This page of Machine Shop Tips is the detailed second half of our article on Trusted Design Services, LLC. For the first page of this article, go to CNC Machining.
The owner of TDS, Dale Ott, was originally trained as an automotive technician in the early 80s. CADD work was an early interest and simple schematics evolved into the more detailed component drawings. After several years of drafting and design work, the opportunity to enter the machining world became interesting and attainable. Mastering spreadsheet and database skills was an important asset in scheduling and managing many simultaneous projects. Using various software packages is an important aspect of CNC machining.
Ott explains the design aspect of his business: “The design aspect of Trusted Design Services refers to the adapting of a component to fit a problem. It could be modifying a purchased item or making a new component from scratch. The process could include just copying and improving an existing component or completely changing the shape/style to fit better or just easier to assemble. When the business was started, "design" was to be a majority of the work, but has turned out to be only a small portion, probably 10% of my business.
The design process includes anything from hand sketches (initial concept) to all-out 3D CADD models. SolidWorks has become so easy to use; many times I will make 3D models to show the customer the concept. My process for measuring existing components (reverse engineering) involves the use of a FaroArm®, or portable CMM. The FaroArm®, as seen on the TDS website, is an arm that digitally tracks the positions of a measuring tip in 3D space. The positions are stored and transferred to a CADD system and a component can be developed using this data.”
The company has the following machining capabilities: “TDS has a Haas Minimill CNC milling machine. This machine is a 2003 model and was purchased Dec of 2011. The table travels X=16" y=12" and z=10". It has full CNC capability for a 3-axis machine. The unique feature of this machine is the ability to use either 220V single phase or 208V three phase power. Three phase power is not available in residential areas so it is very important to be able to use the single phase power by changing jumpers on the main power transformer in the control cabinet. This is a unique feature of only a few machines.” [Now THAT is one of our machine shop tips.]
“Currently, I cut about 90% aluminum, some plastic, tool steel, alloy steel and stainless steel. Cutting various materials is possible by selecting the proper cutters and is mainly dependent on the amount of time it takes to remove a certain volume of material. Lower horsepower machines take smaller cuts and therefore more time. Other manufacturing capabilities include fabrication, welding and assembly. TDS owns a Lincoln 120V MIG welder and a Miller Synchrowave® 200. The Lincoln welder is mainly used for steel fabrication. The Miller is a TIG/Stick machine and mainly used for TIG [Tungsten Inert Gas] welding of aluminum and stainless steel. Various grinding, sawing and drilling equipment is also required in fabrication.”
Machine shop tips include the packing and shipping out of products for eBay sales or other purposes: “Even though I have UPS and USPS accounts and a website, I list my best selling products on eBay because of the simplicity of shipping. EBay has simplified shipping by including automated systems within their site. As an eBay member, I get a small shipping discount. I have not purchased any packing materials to date (except for tape). I recycle as much packing material as I can and utilize USPS flat rate shipping boxes as much as possible. I even use (clean) packaging from grocery items and fast food packaging to save on expenses.”
Details of the use of various software packages he uses in this business are explained by Ott: “SolidWorks is the main design software I use. It is easy to use and import and export many formats of data so it is easier to accept customers data. I use HIPP software to operate the FaroArm® [coordinate measuring machine] which integrates into SolidWorks and makes it easy to transfer data from the FaroArm® to SolidWorks. A file is exported from SolidWorks to any popular CAM [Computer Aided Manufacturing] software.
The CAM software is a graphical user interface which displays the 3D models of a component to be made. Cutting tools are selected and are programmed to follow an edge or a surface of the 3D model. The capability to program tool changes makes the combination of Haas and CAM software very versatile in making many different shapes on the mill. The CAM software outputs an NC file which is accepted and understood by the control unit of the mill. Then it just follows commands for movements and speeds. The mill really doesn't know if there is material on the machine or not, it just follows programmed movements.
For a customer requiring a single prototype or single part, Ott often has to be a teacher of the manufacturing process. He says: “Most inventors and entrepreneurs do not understand manufacturing processes, therefore do not understand the cost of producing a component. I describe the process thoroughly every step and explain the necessity of each step. For example, the first question everybody asks is how much it costs to make a part. They may have a picture of a part but no dimensions or details. Many times I can estimate the cost of producing a part but don't do it until I can explain the need for missing information.
The quantity of components to make is probably the most important factor in determining the cost of a part. The quantity determines the process needed to produce the part, then the design and programming processes rely on the quantity data to determine how to make the part. The manufacturing process changes depending on whether you make 1, 10, 100 or 1000 pieces. The CNC process is not really geared for making one piece, although most of the work I do is making only one or two pieces of each component. This is because of the accuracy of the CNC machining process and sometimes the shape of the part makes a manual process impossible. So, there is a lot of up-front cost associated with programming a mill. The first part is expensive, but any parts after that leverage the initial work and each additional part divides the initial cost.”
“Keeping a financial (pricing) rule of thumb in mind helped me in staying motivated and having a quick way to estimate work on the spot. Let's say you want to make (gross) $50K per year. A year has 52 weeks and you can drop 2 weeks for vacations and holidays, so that leaves 50 weeks. $1000 per week or $200 per day was my rule of thumb for a long time. When I started seeing more and more days filled with work, I gradually increased to $400 per day. When I look at a job, I ask myself, how many days it will take to finish the work. If the pay offered (or bargained for) by a potential customer is less than the rule of thumb number, I have to decide whether to take the work or not.”
This design and machining business is truly a home based business. Ott indicated: “All aspects of the business are conducted at my home. When the company upgraded to an LLC, I started using a UPS box as my official shipping and billing address. The UPS box differs from a PO box in that they will receive any and all packages during normal business hours. Also, it is not a PO box. It is a physical address that many businesses use to avoid listing their home address. There are some other advantages to using a UPS box. At home, packages arrive "before the end of the day" which may mean 8:30pm. At the UPS store, deliveries are made usually before 1pm. That means, I can receive shipments earlier in the day and still have time to work on the project that same day. I don't have to be present to accept the shipments and do not have to worry about deliveries being stolen from my doorstep.
How did you establish your website? “My website was developed in cooperation with a site developer, Don Rathbun at Alamo Design. After hearing the price tag of building a site, Don suggested I go to Weebly.com and start building the site myself. I can select background themes, add text and photos and basically produce the main idea of what I want it to look like. I went for a couple years adjusting the details and using the free homemade site as long as I could before getting into the "paid" part of using my own site. Don adjusted the details and background workings of the site and added the ecommerce functionality. This process saved lots of money.
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