Very large 1-person manual shops - is this unusual? - Page 2
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  1. #21
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    I'm a one man shop in a rural area. Used to have a plant in the big city with fourteen employees at it peak. My products were electronic related and after the NAFTA and GATT treaties took care of the industry I wrapped things up and moved to the country.

    Sold off the big machinery, kept all the smaller machinery and added more in the last few years. I work alone making control systems and medical instruments.

    Most of my work involves electronic and software development, sheet metal fab, vacuum forming plastics and screen printing. I use machine tools to make assembly fixtures, vacuum forming molds, tooling and parts used to make my products. Three of my four milling machines are setup for specific operations. The fourth mill is used for repair work and mold modifications etc. All of my machinery is manually operated with the exception of three small cnc machines used to make printed circuits.

    Several companies distribute these products for me and I almost never sell anything to the end user.
    This distribution network allows me to focus on what I do best and not deal with any end users.

    No more employees for me. When it's more than I can handle I send the excess work to other shops. The happiest day of my life was the last time I signed a 941.

  2. #22
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    I am also one man shop, a real business, not a hobby shop, etc. I don't advertise, don't even have a sign,ample work load. Have a large number of machines in the building. Real life reality is: time is money when you work alone. My reasoning: I get a task that starts to repeat itself, then I evaulate the cost of a machine to perform that task. Find that machine at the right price, I buy it. Now I can do the task in shorter time and be billing more labor per hour. [ just like flat rate automotive shops]
    Sure, there are lots of machines sitting idle, so?
    They are all paid for, cost very little to sit there, but when called upon make money. Isn't that the important part? And like Alleycat, don't miss those employees. Bigger is not better.

  3. #23
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    Every business owner has to decide how "big" they want to be and whether they want to take on employees. At that point you're no longer making chips but managing your employees.

    I do have more machines than the average 1 man shop- frankly last week I wrote down a list of the major machines- it's now over 100 machines. If I counted drill presses and Baldor grinders, and all the assorted little machines who knows? I happen to like machinery- there's a certain level of satisfaction getting some machine made in the forties through the seventies, that was incredibly expensive, extremely well made, and still very useful. I spent all weekend and Monday going through one of my SIX Ex-Cell-O thread grinders. It was made in 1942, has WAR FINISH paint, and it's in ASTOUNDING shape. While the rest of the world was watching football, or screwing around, I was as happy as can be getting filthy dirty, resurecting an old machine. When it's done, I have an incredibly FINE old machine that will MAKE ME MONEY! Anyone pricing ground leadscrews knows they aren't cheap.They're also relatively slow to make on a machine that runs itself- KEY WORD! Load and unload, a perfect scenario for someone who can multitask! One man can keep several of these machines humming at once.

    Why does a one man shop have four Devlieg Jigmils, three BIG Sip Jig Bores, three 10EE's, I could go on- because I like machines! It's not even a business decision anymore, but how can a person NOT buy these machines? How can I resist buying a SIP boring machine that cost an astounding $136,000.00 in 1963, for a mere $4000.00??? Or 4H-96 Devlieg with a 40 x 50 inch index table, right angle plates and TWO Vidmar cabinets of tooling for seven grand. Jeez, a guy would have to be a girlie-man to NOT LUST after these things! Plus every machine I buy, makes my job of building machines that much easier. Got a rush job, and my machine already has a job in progress- no problem, with every machine having a duplicate or triplicate, I just use another one. Old machines can break down at the most inopportune times- big order due out yesterday- no problem if one machine breaks- move to another and fix the problem child later. These days the big, manual machines of the past are REALLY cheap. My average machine now weighs around fifteen thousand pounds, which the hobby homeoners don't want.

