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Prototyping shop

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  • Prototyping shop

    Any of you guys do any regular amount of prototype work?

    Ok, a little about myself. I currently am in partnership with a long time friend of mine in a residential general contracting company. It's not too bad of a gig, but it's way more managerial work than anything else. My true love is design/fabrication/repair of equipment and machinery. I have often thought about starting up a shop that would mainly deal with engineering models and such. Basically, a shop that would be completely turn-key from concept to paint and everything in between. I've never been a fan of prodution work, simply because it's a matter of doing it a nickel cheaper and a minute faster. A case-in-point example of what I'm talking about would be similar to a company that my CAT saleman calls on. They take old CAT machines, strip them down to basic machine and drive mechanism, then build one-off custom oil field pieces out of them that get shipped world-wide. That's an extreme case, but it gets the picture accross.

    I'm currently pursuing a mechanical engineering degree (don't cuss me just yet....I worked in the field first, so hopefully I won't be the Engineer you want to drive your rig over at the next jobsite...face it, we've all had that idea in our head!). I've slowly been collecting the equipment for this endeavor as I've had the money. My next two big ticket items will be a lathe and mill. I figure from there I can build anything else I need.

    Let me know your thoughts on this idea, especially if you are involved in this kind of work.


  • #2
    I think that would be fun work. I'm like you I don't like repetitive work. Such as building railings or stairs. [ a niche for evrybody] Although looks like good money it I would get bored with it. I do mostly repair work on equipment and i like that better. You could probably come up with some interesting equipment out of old tracked equipment. What type of special rigs do the oil fields need/use?


    • #3
      I don't accept prototyping work unless there is a contract for money in place and that the people who want the work done, can prove they have the money.

      Got burned by a fast talker once, about $1500 in my expense, never again.



      • #4
        Prototyping can be a good thing or a bad thing, you can vary your work and not get bored or your customer can call you with changes every other day thus blowing away maybe some of your work. So get a contract from your customer and remind them, that changes cost money. Then have lots of fun!



        • #5
          Do what you think is best in your shop, remember you have to pay the elextric bill when you accept work.



          • #6
            Go for it... but beware


            I spent 20 years as an engineer at a large Aerospace company, then went with a consulting company - and eventually founded my own company. My fulltime living is unrelated to my metal working. The lessons I have learned were mentioned by the previous responders. Prototype work will drive you into banruptcy if you don't have clearly defined business practices. A relatively simple example would be:
            1) a Statement of Work (SOW) - it defines the general service you are bidding on
            2) Technical specifications - Engineering spec's of the prototype (milling, turning, welding) and tolerances
            3) change control - modification to work already performed is a do over, full cost of previous work plus cost of new spec
            4) Scope creep - If it's not in the SOW or Tech Spec's - it's not in scope of the job, requires step 3 above - change control/contract modification
            5) In business no one is your friend - they are a client, and they are trying to get the most for the least amount of dollars.

            In the end you have to gage how much free work you are willing to do...



            • #7

              I think you hit it on the nose, exactly correct!



              • #8
                Thanks for all the replys.

                I am more than familar with the whole contract obligation routines. That's seems to be half of what I deal with on a daily basis Especially when we have a custom building project underway. In fact, we just had a customer back out of a $200K+ contract after the foundation was poured.....but that's what significant earnest monies up front are for, so we aren't going to get hurt on it (and the property is in our company name).

                All that said, I think those kind of business practices are pretty universal from industry to industry. Sometimes the stakes vary from time time, though.

                Steve-thanks for the input on the contract specifics...BTW, no offense intended in the initial thread about engineers.....I hope to get there myself someday. But there are times you have to sit back and wonder just what somebody was thinking when they designed something (and the fact that a senior member of the team signed off on it too!)

