse to undertake ANYTHING where there is conceivable risk of "losing everything I have". Thus I avoid unsecured borrowing, going on margin aside from a few percents occasionally, exposing myself to any big liability, etc.
I would rather get rich slowly than do anything that would keep me awake at night worrying.
I am aware of a large number of people who made fortunes betting everything they have and taking substantial risks. I do not want to be one of them, as I am also aware of an even larger number of people who lost everything. There is a theory that says that you can only get greater "rewards" by taking on more "risk". This theory is utter bull&$^t and is a source of trouble for people who apply it blindly.
The only unavoidable exceptions are things like driving a vehicle, etc.
03-04-2010, 08:05 AM #76
Looks like there are plenty of people on both sides of the fence. Per my previous posts, you know which side I am on... I am not trying to be a pessimist, but a realist. The story above of the fishing item sold on egay is par for the course. You want to make "easy" trinkets and sell on egay. Trust me when I say, you will be far ahead to find items to just copy like everyone else does than worry about making your own from the start.
One of our divisions of business is in the powersports industry. In that industry, there is a TON of shops that make "bling" products. They all have hungry HMCs, extra time, and a love for the sport. We are constantly asked why we do not offer these bling items. We knew from the start that a blind cave man can take a part off an engine, duplicate it, and machine it. Our products are engineered speed parts. We make damn sure there is nothing else in the industry like it when we intro components.
My honest opinion is to stay in the computer business. One would probably think I am trying to keep people out of the machinist pool but I could care less. I would be out myself in a heart beat. I went to business school. I met a LOT of very successful people, none of which were machinists.. Not saying machinists cannot make a good living but IMO, I am always wondering why machining does not cost more with all the risk involved. Do you realize it only takes one good crash to total a machine?
03-04-2010, 09:01 AM #77
Can you make a little money from spare time machining and Ebay marketing? Yes, but only if you can recognize things which are profitable and desirable at a selling price that's reasonable.
To get there, you have to develop the ability to look down the road from a few prototypes and get a solid handle on what it will cost, in both time and material, to produce the product in some reasonable quantity.
I'd stay away from things that require high levels of precision, because precision costs money and the more precision required the more you restrict your potential market. To be totally candid, your replacement lathe compounds are a perfect example of something I'd avoid like the plague. Limited market to begin with, coupled with a level of precision that precludes the possibility of a good product at a price that would seem attractive to a significant percentage of the limited number of people who might actually need one. Lets say you could sell a compound for $450 and generate a reasonable return on your time. That may well be an extremely reasonable price for the product, but for the typical guy who buys a lathe with a missing or wrecked compound, it'll never make a blip on his mental radar. One of them will buy your compound while the other 99 will scour Ebay and eventually end up with a worn out one for a hundred bucks, thoroughly convinced they've gotten a deal.
Another point, still using the compound as an example, is the need to lean toward items where CNC has the maximum time advantage over manual production. A manual mill that'll take a decent cut will not be too far behind a cnc knee mill in the time it'd take to do most of the milling on a compound. There are many other items, much more in the doo-dad category, where the cnc will easily do the job in a tenth of the time it'd take on a manual mill. You want to look for items where the only people capable of competing with you are those with cnc equipment.
Real world example.... I make a part that sells for $22.50 each, sold in pairs. All cnc turned part with no milling required. Takes about 4 minutes to make the part, running very conservative speeds in the turning center. The part gets a little secondary op, followed by cleaning, spraying with a preservative, and bagged in a ziploc bag. The 4 minute cycle gives me time to knock burrs off the blanks as they come out of the automatic saw, and do the secondary op, cleaning, etc on the finished parts. It would take a real good manual machinist to make this part in 30 minutes. It has 2 dimensions that are held to +/- .0003, so it can't be produced by slam-bang types of work methods. The close dimensions are on opposite ends of the part, and need to be concentric with each other within .001. The point being, the manual machinist would have to have a good lathe and pay attention 100% of the time to make good parts. He has no time during the process to do secondary ops or the other things I mentioned above, nor does he have time to tend the saw. If he can make the part in 30 minutes of actual lathe time, he'll likely have upward of 40 minutes total time involved by the time its ready to go out the door.
I think you can easily see this is the type of doo-dad to shoot for. One where you've virtually eliminated competition from anyone who doesn't have cnc machines because the time advantage of cnc is so large. If there was a need, I could change a couple steps in the machining process, and change a couple tools, and push the total machining time down to 2 minutes. I've done it, and it turned out to be counterproductive since I need the 4 minute cycle time to complete a ready to sell part. At 2 minutes, the tool life went down sufficiently to make me have to watch sizes and tool offsets much more closely, and I had parts stacking up that still needed secondary work. On a run of 100 pieces, which normally takes right at 8 hours including setup and cleanup, I ended up spending 10 hours at the faster cycle time due to the fact that things went from very efficient use of my own time, to a sorta helter skelter run here, run there, do this, check that, routine that made it seem like I was working twice as hard to get less done.
