Saturday, February 23, 2008

Been neglecting this thing...

I have to say, this whole small business thing is a lot of work. If it was just the shop, I think I could handle it. If it was just the woodwork, I think I'd have a swinging time. But no... this is supposed to be a business. There's supposed to be a bottom line, and marketing, and sales, and some sort of direction. But on top of that, organizing production is a brand new thing.

This past week I got a lot done on the first intended piece designed for production... an easily transportable computer desk with a few neat ideas involved. Instead of building only one, though, I figured I'd try my hand at running three of them through the production process. In theory, this shouldn't be too much more work. Most of the time spent is invested in setting up a machine for one given cut, and the actual cut doesn't take very long. This is the joy of working with industrial machines. And I've noticed one thing already: Prototyping is a bitch.

NBSS taught me a lot about custom woodworking, but when you're only working on one piece, it's a little easier. If you have to fudge an angle, or modify a dimension, it's guaranteed that this modification will only affect ONE sole piece of work.

But if you're building three separate, but identical objects, then any mistakes you make on one part gets amplified by three, because all of the parts usually get run at the same time, and mistakes on one will be made on all of them. What that means is that any room for minor tweaking and fudging has to be done three times. This prototyping process has revealed one critical component of production work: Precision is devastatingly important. Parts made in the same process are identical to the point of being interchangeable. If one of them is off, has to be fixed, or worse, has to be remade, then the time spent to fix that part is multiplied, in this case times three. Cost for replacement parts, if replacements are required, is also multiplied by three, because chances are good that if I've screwed one of them up, I've screwed them all up.

I always figured that prototypes were a sort of rough draft, where all the bugs got worked out, I'm now beginning to understand that design flaws are not just in the design of the product, but in every measurement for every cut. Everything has to be set up right, or there will be one or two parts on every single desk that won't fit right, in exactly the same way. When time is money, and you're trying to earn more than you spend, little boo-boos like that can really cost me a lot of time. And, in some cases, a lot of materials.

That said, as much as this has been a pain in the neck so far, doing three desks has given me the opportunity to build one, ponder the results, and then build another with the corrections made, and I'm assuming that by the time the third desk is done, everything else will make a lot more sense.

So, we'll see. One other thing I've learned... this is probably why not very many people get into the production furniture making biz. Producing a new design is more than just figuring out what it's supposed to look like. Getting everything in place to be able to produce, and reproduce, and reproduce in quantity, is a lot more involved than I originally thought it would be. Custom work is always a little more interesting, because it's out of the ordinary, and there are always challenges to be met. But I think it is also going to prove to be more fun, because I'll still be able to fudge my way through things if I have to, without having to spread the corrections across an entire production line.