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Building a Manufacturing Conglomerate Progress Thread

A detailed account of a Fastlane process...

machinistguy

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View attachment VID_20240122_150346~4.mp4

Video of our first fully automated cell making parts. It runs 8hours unattended making these handles, 48hrs if we got backup tools. Took months to get it up and running but its so worth it now. It's saving us so much on labor for these handles, and we already got a small job lined up for it with three big ones in the pipeline. Days like these I love being in business and give me a glimpse of where this company will be in in 10-20 years.
 
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Spenny

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View attachment 53753

Video of our first fully automated cell making parts. It runs 8hours unattended making these handles, 48hrs if we got backup tools. Took months to get it up and running but its so worth it now. It's saving us so much on labor for these handles, and we already got a small job lined up for it with three big ones in the pipeline. Days like these I love being in business and give me a glimpse of where this company will be in in 10-20 years.
This is what you'd call a money printer. Well done!
 

machinistguy

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Just got humbled a few hours ago!

I change my vision for the company on a monthly basis because my ego wants to be doing cooler stuff like aerospace or oil&gas parts, only to get an expensive reminder that going after boring industries that nobody will ever care about or hear about makes is the way to go, and that I should stick to the boring niche I'm already in and continue building my economies of scale.

Anyway, I thought I'd gotten big enough that I could start swinging my weight around and competing in the cooler markets, until I went to a trade convention for the general industry a few hours ago and holy smokes! There were so many companies doing the "cool" stuff and I couldn't figure out what their competitive advantage was that brought them their profits. Also, they were all orders of magnitude bigger than me. One guy said they were a small company; only 1,200 employees with over 100 machines! Lol I'm nowhere near that and would never want to compete with that.

Funny how my inability to separate my emotions from my decision making is one of the biggest problems my business has. Good thing I can't fire myself.
 

machinistguy

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We moved into a new space a couple weeks ago. New owners at our old place wanted to demise our old space. It took a few all nighters and weekends to get everything back up and running quickly. We moved to a bigger space that we can grow into.
IMG_20240329_113102.jpg

Hired a new programmer (recent grad), a role I was doing. He was supposed to free up some of my time and help grow the business. We even took on a very time intensive project that he was supposed to handle. It was a complete disaster. He knew his stuff, but couldn't handle the stress and would spiral with expensive mistakes. I was also impatient with how fast I expected him to learn. Ended up firing him, but now I'm doing his job and it's sucking up too much of my time. I'm hoping to launch one more project before I can comfortably afford a more experienced programmer.

I've honestly been struggling with the mental aspect of business, partially health stuff I'm actively taking care of and partially because of a lack of purpose. I know it's affecting my business decision making but c'est la vie.

Oh and I'm planning to buy a robotic arm sometime next month to automate some of the manual labor (mostly packaging). I'll post a video, should be pretty cool!
 

RightyTighty

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Damn, this post evoked some long-repressed PTSD. So often in a small business you feel like you’re knitting Jello and it seems like the only way forward progress can be made is by butting your head against it. The good news is you are obviously doing a lot of things right. Glad to hear you are addressing health issues. You are the one person who can’t be replaced.

As for your purpose, I’ll submit these goals for consideration: (1) Train an employee to the level that you could be absent for two weeks. Not that you‘ll ever stay away that long, but knowing you have that cushion will bring you lots of peace of mind. (2) Grow to the point you are large enough to hire that special unicorn - someone with good experience and that fire-breathing sense of agency that you have. Train them to the point that you are no longer needed on a daily basis. (3) Continue to grow to that point where you can sell the business for more money than you can hold in your scarred and greasy hands.

It looks to me like you are on the path.
 

machinistguy

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Things are eh but looking up.

I've quit caffeine, my vitamin D levels are getting back to normal, and starting to get some good sleep again. Definitely can look back and say I haven't made any good business decisions in a while (but no bad ones either) and we've just been coasting on decisions from years ago paying off now. Motivation is better than before but still needs some work.

The business feels like its meandering; there's a lot to fix, but I keep thinking of the Peter Drucker quote: "Don't solve problems, pursue opportunities." I've been bitten in the a$$ by lack of clear communication skills multiple times recently, but every time I think about writing extremely detailed documentation and training manuals for every thing we do, I think there's better uses of my time. I've relaunched our eCommerce marketing campaign for our product a couple hours ago. We turned it off once wholesale/retail sales took off because fulfilling both channels was too much for us, but I think it makes sense now.
 