The point of the above being, you don't necessarily have to have the latest mega-dollar machinery with blazing rapids and micro-second tool change times to make money on your own products. I run the above on a turning center that'll be 30 yrs old pretty soon, and its running nowere near its capability on these parts. Although I do make my living making and selling things I design and manufacture, these particular parts are something I got into by accident a few years ago when a friend asked if I could make a pair of them for him. He got the necessary dimensions and I turned them into a design and a part. He told me there was a market for them, which I didn't necessarily believe at the time. He was right though. I run them in batches of 50-60 pair whenever necessary, and mail them out as orders come in. There's certainly no living to be made from them, but they bring in anywhere from $150 to $450 per week, and have for the last 5 years.
There's probably several thousand equally simple items out there that could be made and sold on a part time basis at similar profit margins. Ebay makes for an extremely cheap and easy venue for test marketing, so its easy to make the decision to keep or drop an item without having to invest a year's income to find out your (my) latest brainstorm is a total dud. Or, you could make parts of similar complexity in the same sorts of lot quantities for XYZ mega-corp for 4 bucks apiece and wait 3 or 4 months to get paid.... at least until they find someone who'll make them for $3.98. I decided I'd rather not, and its worked out okay for me so far.
While it will take some significant effort to gain proficiency in cnc machining, it ain't rocket science for a person who's mechanically inclined. IMO, the machining knowledge is but a small part of the whole process of making a profit.... or not.
03-04-2010, 09:19 AM #78
It it entirely possible to do what you're thinking.
Some places I'd start looking for work:
Art metal schools, like the local university. Metal artists always need something machined, a jig, a fixture, a stamping die.
Hot rodders. No end to what they need.
Metal fabrication shops. Could be as simple as a drilled hole pattern in material too thick to punch. Most fab shops don't have machining capability.
Home built airplane guys.
Woodworkers, jigs, repair parts, etc.
I know from experience there's a tremendous amount of work out there from people who would rather deal with a small low-overhead operator than a store front machine shop.
When I was starting out years ago I got work from everyone of the above. An artist started with some piddly jobs . Over the years through him and his network I've done tens of thousands in machining.
I gave up on the hot rodders, too much liability, besides most are flakes.
Metal fab shops have been great. I picked up one of my best customers by having them do some plate bending for me. Once I was in the shop I made a sales pitch for what I could do for them.
A friend was into home built aircraft. Through him and his local buddies I got work.
Woodworkers, a couple of the largest wooden musical instrument makers in the country have been customers for 20+ years.
You're in the perfect position, you have a day job, you don't need much extra income.
03-04-2010, 04:45 PM #79
I appreciate the positive manner in which you took my post.
A great deal of what you say does have merit - especially the part about avoiding debt and the unsurvivable failure risks.
There are opportunities out there and there is also a lot to be said about a playfull "lets have a look see" approach to chasing potential opportunities. Plant lots of different seeds - then see what grows - then weed - is the way I put it. But you can spend enormous amounts of time chasing and never really catching - and most who fall into this trap never really realize the opportunity cost of doing it that way. They do not think about what they could have done if they had just produced what was at hand instead of chasing that which was just out of reach. It is just too much fun to dream and plan and...........and it is no fun to face up to reality limits.
Given your history, it appears you may have some considerable intuitive tallent for small business venturing. It does not appear you fully understand the difference between this tallent and that of actually producing and shipping a physical product.
I also think the analogy between computers and CNC machines is very flawed! I designed computers at HP before most knew what they were, and I have managed factorys with rows of buildings full of rows of automatics, presses, etc. so I have a feel for both.
In the computer industry you made the software and they paid you to use it. The appropriate analogy is you go make the CNC machine and they pay you to use it! That is a bit different from what you propose. You propose to pay someone else for the CNC machine and then stand in front of and use the CNC machine you paid for. Can you see how it is backwards?
You have received the gift of lots of good advice here. There is opportunity - but it is not in the form of low hanging fruit. Times are tough, fruit is scarce, and lots have not been able to reach enough of it to survive. The evidence is everywhere and it should be sobering. Not paralyzing, but very sobering.
Executives say "you do not know responsibility untill you have been responsible for making payroll". That responsibility is imense, and even more so when you are the employee waiting for the payroll check! I have been in both situations and I have great respect for those who bear those responsibilities. Cudos to you.
I also understand that a MAN does what a MAN has to do. If that is machining in the garage on what ever machinery he can get his hands on - Again - CUDOS. Same to all those who stand up and do something productive instead of turning to their government to take it from those who do and give it to those who do not.
I saw a sign in an Amish shop in Ohio that said:
A man who produces much is worth much.
A man who produces less is worthless!
Point made I think!
I have great respect for anyone who stands up and produces something of value. That is precisely why I spent part of my life teaching small business management (almost for free) to the little guy - so those who work their butt off could avoid loosing their @$$ in the process and also manage to keep a little for themselves and family. It is more tricky than anyone first suspects.
Machining does not cost more simply becuse:
too many people think they can do it,
and think they can make money at it
and are willing to throw their money at it
without really thinking it through.
They are right on some level.
There is lots of money in machining and
they outght to know
because they put it there! (or will before they get out)
PS: I am/was an ISO 9000 external auditor/lead assessor. The post regarding that was right on!
For dealing with an ISO company, your not being ISO approved is pretty much a deal killer.
Last edited by aninventor; 03-04-2010 at 10:05 PM.