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Starting a small CNC shop

Doug

Diamond
Joined
Dec 16, 2002
Location
Pacific NW
I do prototype work. It's almost always half a dozen or more, so they can test them out. Then the next month they want 300 just the same. I can't imagine trying to be a machinist these days without a toolchanger.

There's prototype work and then there's prototype work. What you describe sounds to me more like short run production.

I did a lot of medical prototyping. One project where I participated in the design lasted over 12 years. Another working on a prosthetic foot device was a couple years. I didn't have a tool changer mill at the time and neither did another shop working on the projects. I thought about getting a tool changer machine, but it didn't pencil out as an investment because time was not a major issue in making the parts.

Medical can be a whole different issue than some other product development type prototyping. Things have to pass FDA scrutiny, medical insurance, etc, etc. On the medical work I did have Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame when I was interviewed by ABC news during the ceremonial handing over of the $2M NIH grant money we got for the 12 year project.
 

mhajicek

Titanium
Joined
May 11, 2017
Location
Minneapolis, MN, USA
There's prototype work and then there's prototype work. What you describe sounds to me more like short run production.

I did a lot of medical prototyping. One project where I participated in the design lasted over 12 years. Another working on a prosthetic foot device was a couple years. I didn't have a tool changer mill at the time and neither did another shop working on the projects. I thought about getting a tool changer machine, but it didn't pencil out as an investment because time was not a major issue in making the parts.

Medical can be a whole different issue than some other product development type prototyping. Things have to pass FDA scrutiny, medical insurance, etc, etc. On the medical work I did have Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame when I was interviewed by ABC news during the ceremonial handing over of the $2M NIH grant money we got for the 12 year project.

Medical device is what I do. A first draft bone plate is six parts. A first draft pacemaker connector is six parts. At a guess, the difference between you and me, is that with a CNC with a toolchanger, after I make the first part, the next five are cheap. For you, the sixth part would cost almost the same as the first, so the client is less likely to buy them.
 

CITIZEN F16

Titanium
Joined
May 2, 2021
Medical device is what I do. A first draft bone plate is six parts. A first draft pacemaker connector is six parts. At a guess, the difference between you and me, is that with a CNC with a toolchanger, after I make the first part, the next five are cheap. For you, the sixth part would cost almost the same as the first, so the client is less likely to buy them.

Medical devices, you lucky S.O.B. I only have one medical customer. They often want insane tolerances, even on dimensions that should have wide open tolerances, but if you can consistently hit them you can make bank. If you are tired of keeping keeping those customers happy, you can send them my way, I will even send you a fruit basket and a bottle of your favorite booze. You lucky S.O.B.
 

mhajicek

Titanium
Joined
May 11, 2017
Location
Minneapolis, MN, USA
Medical devices, you lucky S.O.B. I only have one medical customer. They often want insane tolerances, even on dimensions that should have wide open tolerances, but if you can consistently hit them you can make bank. If you are tired of keeping keeping those customers happy, you can send them my way, I will even send you a fruit basket and a bottle of your favorite booze. You lucky S.O.B.

It's all in who you know, how you know them, and who knows what you can do. Growing by word of mouth alone so far.

If you do Swiss I might have some sub outs for you in a bit, if you're interested. I'm mill only, but decent at faking Swiss type parts on the mill.
 

CITIZEN F16

Titanium
Joined
May 2, 2021
It's all in who you know, how you know them, and who knows what you can do. Growing by word of mouth alone so far.

If you do Swiss I might have some sub outs for you in a bit, if you're interested. I'm mill only, but decent at faking Swiss type parts on the mill.

All the medical parts I do are Swiss, PM me, If you hook me up I will give you a cut, and vice versa.
 

Superbowl

Cast Iron
Joined
Feb 12, 2020
I have run my own (non-machining) quite successful business for over 35 years.

The main job of any business owner is all about seeking out well paying customers with reasonable expectations. That is it. End of story. That is the real business and most important job. If you secure those well paying (not overpaying idiots, but those that will pay a fair price for the work) customers, any reasonably sharp guy can buy machines, hire workers, and make a living. You can be the best programer/ machinist in world and own top flight machines, but if you can't or don't want spend most of your time selling work, owning a machining business is not for you. Nobody is in need of prototypes or small runs all the time. If you want that line of jobs you must have lots of customers and be continuously seeking new ones all the time. Do you want a hobby to make pin money and spend your time playing with machines or do you want to run a machining business???
 

mhajicek

Titanium
Joined
May 11, 2017
Location
Minneapolis, MN, USA
Nobody is in need of prototypes or small runs all the time. If you want that line of jobs you must have lots of customers and be continuously seeking new ones all the time.

