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Thread: Is a laser the right tool for this project?

  1. #1

    Is a laser the right tool for this project?

    I designed a prototype tool for Project X and made it out of 1/4" acrylic for test purposes. Project X is still in the R&D stage but there is already talk that my tool should be shipped with each Project X. There will be thousands of Project X made.

    So that I can be prepared with some answers, I'm wondering if I can buy the appropriate machine to make these Project X tools, or if I will need to outsource and have some other company reap the profits.

    There is talk of making anywhere from 1,000 to 20,000 of these Project X tools, and possibly even more then that.
    Obviously I can't go into detail, so let's use a common clock face for the engraving pattern.
    I will need to cut and engrave/permanently mark steel or other sturdy metal that will end up about 5" x 6" in size.
    There is one part of the tool that could be as thin as .15" wide.
    The tool is a flat item and will be approximately 1/4" thick.

    What do you suggest as the most cost-effective machine to make thousands of these Project X tools in a timely manner?
    I read recipes the same way I read science fiction. I get to the end and I think, "Well, thatís not going to happen."

  2. #2
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    Will have to be metal? if not:

    For 1K to 10k to 20K, injection molding a fiberglass filled nylon or similar material (think Glock stiff) would be best compromise. Took would cost 10 to 25K, could be prehardened steel (P20) and would last that long.
    (range is due to shape and engraving needed and who you obtain from). Part would then be maybe a buck a part. So first thousand are $11 a part, the 20 thousandth one is maybe $2.50.

    If metal, Fiber laser of about 30 watt would mark that diameter easily (20 watt maybe, can't tell from what you have given us.) Obtaining the metal part would be the difficult thing.
    CNC? waterjet if complicated? Aluminum would be best, maybe anodized if you need good contrast of engraving.
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  3. #3
    Have a sheet metal shop laser cut the metal blanks. Or depending on the metal, shop and end result, the blanks can be stamped.

    As to marking, depends on what you're after. For dark marking on metals, IMO you need to look into UV printing, screen printing, etc, I can't think of a single fast way to make a dark mark with a laser. Printing also leaves the door open to colors.

    If just a 'frosted' look will work, any fiber with a 150mm lens will work fine. Plus, you put together an auto-feed system for most any fiber, you'd need to research the conveyors & such...
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  4. #4
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    Be aware with your prototype your customer can shop the Chinese manufacturing companies. One of my customers who sources from China all the does that. When I won't drop my price to make at a loss for me anyway she contacts them. Sure she needs to order a lot at one time, but she cuts her prices to the bone just to sell. More or less working for gas money. I will not do that.
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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Bill George View Post
    Be aware with your prototype your customer can shop the Chinese manufacturing companies. One of my customers who sources from China all the does that. When I won't drop my price to make at a loss for me anyway she contacts them. Sure she needs to order a lot at one time, but she cuts her prices to the bone just to sell. More or less working for gas money. I will not do that.
    That's an excellent point. One of our customers came to us years ago with a "prototype" for a display. They were going to make 100's and 100's of them. We made about 50 because they needed them. Then we never heard another word from them. I saw a photo on their FB page that showed a display and it certainly wasn't the ones we made. They let us work all the bugs out and refine it and then took it to China. 3 years later, they came back with new ideas, needed them in a hurry, we did them, and then all fell silent again. The first time we bought into the hype that we'd get a lot of them for years to come. The next time, they paid market price for everything we did because we knew there would come a day and, without notice, we'd stop hearing from them.

    Despite what anyone tells you, when they start chasing the dollars, you'll be one of the ones who gets cut.
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  6. #6
    Thank you for the input. While the tool will not be handled roughly (i.e. using a screwdriver as a hammer) it's going to be a tool that is needed for a very specific, rarely-used application and when it's not in use, I suspect it will be tossed in the back of a toolbox or storage shelf along with lots of other heavy duty tools. It's going to need to be something that won't bend or break if it's laying on top of a sledge hammer and a heavy wrench is then tossed on top of it.

    That is a good point about Chinese manufacturing. I think I'm fairly safe with this not being outsourced since they deal with a lot of their own product & technology being copied by the Chinese. That does not rule out outsourcing from one of their known vendors or machine shops though. I have close ties with the person involved with creating Project X but he still has to report to upper management who write the checks. (We are still debating if we want to patent it.)

    The engraving or mark does not need to be deep. It just needs to be something that will be permanent and easy to see. I would love to have a reason to buy a UV printer. :-)
    I read recipes the same way I read science fiction. I get to the end and I think, "Well, thatís not going to happen."

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Shepherd View Post
    That's an excellent point. One of our customers came to us years ago with a "prototype" for a display. They were going to make 100's and 100's of them. We made about 50 because they needed them. Then we never heard another word from them. I saw a photo on their FB page that showed a display and it certainly wasn't the ones we made. They let us work all the bugs out and refine it and then took it to China. 3 years later, they came back with new ideas, needed them in a hurry, we did them, and then all fell silent again. The first time we bought into the hype that we'd get a lot of them for years to come. The next time, they paid market price for everything we did because we knew there would come a day and, without notice, we'd stop hearing from them.

    Despite what anyone tells you, when they start chasing the dollars, you'll be one of the ones who gets cut.
    We has the same thing happen to us company wanted 500 units but said they needed 50 to start so we made the 50 and that was all they ever needed found out they only had 40 some stores to put the displays in.

  8. #8
    UV printing might not hold up on metal parts that thrown into a tool box and have heavy tools dumped on top. For sure, you would have to pretreat the metal with the right sort of adhesion promoter but, even so, you likely would experience chipping and flaking of the cured ink (especially if the metal can flex).

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