I own a small (read self-employed) mechanical engineering company in New Zealand. Recently some projects could have benefited hugely from using a 3d scanner. So I started having a look around, and it seems like quite the investment to either buy a scanner or have something scanned.
What I would like to know is, if I made the investment, what are the ways you guys make money and justify the investment of buying a scanner?
Is it all contract based work? or can you scan something and then sell the scan to someone who may be looking for it?
With a mechanical engineering background, you would benefit hugely from using the scanner for retrofit operations. Scanners are used for a huge variety of things. The construction/architectural world use them to create 3d models or 2d plans of a building for new design work or facility management. I do think that you might have the easiest time with small-medium Engineering companies (large are more likely to already have teams for this kind of thing). Equipment installation companies would also be a solid match for you.
It could save you money on your own projects as well by helping catch problems like you said. It would likely make you stand out while bidding for mechanical contracts if you find a way to integrate the scanner into your sales pitch.
Hi Sam, I've had experience in loads of projects to try and make money out of laser scanning, from making replica marble sculptures to automotive work with some human cadaver scanning in between. Problem is it takes a lot of time, knowledge and research do each type of work properly.
If you bought a scanner my advice would be to corner a market you know and do a couple of applications really well (i.e. inspection / reverse engineering etc) rather than a bit of everything as you'll just end up spending hours and hours figuring stuff out.
We've tried selling scans before but there's a billion CAD models out there to buy for a couple of dollars e.g turbosquid etc so there wasn't really a demand
Mostly prefab. we scan a lot as a mechanical contractor, but we have sold scans as well. Its getting your foot in the door if they need scanning done, as well as producing a better, faster cleaner product as a contractor. showing them what they are getting before hand, you eliminate rework, and you are their number 1 choice for design build, because they can see it before hand. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZfhrbMoDfE&t=39s
What we have found is that to justify the scanner, we charge more. Even though we already have conventional methods of collecting our needed data, once the client see's how much more you can get out of having something scanned, paying more for it isn't an issue. If presented to the client well, the scanner sells and pays for itself.
My main idea/thoughts around a scanner was if I could scan things that a lot of people would want access to, ie. car parts. That way I would only need to scan it once, put the work in and then it wouldn't cost me anything to sell the scan over and over again.
Doing this I could offer the scans at a lower price than if one person wanted to contract me to scan something, and I would count on selling more $ worth than what I could have charged for the one off. It may take a while to build up a library, but the cash-flow would be awesome once it was going.
Has anyone had experience doing something like this?
For scanning, profitability is determined first by recovering the cost of the equipment, and then being able to on-sell the service. The scanner, being the capture device, is the cost you need to recover, the point cloud itself is just measurement information and is basically a means to an end. Most clients want a tangible deliverable, 3D Model, schematic etc., they are less focussed on the process of how you provide them this deliverable, as it is the deliverable that adheres to their preconceptions around cost/quality they value most.
It's tough to find a good analogy, but if you say the point cloud is equivalent to having the plans for a hammer, and then trying to sell those plans to a builder, when all they really want is a hammer, not how to make one. For the 10 or so companies making hammers it may be useful to some degree, although they already have their own plans, they may not be as good as yours, but the thousands builders already buying their hammers don't seem to mind. Striking a balance where you are scanning something that a lot of people want to create themselves, that they want to buy the scan data for, is the real trick. If it's a standard, or often used part, chances are it already exists, and in the internet age, someone has probably already created a digital model, oftentimes it's cheap, or free.
My experience in the NZ market is that a lot of companies prefer not to own a Laser Scanner, they are comfortable paying someone to capture and convert that data into a deliverable that helps them meet their ends easier. It's tough to articulate the finer points of how/why laser scanning is profitable, which isn't a dodge to your question (while it may seem to be), but a reflection of the profitability being in savings to a cost that has not yet, and may not ever, be incurred.
If you're going to buy, Joe is right about finding a niche, or at least target a bread and butter market that you want to operate in, and aligns closely with what you do in your day-to-day business. From there maybe dabble in other areas, depending on your scanners capabilities. Companies that buy laser scanners are generally service companies, looking the improve the speed and quality of the deliverables to their clients, whether it's building information, MEP services, surveying, or whatever else they may require. As an aside, it is worth noting that laser scanning technology is still in a rapid acceleration phase of development, even in the last 2 years, there have been a couple of big technology jumps in both the effectiveness of the technology, and cost, which is also worth considering if you plan to buy. $15-20k second hand now, will probably get you something much better, brand new, in 12 months, if you're going to jump in the pool, you want to do your research and get your timing right.
I could go on and on, but I'll leave it there for now, I'm happy to discuss further detail if you want to get in touch, or if you want to PM me your details and I can get in touch.