    I make two established lines of machines that although it's a niche market, I don't have to advertise to stay busy. I can easily spend 10 to 14 hours a day in the shop doing what I like, instead of spending a ton of time hustling more work. I own my shop, so I'm not saddled with rising rents.It also leaves me with money to keep fueling my machine tool fetish. Why not hire some worker bees? What for- how much more would I earn verses the absolute hassles of having an employee. Some old machines aren't OSHA compliant- hell an Osha inspector would have heart failure if he looked at some of my machines. But since I don't have an employee- I can run them anyway I want. An employee would have to a bring a ton to the table, to make it worth the aggravations of dealing with the additional scrutiny. So it's an all or nothing attitude I've got. If I hired one, I might as well hire ten. Don't need the aggravations of trying to find co-workers that are just coming to work to make a buck. Not too many passionate tool junkies out there to hire.

  4. #24
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    Jeez, a guy would have to be a girlie-man to NOT LUST after these things!
    That and the rest of Brian's third paragraph provide a description I can understand.

    I know of two one man shops. One has all sorts of work, is cluttered, nasty and gets nothing done. Real nice guy runs it, but can't plan lunch, much less a schedule.

    Another I know of fits the first descriptions, and then some. Built up from a garage shop, to employin who knows how many at one time. That owner has made his money apparently, and keeps the place open just because from what I can tell. Sometimes there are a couple of employees, sometimes not. Has at least one of everything, and keeps adding more. Two lines of lathes just sitting there like the guys forgot to come in to work, plus the big equipment scattered around.

    Seems one man shops exists for all sorts of reasons, and from successful to not.

    Rob

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    The one disadvantage I can see to a 1-man shop is that there are some jobs, or some aspects of most jobs, that you just don't want to have to do yourself when you are making time on a project. Packing, shipping, responding to phone calls, trips for materials, unloading materials, cleanup, etc. Even when you are really efficient, theres no sense investing your valuable time into tasks that a high school kid can do for you.

    Dave

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    Rimcanyon- easy to see where a shop Helper would seem invaluable. I hired an engineering student for the summer, and frankly it was a pain. It takes my time to keep them occupied, and you never can predict what might happen. PLUS it only takes ONE employee to totally change a business. Even a high school student, makes a shop have to comply to all sorts of government red tape. From all these ridiculous state posters THAT MUST BE POSTED IN A CONSPICUOUS PLACE, to manufacturers safety data sheets for every chemical in the building. You either totally comply even with the minimum wage flunky, or you just decide the extra scrutiny isn't worth it. I wouldn't dream of having a high school kid pack and ship my products. I don't get paid if my product doesn't survive the UPS or trucking company shipping experience. By the time the shop gopher was trained he'd be on his way to college.

    The shop helpers I've manage to get to work seem to have an aversion to what I frankly like to do. I can't even find kids to vacuum my shop. Unless they are constantly supervised, it's amazing what can happen.

    I did have a tool and diemaker working for me for two years until he died of prostate cancer. He ruined me from hiring the average "machinist". This guy had a wonderful personality, did PERFECT work, showed up every day, produced great parts without ANY input from me. This was a one in a million worker, and frankly he's NOT replaceable. If I can't have someone just like him, I'd rather work alone. He made the hassles of having an employee- worth it.

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  8. #27
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    I've watched this thread with interest. Our shop developed after my father went out of the lumber business, and he and I began to trade in sawmill machinery.

    Being able to repair what we bought was where we needed to get, hence a shop. Now the lumber business as we knew it, run by independent owners of medium sized mills, slipped away. Oh, be sure there is lots of lumber being made, but it's a corporate world that is unlike what we know so well.

    We now trade in most any type of equipment, from A to Z. It's fun, and usually we can repair what we buy, and make it valuable again. Some things we just sell new, and others we sell used as-is.

    When in the lumber/pallet business, Pop had at the zenith 65 employees. Now, if he and I can't do it, to hell with it. Our last employee was several years ago, and I don't anticipate another. We just add equipment. In our business, we find ourselves with forklift redundancy much as the lathe/mill redundancy mentioned above. We have several lathes, mills, an ironworker, brake, presses, shaper (Pop loves 'em), and so on. Almost all of the machines we brought back from near death ourselves, including the forklifts.

