I need some help from you, once again. Couple of friends and i decided to "start-seriously-thinking-about-starting-a-small-business". Some ideas emerged, and i thought about cnc kit building. Of course, these would be REALLY simple, newbie hobby machines, small, compact, and later who knows. What i need is your input, some feedback, since almost everyone here is a potential buyer, and there's a bunch of people who already own premade kits.
1. Price. Probably the most important question. Tell me how much would you spend?
2. Kit. Would it be better if i sold complete kits (frame+motors,+etc...) or just the frame, so the buyer can customize the rest as he/she wants? This question directly affects the price question, so... Plus, should the kit be assembled or not? I myself would prefer disassembled, since that would be an opportunity to learn even more.
3. Materials. What, where, etc...
4. Size. How large should it be?
5. Technology. What kind of machine would you buy? Moving gantry, R&P, etc, etc...
6. Anything else that comes to mind would be greatly appreciated.
Obviously, i am not the most competent person here to teach someone about CNC, but i believe that where there's a will, there's a way.
Also, what is your opinion on the overall market? Is there room for another small builder? I can't really rely on my region (Southeast Europe), so i was planning to concentrate on Western parts (Germany, France, Scandinavian countries, UK...) as well as overseas (US, Canada). Is the shipping price a huge factor? I assume it is, since machines or kits aren't exactly 20oz in weight.
Anyways, i will post some simple designs soon. It surely won't be anything groundbreaking, but i can get some feedback.
Thanks in advance!
Anyone who says "It only goes together one way" has no imagination.
Well, if anyones interested, I'll mention a few things about
some stuff I've learned about making and selling machines. I've
been steady at it since 2005....(made several iterations beginning
in 2001 to learn what I was doing. That took a while.)
Number one problem. (Well, there's a Ton of number 1 problems.
Maybe they're all #1...
It looks much easier than it is.
It takes 4-10x the time it seems it will take.
Supplies/materials/parts will vary and cause need for design changes
over time. Material suppliers seem to buy stuff that will be different
from their suppliers from one time to the next. So right off, it's better
to pay a premium ($$!) and use a reliable supplier. And pay more for supplies
that are more likely to be the exact same part you want next time.
(Sounds odd I know. It takes a long time to understand what that means.)
That also does assume you'd want to reproduce the same design....which is
really the best way to reduce any time to make the things in the future.
Meaning, you have to get used to making the same thing over and over
before you get efficient at it...and therefore anywhere near cost effective.
You'll need $$$$ of tools and machines. Though I did well enough for years
with little more than a mini-mill and mini-lathe...and a drill press. It can
Your design needs to take into account shipping it, naturally, but that
also causes lots of design changes until you have a good system in place.
Lots of trial & error and that gets really-really costly over time. You may
have tons of stuff that was bought and only used a time or two.
Meaning, people won't buy a machine for $500 when it costs $600 to ship it.
Not usually, anyway...
It's a very good idea to use whatever you sell for at least 6 months to be sure
it'll work correctly. It'll surprise you on some days. You have to learn
everything that can possibly go wrong with it. You'll need to be a support
expert with it....and make time for that support.
Who knows how much it should cost. Depends on the design and how well made
it is before you can figure out how much you can sell it for.
Here's what I'd do if I was a newbie machine maker....
Build a small simple design you're comfortable with reproducing.
Don't try to sell them anywhere but locally to begin with. It's a very good thing
to be able to go see for yourself...in person...whatever the new owner of that
machine is making with it...the inevitable problems he's having...what could/should
or needs to be done to make it work better...do repairs/retrofits.
All that will cost you a fortune in time...(needed to make the next machine)...shipping
and support if someone is halfway around the world. The goal is to make the machine
as bulletproof and failsafe as possible. That takes many iterations of the same design
in most cases....unless someone is just one hell of a good designer.
Sell the machine locally and take it from there. The practice and experience is
what you're after above all else in the beginning. There'll be enough surprises
to keep anyone busy for a long enough time to get good enough to sell them
I don't sell full kits. I'm no expert at either electronics or software. Remember,
if you sell it, you have to support it, and those 2 things alone will eat up all
the time you need to make another machine.
I'd never try to scare anyone away from trying it. Just keep in mind that it
can take ALLLLL your time. ALLLLL your $$$$. ALLLLL your credit.
Start slow. With just 1-2 machines. See if they'll sell. You're not too far
commited at that point.
Anyone could build themselves a nice little business selling machines locally.
I'd expect them to sell well if it's a good design. Lots of people may be
interested in coming to see it working for themselves. Of course that also depends
on where someone is located...naturally..but it does drastically reduce costs
--like shipping, that often kill a sale.
And lastly, that's just my opinion. There are countless ways of doing most anything.
It mainly would depend on your time and access to funds in any case. I don't
see how that can be avoided by anyone however they do it...
thanks for the reply, kind sir i think i might just frame this post as a motivational poster. my plan was exactly to build something small, reliable, and relatively cheap for an average hobby joe. my main problem are the market and the finances. i have some plans for the finances, but everything is still in diapers. market around here is really unstable, and hypocritical. there are little or no machinists ready to invest in anything other than pro machines, so that's not an option.
how are things abroad? are people contacting You? since this damn recession and global crisis, did the business drop, or did it stay on some level? You don't have to answer the questions, i would just like to know as much as i can before i embark on this.