I'm coming to think I may be barking up the wrong tree. I see that you work for a company that does mostly industrial scanning, as with most people I have spoken with. Your service is just that, a service, where you scan customers unique objects, buildings, ductwork, piping etc. Which is of no value to anyone other than the customer, which makes it an extremely viable business.
What I am trying to gauge is mechanical companies doing scanning of mass produced objects, and all I can think of is automotive, engines, sub frames, suspension components, bodywork etc. I am wondering how much value there is in creating a "product" with a scanner, rather than a service. The product being accurate digital representations of components that people are actively searching for (assumption).
There is a limit to being a service based company, and that is time. You can only sell so many hours in a week.
Scenario 1: customer asks you to scan an engine so they can CAD model up a new race head or whatever, you charge them for the 4 hours at $200/hr for your expensive new state of the art scanner. You make $800 for the day gross profit and it takes a month to get the invoice paid. You then have to go and find new work, and do it all over again.
Scenario 2: You find out what engine people are searching for (2 hrs), you go and scan the engine (6 hrs). You have a high quality scan that you have tidied up and almost anyone can use, maybe export it to a few different file types. You list the scan on a website like trademe, but more specific with only other scanned CAD ready engineering files for $100 (their minimum pricing). You sell the scan 20 times over the next fortnight, and 5 or so a month for the next year. $500 recurring monthly, for one scan, do that 20 times a month, every month.
I don't have anything against services, my business is %90 service based. I just think there could be a better way.
Yep, definitely makes sense in theory, there's a Jay Leno's garage clip of him working with a Faro Scan arm, so it's definitely feasible
I've scanned and modelled carvings, boats, artefacts (even an anchor!), in almost every instance the person looking to have the scan done was looking to leverage it for their own production purposes. Locally, I couldn't tell you who, or how many, operators are using scan arms and CAD/CAM fabrication methods, but there will be some, and surely there's a market for it as you suspect.
The step you're missing is that in Scenario 2 you are essentially selling them the digital blueprint, and passing on the cost of modelling and fabrication to the end user, this relies on them having the time or inclination to do this work themselves. It's not a deal breaker by any means, but definitely worth keeping in mind. The exercise of turning it into something meaningful doesn't go away, it gets shifted on to someone else. Think about it this way, there are lots of mechanics, alot less of those mechanics are interested in digital fabrication methods. It doesn't mean the aren't out there, or it can't be done, I'm definitely no expert in this particular field, but your real niche will probably be providing a service/solution for the less tech savvy folks as scan-to-component work, and letting the savvy ones come to you.
In a business/technology sense, the fear of the unknown was the biggest hurdle I found. At my previous company, our initial intent was to do the scan, and hand over the scan data to the client to model. If you think about a building, there are dozens of measure ups that can be done by designers, surveyors, engineers (Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, and their sub disciplines), and operators, a single building scan can be theoretically on-sold to each of these disciplines. Oftentimes they do these measure ups themselves, in isolation, of only the information that interests them, so there's a lot of duplication, and potentially conflicting information, which is potentially a major issue for the building industry. Almost all of the Architects and Engineers we spoke to only wanted the 3D model, or the 2D Plans, not the data to do it themselves, they still only wanted the bits they were interested in, and other disciplines would ask us to add the bits the were interested in to the initial model for continuity. In order to sell the technology to others, our options boiled down a bit to do everything, or do nothing; forcing us to adapt a bit. This is probably the universal truth, I 100% think it can be done, but the solution will be about you finding a way to meet what the market wants, not getting them to buy what you want to sell. Even now, 5 years on, maybe 10% of the clients I deal with want only the laser scan data to model themselves, the rest would still rather avoid the (subconscious) hassle of wrapping their heads around laser scan information.
In your personal instance, using your motor racing analogy, you could probably find a bunch of guys that you could do this work for, the volume of that however I'm not so sure about, but your best bet might be getting in front of a one-design race series board and gauge their interest and get feedback. For example, I have a friend who drives in a classic BMW 3 series where there are a number of restrictions, particularly around parts and panels, currently I believe their rules are 'Original BMW parts only', meaning high lots of trips to the panel beaters, or wrecking yards looking for 80's 3 Series parts; but rules can be changed if they make something better. A mandate from them say, where racers could buy and download scans for various parts that they are permitted to fabricate might work. From there, say the series has 20 drivers, assuming that 50% of the field races every week, with the other 50% working various ailments their cars have, I bet they'd all love a way to be on the track more often. Maybe 2 of those 20 will have the inclination to work with the point cloud data and getting what they want themselves, the other 18 are probably just as happy paying you to do it for them, depending on your rates.
Some of the more open race series, where teams can do a lot of customisation, may be interested in digitising some parts, but again, the trick would be if you're scanning something custom (contract based), that they don't want others to have, or something standardised (mass produced), that someone like Cardwell Racing Supplies can potentially sell them at a reasonable rate, without the hassle of creating it themselves, which may equate to more time tinkering with gear ratios, or time on the dyno...