    Still, we have a full shop, with one each of most anything you'd want within reason. Also, the machines are TOOLED UP. What good is a horse and no saddle, or reins, or in dire need of shoes? Same way with a lathe, radial drill, mill or other such tool. You need to have tooling to take advantage of the potential.

    I don't miss having to take care of employee issues.

    About a year ago, Pop and I were traveling and saw a fair-sized shop that looked closed. In hopes of finding machinery bargains, we explored. This place was at least 15,000 square feet, and had an overhead crane extending 100+ feet out the back. When we entered, there was a lone figure operating a plate shear.

    The man was busy, but courteous, and we apologized for bothering him. He explained that he had 25 employees at that location a few years before, and now it was lone wolf country. He said if he couldn't do the work, he'd find work he could do alone and never wanted to bother with another employee so long as he lived. He promptly turned and went back to work as we made our exit.

    Richard

  9. #28
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    I have several machines that have War Finish tags on them. I feel damn patriotic everytime I push the on button on one of them blessed mothers.
    There's nothing like hearing the clutches release and the spindle wind up on a 1944 No.5 Gisholt Turret Lathe early in the morning, in a chilly shop. It just happens that this machine was a second op machine at Hardinge that my dad ran back in the 40's-50's. It may have made parts on YOUR Hardinge machine that's dated between 1944 and 1985.

    But I digress.....

    Blatant plug:
    I am also a 1 man shop.
    I think I have some unique points of view in the industry. I am seriously considering 'moving' into the present century, and aquiring a -new- VMC.
    Hurco VM2 to be exact. I have never delivered or shipped junk parts. It wuld be great to find 2 (more??) guys that have machining ability, and train them in the bushiness. I know there are young men out there that are natural machinists, they just don't know it, or they're too busy playing 'playstation'....And NOT getting any exposure to manufacturing in school. I bet there are kids that are into 'tuner cars' out there that would like to make parts for their cars, but there is no shop class...anymore...

    I would be very interested in networking with any other 1-5 man shops and trading work or projects.

    Email me:
    [email protected].

    dkmc

  10. #29
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    At $.75-$1.50/sq ft/month lease rates, not too many lone wolfs have large shops around hee. Even if they own their own dirt, that's $.75-1.50/sq ft/month in rental opportunity cost for most shop spaces.

  11. #30
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    Interesting....I've always felt a bit out of place with my "business" philosophy here in So Cal. After reading most of these posts i've come to realize...I was right after all.....(maybe just residing in the wrong state)

    Thanks guys, great thread.

    Ted

  12. #31
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    If I paid 75 cents to a buck fifty a square foot for my space- I wouldn't DREAM of having a shop full of machines, and not have employees. The machines also couldn't be all manual machines. So looking at it from just the real estate perspective- a one man shop can't afford to be taking up a ton of real estate. But an efficient one man shop is still easy to pull off. Some shops were fortunately started in the forties or fifties, and passed on to later generations, complete with the real estate. Those are lucky breaks. The present owners of those shops CAN just dink around and not worry about it, and there are lots of these shops around. Their payday comes when they sell the decrepit building for millions of dollars, get rid of their machines and move on. I know a shop owner who did that last year. But prior to that, he had well over a hundred machines in a 25,000 square foot building right in the middle of downtown Portland, Oregon. He worked alone for years. His dad started the business in the forties, employing over fifty workers. Dad was a tool junkie, and literally had a WAREHOUSE of tools. I was REALLY envious of his son, who frankly was pretty disinterested in what he inherited.

    These days a one man shop can have a few CNC machines, and crank out as many parts as a large manual shop. Certainly a different kind shop, than the old style, lathes, mills,radial drill, shop so prevelant fifty years ago.From a purely business standpoint, I'm an idiot. I shouldn't have CNC machines just sitting, only using them when I have a run of parts. These machines theoretically need to be making chips, which makes money, wearing out the machine, which prompts the owner into buying another latest, greatest machine. The one man band, usually doesn't have the luxury of not running a CNC lathe for two months, while making other parts on manual machines. That's where the employee comes in handy. NAH- I'd rather not wear out my machines just to make more money.

