Design and Fabrication shop


So it's time to start figuring out how to do my own thing. I've reached the point most architects inevitably reach. I'm approaching a decade of experience, I'm licensed, I know how to do a lot, I'm frustrated by corporate life, I'm motivated to do something on my own and have some resources to do something on my own. I'm actively taking stock of what and who I know for clients, thinking of what contemporary business models look like, thinking about whether I partner up with anyone, and thinking about what services I'd like to offer. Wondering what people's thoughts are for someone who wants to endeavor on something most likely solo, wants to within 5 years be able to bring in 65k annually, Is willing to invest in rapid pro typing technology, has a teaching job already, has extensive skills in advanced modeling, has worked for international starchitect design firms for the last 6 years, wants to design, consult and make money by selling time/3d prints from my fab shop. A few more pointed questions: Is there a good business opportunity out there for someone who invests in a 3d printer? Meaning, could I sell the service to firms who don't have 3d printers without turning into a full on model shop (which is not what I'd want to do) I know that some shops charge $100/hr for time the machine runs. Not sure how much the material may cost. Are design firms becoming things based more and more on collaboration as opposed to one-stop shops? Does anyone know of shops like this out there? Any feedback on work models, 3d printer and laser cutter brand recommendations, good design and entrepreneurial books out there would be appreciated.

Aug 4, 12 12:52 pm

and here I thought you wanted advice on being an architect...  what a waste of years studying, getting licensed.. but good luck with your 3D printing venture.  You might want to do some research on available companies in your area first.  There are waaay too many of them doing that.  3D printing, CNC, metal fabrication etc - someone's already done it or is doing it successfully, be it a small shop or full fledged business.  What will set you apart from the rest seeing how you have no experience in it?  

Aug 6, 12 3:19 am

Maybe your describing something along the lines of this office

During a lecture he gave he described how he runs both architecture and fabrication businesses. Basically the fabrication shop is free to pursue other jobs doing millwork, metal fab, furniture, anything cnc, and they place bids just like a millworker would. On Hufft's own projects they work together closely on designs with the fab shop, so that when the fab shop will bid for a hufft project they already know how to build the project. 

It seems to work for them. 

Aug 6, 12 4:41 pm

3D Printing, as a standalone service, is not a feasible business model. 

I work for one of the most active sculpture ateliers in the states, and the key to success is not what kind of hardware or services you can offer, but what you can do with those tools, and how that gets marketed to people. It seems an MBA would be more appropriate than an M.Arch in this undertaking. Is your work experience closely tied to management?


As an architect, you have a chance to integrate so many elements of design into a cohesive project, why would you focus on one element of the process when it puts you in such a niche market?

Aug 6, 12 5:08 pm


I am happy to share my experiences with you if you want to email me -

Alot of what I am doing relates to selling architectural ideas/plans/products that are produced by others,

Aug 6, 12 7:34 pm

accesskb - valid question and valid point.  I don't know as of yet what will set me apart, but I guess that is what I'm trying to figure out at this stage.  I am trying to get an understanding of what services contemporary practices offer and how they are structured first.  I like to think that investing in my own technology gives me the opportunity to dip into multiple markets with the hopes that one of them takes hold and becomes something real buying me time to grow the other sectors.  Any suggestions?

heavymetalarchitecture- that is a wonderful reference.  That shop looks amazing.  I will certainly be spending more time on their site.  Something that big seems daunting, but "Make No little....."  I'm from Chicago and I hear that quote so many times I'm embarrassed to actually write it in it's entirety.  But you get the point.  Have you worked with them?

ncecchi - I agree that biuying a 3d printer and printing an ad in the yellow pages is not a valid business model.  I envisioned more as a supplementary service to offer and market.  And I'd use it for my own designs when not generating income.  The idea is to still practice design, but not to focus on one aspect, but to get involved in the wide range of industries and markets that architecture encompasses.  Perhaps my original post was unclear in that regard.  I have the MARCH degree already and nearly dove into the MBA a year ago but was intimidated by cost.  I am more apt to take a few continuing ed classes or get a focused certificate at this point.  It seems like the key is to also begin creating contacts with potential collaborators/partners to cover the expertise that I don't have.  Is the key to success with your office the vision of an individual or from the collaborative power of many?


dia - thank you for your offer.  I will take you up on that.

