Are you considering starting your own machine shop?
Occasionally, machinists, tool & die makers, CNC machine operators and
programmers will ask themselves whether starting a machine shop of their
own would be better than working for someone else. If your boss is difficult
to work for you may ask yourself this every day. Or maybe you were laid
off and are thinking of starting your own shop until/instead of finding
employment at another company. Whatever your motivation, you have a lot
of decisions to make and it could seem overwhelming.
out small with a few manual machines may be the only path for those who
do not have all the money and client base to open a full service machine
shop. It is common for someone to start-up with one manual milling machine
so they can build capital for more machines such as a lathe, horizontal
bandsaw, vertical bandsaw, surface grinding machines etc. Either buy your
mill new or carefully test a used one before you buy it. Also consider
adding a digital readout to your mill for accuracy and convenience. Note
that there are many single-mill shops and garages out there so the competition
could be tough and you may need to keep your current job for a while.
likely the next machine you would need after a manual mill is a horizontal
bandsaw which is needed to cut your stock to correct length for machining.
You should plan ahead when buying a machine and a saw is no different.
Much depends upon the size of the work you will be quoting and machining.
Remember that it is always better to have more capacity when purchasing
a machine because you don't know what your next job will be and you want
to avoid pushing a machine at full capacity.
some would prefer a lathe before investing in a saw. This is understandable
because much round work (especially small round work) could be cut-off
in a lathe. The most important criteria in selecting one are the maximum
swing over bed and cross-slide and the distance between centers. If you
are new to lathes please note that most lathe model numbers reflect the
size of the lathe so, for example, the model Jet GH-1440W tells you that
this lathe has a 14" swing over the bed ways and 40" between centers.
Note that while you would be able to turn 14" diameter material on a 14x40
you may not have a way to hold the material because the chuck jaws will
not be large enough. You will also not be able to move the lathe cutting
tool to work on the full length of long parts because the maximum diameter
you can swing over the cross-slide is much smaller than the maximum swing
over the bed.
you are looking for greater dimensional accuracy, flatness, squareness
and finish you will want to consider purchasing a surface grinding machine.
A good surface grinder will be able to achieve +/-0.0002" while maintaining
flatness with a superior finish. Also, with a surface grinder you are
able to "dress" the grinding wheel with specific geometries that could
then be transferred by grinding to your work. Precision grinding does
take consider time to do and will add cost to the job so be sure you need
to add this expensive step.
say if you want to earn a good living you will need to go with CNC (Computer
Numerical Control) mills, lathes and other manufacturing machines. CNC
machines, programmed correctly, will definitely decrease production time
and decrease mistakes. The most versatile is a machining center. A properly
programmed machining center can do many operations all by itself without
much operator involvement. So if you can afford one, it is a great way
to get parts made while you are busy doing something else. There are often
used CNC machines available but note that these highly complex machines
are sold "as is" and should be bought locally to allow you to check the
machine out thoroughly in person before buying.
always recommend buying new machines from a reputable machinery distributor
such as American Machine Tools Company. This can help avoid many potential
problems, especially Murphy's Law. It is always worth your while to talk
to an experienced salesman about your machinery needs so we can recommend
the correct machine and answer all your questions before you purchase.
Surprises are only fun on your birthday. Remember that there is always
something you will need (machine attachment, gage, material, maintenance
part, cutting tools, special tools, administrative cost etc.) so it can
actually take a while before you start making a profit. So make sure you
have a cushion of money and one or more credit cards handy before you
forget sales! Even if you have a busy workload this week, always be on
the lookout for your next client. When looking for work you might want
to concentrate on manufacturing companies who are more likely to become
repeat clients. The contacts you have accumulated over the years before
you became independent will become very valuable. Call them and visit
them. Is there a military base near you? Then get registered as a government
contractor and contact the base to find out who you need to talk to. But
be warned that some military bases are difficult to get onto for security
reasons. It can help if you are a veteran. Are there weld shops nearby?
Call them. They sometimes need machining work done as part of their welding
and fabrication projects. No matter what the industry you are calling
on, you will often find that the manager you need to talk to is at their
desk early in the morning and near the end of the workday.
the work is always difficult. If you quote too high you probably wont
get the work. If you quote too low you will probably lose money on the
work. You need to develop a system. Assign a cost to each operation needed
to make a part with a big component being the setup operation. Put these
values on paper or into a computer and keep a file of every job you make
parts for so that if you get a similar part to quote you can look back
at how you made it and what it cost you last time. There are some helpful
job shop computer programs that you can buy that make this easier.
if you hire a family member or friend to work for you, make sure you never
allow the work to ruin your relationship with them. That is especially
true if you hire your wife (or husband). There is a big risk of harming
your marriage or just plan gettting tired of seeing each other all day
and then all night. Finally instead of ending this blog post with a good
luck! We want to remind you that starting your own machine shop may seem
like a lot of hard work, but you will probably not regret it in the long
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