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AmazingLarry

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This is awesome man, really impressive!

If you don't mind me asking, how did you get started in this? Did you take a loan for the CNC machine and setting up the shop?
 

machinistguy

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This is awesome man, really impressive!

If you don't mind me asking, how did you get started in this? Did you take a loan for the CNC machine and setting up the shop?
No, I spent 6 months convincing the people at the local makerspace to let me use their equipment. Then I bought a beat up 20 y/o machine that needed repair and asked the service tech to come out, show me what to do then, and did it myself.
 

amp0193

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we've just been coasting on decisions from years ago paying off now. Motivation is better than before but still needs some work.

The business feels like its meandering;
I could have written the same recently.

This book has been helpful for me:




Great thread, can’t believe I hadn’t seen it before. Watching for updates now, you got this.
 
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machinistguy

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I could have written the same recently.

This book has been helpful for me:




Great thread, can’t believe I hadn’t seen it before. Watching for updates now, you got this.
You posted this while I was reflecting on how we're not playing to our strength. My immediate thought was a flashback of the SVP of our biggest customer saying she's interested in a joint venture with us a year ago which I wasn't interested in (at the time, it was horrible idea if they saw how the sausage was made). I spent all weekend writing a proposal for joint venture ending in acquisition after 2 years.

I went through all their public financial statements and press releases and crafted an offer that I think would solve much of their C-suites problems. It'll take them two months to reply probably but I think they'll bite.

In other news, our FB ads were rejected for nudity (there was none). Got that appealed. They're now performing OK, hopefully the ROAS will improve by the end of the week. I was also gone for most of the day and came back after everybody left; it looks like productivity was rock-bottom... Sometimes I wish I started a SAAS type business where I'd be in chilling on a beach somewhere.
 

machinistguy

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Health back on track. Vitamin D & Magnesium deficiency almost resolved. Haven't had an energy drink in 3 months and identified that I have sleep apnea. I've been self medicating for a couple days and slowly feeling better.

Had a big meeting with our largest client... and things went great. I can't disclose too much, but a couple of notes:
- I reflected immediately that my mindset during the meeting was how can this benefit me and not how I can serve the client. I need to work on that; I should have been asking more questions to better understand what their biggest pain points were and why they wanted to work with me so much. It worked out this time because what I wanted seemed to be 80% aligned with what they wanted.
- I was really happy about the implicit trust for me they had. I'm always so hard on myself about my factory not being as good others one out there, yet every time I meet with them I'm reminded about how low the bar is in manufacturing.
- People really like talking about their kids.

2025 should be a massive year. Fingers crossed we'll have 1 or 2 months where we break $100k in profit or get close to it.
 

MitchC

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This is a great thread and amazing progress

I love how you started from absolutely nothing too, borrowing the cnc then buying an old one

I would recommend to read traction by gino wickman
 
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MichelleWood

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but every time I think about writing extremely detailed documentation and training manuals for every thing we do, I think there's better uses of my time.
I feel you, I've written several. None of my field staff have read a training manual - office staff maybe a couple of times. What about videos, just make them with your phone or get the person performing the task to film. This way if a process changes it can be updated pretty quickly, as opposed to re-writing manuals. Mike Michalowicz talks about this technique in his book "Clockwork, Design Your Business to Run itself."

Congratulations on your success and progress thus far, exciting stuff!
 

machinistguy

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Hitting the Gas While Running Out of Cash
Been working on a new product line for our big client. It should double our repeat orders, bringing total repeat orders to $40-50k/month. I know most machine shops in the US are prototyping shops making 1-100 parts one time and then never again, but production is easier to control margins for, is less stressful, and more scalable.

The Catch-22 is I'm finding prototyping services/volumes to be necessary for selling new clients because it's much easier to get your foot in the door with a $500 order than a $40,000 order. So I've also been simultaneously developing a prototyping system. The plan, however, is to use it as a loss leader (breakeven leader?) to get clients and fire any that never order any bigger volumes. Hopefully we can weed those out early in the sales process and never bother with them in the first place.

That said, tooling up for both is extremely expensive and taking forever. Cashflow is looking... interesting. I'm getting tired of always running out of cash trying to grow this business. Might have to take a short term loan. I applied for a few ranging from $30-50k and have about $30k in credit cards limits I can tap into if need be.
 

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