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kccmelty

Plastic
Joined
Oct 21, 2023
I’m a machinist and manufacturing engineer who was recently laid off and is looking for the best manufacturing business to start. I started and sold an industrial 3D printing shop in the past, so this isn’t my first rodeo.

I’m seeking some advice on what areas of manufacturing are currently underserved that I can research and possibly start a business around. Automation and lights-out manufacturing are key components of any business that I get involved with. We ran our 3D printers mostly at night and on weekends and I want to set this company up to do the same.

My current thoughts are:
  1. A small 5-axis mill with robotic machine tending.
  2. A mill-turn with a sub-spindle and bar feeder.
  3. Industrial 3D printing (again).
  4. A post-machining service that can be automated.

Any advice would be appreciated.
 
I don't think I would start a machine shop unless it is your passion. It's not like a decade ago where you could massively outperform everyone else by using automation. At this point it's generally a given that mid size or larger companies are running unattended to some extent. The wildly successful shops have a very specific niche or the right type of locked-in customer.

3D printing also seems to have become kind a of a commodity. From what I can tell, there was a lot more room for early adopters/innovators about a decade ago. We have a couple partner shops that offer industrial 3D printing and say that the margins have dropped off to practically zero.

I know two plating shops that started around the same time I did, and both businesses appear to be outperforming my machine shop by orders of magnitude. YMMV, but I think their business tends to run more like a true service, and the pressures of globalization have not hit them quite as hard as those of us who are making chips.
 
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Automation and lights-out manufacturing are key components of any business that I get involved with.
Almost every production job shop I've seen started out as a prototype shop.

It takes years of building reputation, building trust, and sifting through customers to finally find the production job you want and the production customer that wants you.

For some people it never happens.

You're going to end up buying all this fancy equipment and have people send RFQs for 2 pcs.
 
I think there may be a lot of people in the “laid off” camp coming up.
Which also means it’s likely not the best time to start a shop. But equipment may be cheap.

At for profitable easy niche that’s gonna be trade secret with the owners here.
Repair. Jobber, your own product. Pick one and go.

As for roi……. There’s a lot of things to invest in that do t take your time and soul. If your not passionate about machining consider a investment that does not require passion.
The first 5 years of my shop I would have had a better roi investing in the markets with any large fund….
Heck. Savings accounts are paying good now…
 
Thanks for the feedback. I have a path forward with a machine shop for low-margin work until we get our systems ironed out and see what our true costs are. We can then decide if a particular certification (medical, DOD, aerospace) would be worth the investment.

The big lesson we learned with the 3DP business is not to pigeonhole yourself into a market. We thought tooling and fixturing would be our best bet. But it ended up being medical device prototyping and museum animals (who knew?).

I have been asked why I don't take the money that I have set aside for this to a money manager to put into the market. I really don't trust Wall Street to do anything other than look out for themselves. I'd rather bet on myself to grow my money.
 
I know two plating shops that started around the same time I did, and both businesses appear to be outperforming my machine shop by orders of magnitude.
This is the suggestion that I would give. Plating/finishing is the business to start if you have your mind set on being in this field. Lower investment, less competition, less skill (arguably), easier to automate, much MUCH higher reward. My plater literally drives a G-wagon with the license plate BIZISGD.
 
I’m seeking some advice on what areas of manufacturing are currently underserved that I can research and possibly start a business around. Automation and lights-out manufacturing are key components of any business that I get involved with. We ran our 3D printers mostly at night and on weekends and I want to set this company up to do the same.
Since you didn't tell us your location it's hard to know what is underserved in your area. Do some local research. In my experience it's easer to start up with local customers.

If you plan to serve a larger than local geographic area and get enough work to justify lights out as a start up I think you're dreaming. By their nature 3D printers lend themselves to lights out running, but that's a far cry from multi-axis machines running lights out.
 
Plating / replaying is good idea. Retail plating service would be opposite automated- and a lot less capital. More skilled projects.
 
Plating / replaying is good idea. Retail plating service would be opposite automated- and a lot less capital. More skilled projects.
Plating...? like with toxic chemicals? Sounds like a bad idea to me. The EPA (or whoever monitors potential polluting businesses) would be watching over your shoulder every move you made hoping for a reason to shut you down.