Markets will always fluctuate. There's always summer, winter, get
the kids in school, buy new clothes, holidays....and a zillion other
things that will throw any sales in the toilet for weeks at at time.
You have to learn that as it comes....
If you want to know if selling machines is a great profitable thing to
do....the answer is No. It takes too much time unless you tie up a fortune,
have reliable (reliable!) help that knows what they're doing...and cares
more about what they're doing than the paycheck, text messages, partying,
and other assorted BS that can cause you to waste/lose time/$$.
But it is entirely possible to get started from complete scratch.
Build a nice looking machine that works good and let the local woodworking
guys get a look at it carving some cool stuff.
You're the maker of the market. It's up to you to make it into
what you think it should be. Let them see the precision of that machine and
you *Will* get some interest. The kind of interest you can see in someones
eyes and know that you have a thing of interest....that has value.
Plain old MDF and threaded rod will make a good enough machine to let you
know a lot of things.
But you have to have a thing to show first of all. Primary objective #1.
Nothing else matters til that machine is done. Only then can you make it
better, bigger, nicer. Nothing happens til #1 is built....
thanks for all the advice, man. i really appreciate it. true, the market is always treacherous, and "wobbly".
what would you suggest regarding technologies? i mean the drives, linear motion, spindles...
would it be a good idea to sell plans as well as machines?
John's MicroCarve A4 that I own is awesome.
Simplicity, rigidity(Ipe at 40 IPM generates some force), ruggedness(I've crashed it a few times without spending more then 5 minutes fixing it), reliability, and a nice looking machine
It's been preforming great with 95%+ humidity with banana trees and a gulch 10 feet away from it...
My only worry was the MDF swelling, but with the proper sealing(plus two coats of rustoleom hammered enamel makes it look great) nothing can happen and I don't have any sort of vibration issues with fine work.
Like any other market there are barriers of entry for every newcomer, especially if one wants to go beyond the local scene. If the new offer does not have some radical innovative features or an extremely good price/performance ratio it is hard to convince potential customers to not buy the proven system that is recommended by others (why take the risk?).
The other problem is just margin and quantity. If the machine is cheap, then the profit margin will be slim. Consequently, if you want to make a living off it you got to sell a large quantity and be prepared to supply and support that.
I most marketing courses they throw around numbers (not sure how well researched) that usually only 5-10% of new ventures are really successful. Half of the rest will fail right away and they are the lucky ones. The other half will suffer a slow and painful death.
Not saying to discourage, but to go into some new business with eyes open, especially if own money is invested. If you can consider it a hobby with side benefits and don't depend on the income that is a different story.
well it definitely will be hobby based business. but if it goes beyond that, no one will be happier than me. time will tell. i think i'll follow mr microcarve's advice. i'm already drawing up a 2'x1' machine, bit aluminum, bit mdf, supported rails... A LOT better than my first one. although it's not more than a toy, i did learn a lot from playing around. then i'll see what others think about it, give it out for testing, and see what happens.
And Thank You!
Actually, I was very hesitant to post that. I do not want to seem to
be a know-it-all, (because I'm far-far-far from one)...and every single day
I'm more and more surprised by how much I didn't know.
But there's a fine line between being a know-it-all and conveying
enough confidence in what someone is talking about that people trust
and believe in what's said/posted. So I chance it sometimes....
I do surely think though, that there's a potential little hobby business that'd
work for lots of people. The trick for me is not taking it too seriously...
thinking it's a full fledged business...to begin with.
That's where I made my initial mistake and sunk a ton of $$ into a ton
of stuff that I didn't need. I thought it'd be a lot easier, but it takes a lot
of time that has nothing to do with the actual machine itself.
Questions/support/help alone is sometimes +6 hours a day. Someone almost
has to have hired help with that alone if they go into it as a business. Then
they have to be really well trained on How to help and support.
Ordering, bookkeeping, shipping/tracking shipping, damages, is more time.
Then if someone who's hired gets hurt with a simple saw blade or end
mill, there's the end of the business in a flash in lots of cases. I get cut
or nicked often. I fix it with super glue....but you can't do that with
very many people who are employees.....
Taking it as strictly a hobby and letting it do what it'll do and grow as it
grows can work for lots of people. And keep it fun and interesting.
Pressure from problems and things that will definitely go wrong causes
mistakes that end up eating the little profit that comes....if it even does.
All that said, a little local 'hobby business' has lots of potential and keeps
the fun and interest when it's a little more personal. Anyone who sees
a machine working very-very often wants their own. They get their
own ideas immediately and want to try it themselves.
I actually think, by now, there's more and better potential in the local
hobby type of approach. It saves tons of $$$$ and you can take a day
off when you want one...
Not so much commitment too quickly.
these are great advices, guys. thanks a bunch. one more question. parts. supported rails, leadscrews... is there a place that sells everything? i guess that shipping will be the major issue, since not everyone ships to southeast europe...