Aug 7, 12 9:21 am

I think there is a chicken and egg aspect to your plans iterati.  i would suggest you find people who want or need the services of a 3d printer or who would be interested in using whatever you can make from it first.  You can talk to them and ask them what direction they think you need to go to be of service to them.  then you would have the start of a client base.  if you are unable to find people, then investing in said printer would be a bad idea.

have you seen this thing?  They call it RepRap.  it's designed to be sort of close to a self-replicating machine.  To the best of my knowledge this is the least expensive way to get started with 3d printing.  it might not be the perfect product to create whatever it is you will need to create in the end, but it will give you a sound start to how it works and there is a potential you can make a custom machine to do whatever it is you need to do, specific to the task sort of.  Once you find out what that task is.

also, i'm in a similar position experience-wise and frustration-wise.  I'd partner with you if we could come up with a realistic plan to remain at least a little bit profitable :)

Aug 7, 12 11:28 am

I didn't mean to suggest that you don't have the necessary skills, as I am not in a position to make such an assertion. That said, even our shop has a difficult time taking projects from concept through design and production. The tooling is not difficult to purchase or use, and the design of products for additive manufacturing is also not terribly hard. What is quite difficult, though, is convincing clients to use your design and modelling services. Everyone can use sketchup (or thinks they can) and everyone knows someone who can work in Rhino or 3DS or Maya, etc... to the client, it appears very easy to create conceptual designs for additive manufacturing or traditional fabrication, and counting on 3D printing as a source of revenue is tenuous at best. (I recently checked how much it would be to print my thesis project - which cost $1800 for ABS in 2009 - it was $400 in Stainless Steel last week). I can't imagine that the margin on that piece is more than 10-20%, and that is through a very efficient vendor. I would hate to be competing with them.

Digressions aside, what you really need is a plan for how you are going to sell design (and other value-added) services to a group of clients who largely just want a production house.

Aug 7, 12 11:52 am

RepWrap is no fun, well it is fun but no business use, We have it along with other printers but its by far not comparable to STL technology :) 

PS: we provide 3D printing services along with laser cutting and CNC (although CNC suck in Sandy)

Sep 2, 13 11:01 am

Maybe the specific 3D idea has been shot to hell. That was just one idea. The idea to start a business is what I gather is at the core of the thought. It is not a waste to try another business. A waste would have been in doing nothing that whole time. I gotta say being an entrepreneur is something to asses the risk in. Once you leave your Aeron chair and things don't pan out, there will be no unemployment check - ever. Every government assistance program will deny you if you fall on hard times. There is no safety net. You will find a vast number of success stories. You won't find many failures because nobody wants to tell you how they lost the home, car, retirement savings, and they are riding the bus. Once you loose your own capital it is, by most statistics, something you can never recover from. There is an event horizon to poverty. That happens to hard working smart people too so don't think hard work is what makes you rich and happy. The rewards, if there is a market demand and opportunity, appear to make the successful entrepreneurs overwhelmingly optimistic and lead delightful lives. As in fast cars and trophy wife happy.   

Sep 4, 13 5:17 pm

there is risk in everything... when some on undertakes the risk they have options for reward, you just need know who are your clients and how you can propose what you are doing.

Sep 4, 13 5:23 pm

What is the exit strategy? You plan to get out when you can profit from the sale of the business. Chances are you won't start day 1 as a bullet proof corporation that can walk away from debt. The risk is that you will end up in debt that you can't walk away from or restructure. You may end up risking putting your family in debt. This is the stuff of divorces and the unmentionable. Is it a business you can emotionally separate yourself from if it fails? You might fold a business and not worry about it because you are on to the next opportunity. You might end up unable to let go because it is an inseparable part of you and that is what happens to people that follow a passion.


This is a TED talk that is pretty hard to watch. It is pertinent to entrepreneurs but it is not for the squeamish.


Sep 4, 13 6:09 pm

i think this goes off topic?

Sep 4, 13 6:17 pm

All I can say to the OP is "good luck"!

Sep 9, 13 2:20 pm

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