  13. #32
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    Wow, I can't believe the amount of response my question generated! I have enjoyed all of the responses. A lot of you have zeroed in on the "one-man" part of the question, and I have to say that I can totally understand the advantages of being a one-man shop.

    The thing that really surprised me was the sheer size of these one-man, ALL-MANUAL shops. It may be that one of them is the result of downsizing, but the guy who was there couldn't have been much over 40. That shop is on the outskirts of a medium sized town -- a fair bit of industry around, but relatively low density. I'd think the real estate is moderately cheap.

    The other shop, I would say, is more like Brian and some others -- he is constantly buying new, LARGE machinery. I drive by that shop fairly often, and just about everytime I drive by he's got something new that he has unloaded out in his yard. When I finally stopped in to see what they did, I was astounded at the quantity of machinery, and the fact that it was all a one-person, strictly manual machine operation. This shop is outside of a not-even-a-real-town; there is a bit of light industry in the vicinity, but I would guess real estate is about as cheap as anywhere.

    Again, let me stress -- I am not in any way criticizing; I am in awe, and very jealous! (As I look at my ONE lonely old Cinci Traytop, I keep telling myself: size doesn't matter ... size doesn't matter ... [img]smile.gif[/img] ) Kudos to all of you who are keeping this old iron working!

  14. #33
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    And sometimes it is because the owner is a hoarder....

    I know several one man shops where the machines have not been turned on for decades...but the owner is "busy".

    But more and more machines still are purchased and hauled home.

    Usually it is because the building and land were acquired cheaply or inherited and the owner has other income so the shop becomes a hobby fronting as a business.

    When the owner dies, the machines are either sold cheaply or scrapped....or end up in my shop.

    TMT

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    I know a shop owner who did that last year. But prior to that, he had well over a hundred machines in a 25,000 square foot building right in the middle of downtown Portland, Oregon. He worked alone for years. His dad started the business in the forties, employing over fifty workers. Dad was a tool junkie, and literally had a WAREHOUSE of tools.
    Brian, would that be the Bearing Service shop, by any chance? I was hoping to get them to do a job for me. Maybe I waited too long.

    Orrin

  16. #35
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    i wouldn't(couldn't) have it any other way.
    besides the hassle....most people don't think alike ...while that would make for diverse partnerships...can be trouble in employer /employee situations.

    besides ....machining is not a 'group' effort .
    fabrication,assembly , welding large stuff..maybe.

    i'll stay small + content.

  17. #36
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    Richard Rogers, or any one else, Does a family member cause OSHA to come around? Must it be one and only one, or is a family member who presumably is a part owner exempt you from big brother? A great thread, it would make a great article for a magazine and for congressmen who make these rules. Thanks Bob

  18. #37
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    OSHA dosen't get too excited if you have less than 10 employees....unless its a slow day and they need some extra money...

    dk

  19. #38
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    Whew, I thought I was the only one who drags stuff home and takes it apart just to see what makes it tick. WWQ

  20. #39
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    Orin- The shop was called Flash Welding- no it's not Bearing Service. Flash Welding, which had a different name in the forties, was run in a three story building that took up a square block of land. Sitting right across the street from the Memorial Coliseum, the location obviously was way more valuable than the business. NO one man shop could have cracked the nut on this place, unless it was inherited.

    Bearing Service is still holding out the last time I went by. I can't imagine why. This shop is also sitting on land worth millions of dollars. I have a feeling the owner REALLY likes what he does, and what's the rush. His retirement is absolutely insured with the real estate. That entire area of town is turning from industrial, to Yuppie land with the coffee shops, and every old building turning into lofts and condos. When these shops go away, they will NOT return.

  21. #40
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    Boy am I glad this thread came along. I have planned on opening my one man shop for a long time. I am night shift supervisor at my job and can plead with others that are sick of working with people. Lets just say sometimes I fear leaving because I think my guys will kill themselves if I am not around. This thread gives me a lot of hope on opening my shop making one off and antique specialty automotive parts. My two passions, old cars and machining.


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