I disagree with this assessment. Of course you should always be seeking to expand your customer base, but if you can get in good with the design houses, they have a constant need for prototypes and small runs.
 

Doug

Diamond
Joined
Dec 16, 2002
Location
Pacific NW
Medical device is what I do. A first draft bone plate is six parts. A first draft pacemaker connector is six parts. At a guess, the difference between you and me, is that with a CNC with a toolchanger, after I make the first part, the next five are cheap. For you, the sixth part would cost almost the same as the first, so the client is less likely to buy them.

No, that's not quite how it worked.

BTW, getting back to you, I can't imagine trying to be a machinist these days without a CNC lathe. I had three, two with bar feeders.
 

pgmrmike

Cast Iron
Joined
Jun 24, 2010
Location
Plantersville, TX
I have run my own (non-machining) quite successful business for over 35 years.

The main job of any business owner is all about seeking out well paying customers with reasonable expectations. That is it. End of story. That is the real business and most important job. If you secure those well paying (not overpaying idiots, but those that will pay a fair price for the work) customers, any reasonably sharp guy can buy machines, hire workers, and make a living. You can be the best programer/ machinist in world and own top flight machines, but if you can't or don't want spend most of your time selling work, owning a machining business is not for you. Nobody is in need of prototypes or small runs all the time. If you want that line of jobs you must have lots of customers and be continuously seeking new ones all the time. Do you want a hobby to make pin money and spend your time playing with machines or do you want to run a machining business???

Up there Im sure its different, I have no experience with it. But here a lot of companies design and build tools for a very specific set of circumstances. One customer very often builds 2 tools ( one to run, one for backup-well time can be expensive ) for a specific customer, for a specific well. Sure, sometimes they will build 2 more in a few months or years, but we do a LOT of 2 piece jobs (it is often 8, 10, 12 part numbers, 2pcs ea )
 

wheelieking71

Diamond
Joined
Jan 2, 2013
Location
Gilbert, AZ
I have run my own (non-machining) quite successful business for over 35 years.

The main job (you mean CHALLENGE) of any business owner is all about seeking out well paying customers with reasonable expectations. That is it. End of story. That is the real business and most important job. If you secure those well paying (not overpaying idiots, but those that will pay a fair price for the work) customers, any reasonably sharp guy can buy machines, hire workers, and make a living. You can be the best programer/ machinist in world and own top flight machines, but if you can't or don't want spend most of your time selling work, owning a machining business is not for you. Nobody is in need of prototypes or small runs all the time. If you want that line of jobs you must have lots of customers and be continuously seeking new ones all the time. Do you want a hobby to make pin money and spend your time playing with machines or do you want to run a machining business???

There, fixed that for you ^^^^^^^^ (in red)

As for the rest of your post? Bullshit. Many roads to take. Your model is NOT the only model.
 
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Plane Parts

Aluminum
Joined
Apr 21, 2019
I would focus on the fabrication side first. There are more people looking for a custom bumper or outdoor tables than there are precision CNC parts when you're getting started. Plus you don't have to worry about the quality issues. Use your CNC and machining equipment to support the fabrication side of things until you get your customer base established. Once you start earning a comfortable income with that then start spreading out in to the precision machining side of your business. You will have a reputation and happy customer to use as references. Good luck.
 

artengineering

Plastic
Joined
Dec 27, 2021
I don't have as much of the experience in starting a shop but I did start my own Engineering/Design business last year and had quite a bit of work at the beginning and then had to look for it after a couple months. I cold called places I felt could use my services (Engineering, machining, fabrication shops) and some turned out to be clients. Others offered full time jobs. Many didn't reply. I think you could come up with a few things regarding your own hobbies (bikes, sporting goods, etc.), sounds like you know design and market/sell them. Then market your machining services as well. If you simply want to do other peoples parts, you have to be hungry and get clients.

One thing I have learned having a scope or portfolio of your work and your capabilities is key. Not only will people then know what you can and cannot do and have available, but also the ability to hand it out like a business card (electronically usually).
 

LOTT

Cast Iron
Joined
Nov 28, 2016
If you are able to do both machining and welding, it's easier to get started in welding/fabrication from an equipment standpoint. The best TIG machine cost less than a 4th axis. Also the metrology required to get into job shop work can get expensive, a lot of fab work gets checked with a tape measure.

I started with a CNC knee mill. It was awful, and the only reason it worked out was because I was making my own products. Trying to take on job shop work was a non-starter, even ten years ago. Today would just be worse.

How do you like the ProtoMAX?
 