Remember back when cars had chrome bumpers and chrome trim. Not much if any chrome on a new car. I could be wrong on this, but I assumed the hassles of running plating operations was the main reason for the switch to polished stainless in place of chrome.
 
Whatever you're good at, have unique advantages in, or where you're willing to put in the work is the best business.
Machining specifically is pretty complicated and has a decently high level of experience and/or ridiculous time investment to get in good shape, as opposed to 3D printing.

Think of it like a less extreme version of starting up a surgical practice, after having had experience selling medical equipment.
That said... I wouldn't buy into everyone saying X market is way too flooded and newcomers can't make money. That happens, but it's somewhat as rare as thinking you're the first guy on the block with a new innovation.
These days, the manufacturing winners are the guys with conservative financial plays and aggressive sales. Automation is often oversold to the wrong buyers methinks.
You can lower prices either by having fancy efficient production, or just super low overhead.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that you can just not have all your crap financed and when your monthly payments are $0 you can afford to undercut competitors very easily and still have some phat margins.
 
I have been asked why I don't take the money that I have set aside for this to a money manager to put into the market. I really don't trust Wall Street to do anything other than look out for themselves. I'd rather bet on myself to grow my money.
Actually I wouldn't recommend giving it to a money manager, you do the research and invest it yourself is recommended. But you wont get the returns you get from a business, not even close.
We have made 100-200% ROI on our machine shop since opening 5 years ago. But there are far better businesses to get into, We are even going to diversify into tooling services and plastic injection molding.
 
machinist and manufacturing engineer
First thing to do is take the "blinders" off your head and look around. We all focus on what we are doing or know and never look to the side.
Reality is I could set you up with about a 30K investment and your first year could pull 250K ....sub 40 hr week......but it's not machining.....
And it can't be cloned or in any way be affected by the asians..... yes, there is competition in this field, but the demand is high.
but... as said, if you have to do machining....well, then you better find a niche market.....
 
I’m a machinist and manufacturing engineer who was recently laid off and is looking for the best manufacturing business to start. I started and sold an industrial 3D printing shop in the past, so this isn’t my first rodeo.

I’m seeking some advice on what areas of manufacturing are currently underserved that I can research and possibly start a business around. Automation and lights-out manufacturing are key components of any business that I get involved with. We ran our 3D printers mostly at night and on weekends and I want to set this company up to do the same.

My current thoughts are:
  1. A small 5-axis mill with robotic machine tending.
  2. A mill-turn with a sub-spindle and bar feeder.
  3. Industrial 3D printing (again).
  4. A post-machining service that can be automated.

Any advice would be appreciated.
I would like to know if your plan stems from a love of mechanics or is it because you think mechanics is a field you are familiar with, and investing in other fields will make you worried because of the strangeness?

How many hours per week does your plan 1 and 2 have to run to just happen to be loss-free?
 
2nd on what Memphisjed said.

Dont get me wrong, not saying there arent better paying gigs around in my area than what I am doing, but they appear to be much higher wrt to the capital outlay required. Therefore more inherit risk and potentially sleepless nites. Business equipment wise I am very close to owning all of my own gear. Bought some secondhand, no regrets there.

Theres just the rental, which a renter is kindly helping us pay off. :)
 
Contract services of any kind are largely regional. Distant competitors can't compete with your proximity to the customer.

Look around your greater region. What are the industries? Are there dominant ones?
What metalworking services would these industries most likely need help with?

A 2-hour radius will be your best market to study and focus on...

ToolCat
 
Some days I can make more money cutting and splitting firewood then my machines do. or a couple good electrical jobs. But i like watching the machines make chips...
 
Put your location in your profile! I wouldn't touch plating with a 50' pole because of the environmental issues. I've no idea how most shops survive that don't have specialty customers like medical. The bottom end is being crowded out by places like Xometry. And even the middle. China isn't as bad as some think if you choose your vendors wisely, and nobody can compete with them. Specialize or produce your own product.
 
Plating / replaying is good idea. Retail plating service would be opposite automated- and a lot less capital. More skilled projects.

Most absurd business to get in these days.

Absolutely your going to be on the radar of the city as soon as you even think of starting a plating business. and their going to be up your arse from day one

Plating 🤣🤣 :nutter::crazy:🤣

The only person who could possible make it work would be somebody who had extensive experience in plating, otherwise forget about it
 








 
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