                I guess my real goal over time is to be that small one stop shop that people bring work to you when nobody else in the area will tackle it (within reason, of course). A friend of mine does that in the pump world. If you need a pump, they can build it....if you have the money. They tackle the entire project from design, sand casting, machining, and installation. Another individual that I would probably be in some sort of partnership with on the endeavor spent twenty years in the machine tool industry. He mainly dealt with custom tools for customers. They would start with a basic stock machine and build one-off accesories and tools for it. As with most people that spend that much time doing that kind of work, he has been very eager in starting up something like that again. Start small, pay cash as you go, and hopefully have more work than time.



                • #9
                  I think its a great idea if you can make a go of it. I did R&D for a multi million dollar company for a while ( I am not a fan of engineers who have never been in the field !) We spent more time fixing and doing mods to what the engineers didnt see the first time around then we should have, but it was interesting none the less. But when it came to building working prototypes I loved it ! If I could do that with my business I would. Even with over 20 years of maintaining,repairing, and R&D on high speed production equipment, I still cant get that industry to work outside their own machine builders. So it could be a tough road, atleast in the area of my expertise. But man if you can do it, more power to you ! I stay away from production work myself but still have to do some just to pay the bills. I would love to hear how you are doing in a couple years.


                  • #10
                    prototype shop

                    I'm an engineer and that was my first full time gig out of college. Its been a full five years now setting up shop. I worked for GM and MAck TRucks, although it was a great experience I'd never go back to industry unless I was hard up for cash. Now I work in research/acedemics for the Rehab Inst. of CHi. We work under grants so I know nothing about the financial end of things but how to spend. And that is what lead me to this group. I rescently pruchased and CNC and a welder other than that I have the standard machines to get the job done. Before that my main machine was a Bridgeport Verticle Mill. Now that I have the CNC and welder I barely touch the thing. All we make is custom. Its been a great job and environment and I've day dreamed of branching off on my own too. I look forward to hearing more from you.


                    • #11
                      Prototype shop


                      I grew up with a wrench in my hand - I was handing tools to the old man until I was old enough to do it myself - then he became the supervisor. You are spot on - there are engineers that have field experience - and those that have never gotten their hands dirty. My experience is that book smart engineers (unless they are in the genius catagory) - are practicle stupid.

                      I will be the first to admit welding is a passion unrelated to my day job. I bought my first MIG machine 3 years ago (Millermatic 135) for a repair job on my RV. Added a TIG machine a year later with another "excuse" (Dynasty 200DX). Followed by a plasma cutter (Spectrum 375), an oxy-act welding/cutting rig - and finally a spot welding machine (LMSW52T).

                      I have a few more purchases to round out my shop - then I will hit the small repair & custom fabrication specialty segment.



                      • #12
                        I too grew up with wrenches (and saws, drills, planners, shapers...ect) in hand. There was never a lot of extra cash around when I was growing up so you either fixed it yourself, or went without. Early on I developed a little philosophy that has done me well so far...that is if you can't find it, or can't afford it when you do find it....BUILD IT!! I adopted that saying 15-20 years ago back in the eighth grade when I wanted an amplifier for my radio gear (ARS-KB5JWN). I didn't have the $500+ for it, so I researched the schematics (4 parrelled 811A grounded grid triodes), gathered the parts and built it for about $100....then I entered it in the science fair and was barred from judging because a 14 year old can't build that stuff.....but I digress.

                        Currently my welding is fairly separate from my income. They only cross when something needs repaired or modified in house. Most of mine came from the fact that for a while I was a truck driver for a welding supply company (yep...I rolled bottles all about a employer-sponsored workout program!) and was able to purchase gear at a very reasonable price since I was an employee. That's the only reason I have a tig (Syncro-180SD) and engine drive (BC-250). The mig(MM-210) and plasma(Spectrum 375) would have been around regardless.



                        • #13

                          You must be the parallel dimension twin - alibet a little younger. My dad was a truck driver - and I was never allowed to take any shop classes while in school - math, electronics, & science was the cirriculum.

                          I've been into ham radio, CB, and bandit stations... I'm now into arcing & sparking. There is no better day then the time I have out in the garage working on a project....


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