CITIZEN F16

Titanium
Joined
May 2, 2021
If you are able to do both machining and welding, it's easier to get started in welding/fabrication from an equipment standpoint. The best TIG machine cost less than a 4th axis. Also the metrology required to get into job shop work can get expensive, a lot of fab work gets checked with a tape measure.

I started with a CNC knee mill. It was awful, and the only reason it worked out was because I was making my own products. Trying to take on job shop work was a non-starter, even ten years ago. Today would just be worse.

How do you like the ProtoMAX?

Not wanting to take on debt I started off as a manual shop. I was doing a lot of prototyping work. I did a lot of work for an inventor who had deep pockets. Some how through the grapevine I was hooked up with another inventor who finally caught lightening in a bottle. I ended up getting some high quantity jobs for my equipment, barely keeping up. Since they were all repeats I worked my tail off to stay ahead so I could start shopping for CNCs after 6 months of being a handle cranking monkey putting in a minimum of 100 hour weeks. Also 6 months of living off of delivery pizza, coffee, Red Bull, diet soda, and 2-3 hours daily sleep, sent me to ER and diagnosed with work exhaustion. The doctor said I was no more healthy than someone who abused hard drugs.
 

William Payne

Aluminum
Joined
May 29, 2016
When you say sell up and retire, define retire?

If I had enough money to never work a day in my life and live comfortably where I didn't have to worry about money I would retire right now and never work again.
 

mhajicek

Titanium
Joined
May 11, 2017
Location
Minneapolis, MN, USA
When you say sell up and retire, define retire?

If I had enough money to never work a day in my life and live comfortably where I didn't have to worry about money I would retire right now and never work again.

I've thought about that. If I had lottery money, I'd take a short break, then get back at it at a somewhat lower intensity and with good hired help and the best equipment I could buy. I'd go crazy if I wasn't making stuff.
 

implmex

Titanium
Joined
Jun 23, 2002
Location
Vancouver BC Canada
Hi mhajicek:
You wrote:
"If I had lottery money, I'd take a short break, then get back at it at a somewhat lower intensity and with good hired help and the best equipment I could buy. I'd go crazy if I wasn't making stuff."

That's it...right there.
I'm with your sentiment 100%, and I believe that you attract customers and interesting work when you can communicate your enjoyment of what you do for a living.
Your customers are people too, and it works to your advantage never to forget that; especially when they are making a gut-level decision if it's going to be you or an equally qualified and equipped competitor.
They instinctively like people who share their interest, and they will pick you over a standoffish old fart every time, all other things being equal.
My interest in "the project" and my desire to see it succeed has brought me much of my business and many of my referrals over the years.

I don't mean kissing ass or getting taken for a ride, but if you pick something you really enjoy and are not afraid to show it, people will respond to your enthusiasm.

Cheers

Marcus
Implant Mechanix • Design & Innovation > HOME
Vancouver Wire EDM -- Wire EDM Machining
 

CITIZEN F16

Titanium
Joined
May 2, 2021
Retire?
They'll find me dead at my desk with the CAM system still running.

Reinventing myself and the recession of 2008 wiped out my retirement fund. I was loyal to my 5 employees and gave them fat severance checks that I did not have to. I gave my salesman a down payment on a house and a month's living expenses, and paid for him to move 120 miles away where his brother got him a job in the service department of the auto dealership he worked in. I caught lightning in a bottle and needed staff quickly so I poached them from steady jobs that the recession did not kill off. I wish I was one of those selfish shop owners everyone talks about or at least 50% selfish.

That is alright though. I had to give up golf because of a bad back, I am a lousy fisherman, and an animal lover who will only shoot a deer with a camera. I cannot stand the crampedness of an airplane and my back doesn't like long road trips anymore. So what would I do if I retired? Might as well work till I drop.
 

wheelieking71

Diamond
Joined
Jan 2, 2013
Location
Gilbert, AZ
I've thought about that. If I had lottery money, I'd take a short break, then get back at it at a somewhat lower intensity and with good hired help and the best equipment I could buy. I'd go crazy if I wasn't making stuff.

I definitely wouldn't liquidate my entire shop. But, I would quit taking on "work".

I still enjoy making stuff. But, I hate working. I often wonder if people (specifically small shop owners) have hobbies beyond their work?
I know I have enough interests, hobbies, projects, and activities, beyond the stuff that makes the paycheck in the shop, stacked up deep enough to far surpass a full-time job for many years to come.
I agree with William when he said:

When you say sell up and retire, define retire?

If I had enough money to never work a day in my life and live comfortably where I didn't have to worry about money I would retire right now and never work again.

I could retire tomorrow if the opportunity arose! NO PROBLEM!
But, that does not mean I would be a lazy slug sitting on my ass. So many projects I would be more than happy to finally get around to spending real time on.
 








 
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