Is Mass Production of Lasered Products Viable?


#1

I’m sure that there are hundreds of people in this forum who are more experienced and smarter than me, so I would love to hear what you all think.

I’ve been working for the last few months on a game. Originally I was expecting it to be something that I just cut out a few at a time and sold them to local toy stores. However, as I’ve been refining and testing it, two competing “problems” have come up.

  1. It takes about 2 hours per game to score and cut, and about another 2 hours to weed and glue up, and close to a full sheet of PG Medium Maple Ply.
  2. People really like the product. You can use the set to play multiple games, which people enjoy playing, and both kids and adults seem to love the look and feel of it. In short, they want it.

Which brings me to the title of this post. I feel like I have something here that could do fairly well on the market. I’m not pretending that it’s going to be a run-away hit, but it could be a modest money-maker. However, the cost right now is super high and I fear that nobody would pay what I would need to sell it for. In talking to a large laser cutting production shop I have learned that the best they can do is $20-$25 per unit (time and materials). This doesn’t even factor in assembly and fulfillment and all the other expenses.

At this point my only hope would be 100% direct sales through kickstarter or an online store. Good options, but definitely limited. I really want to get the costs per unit down so I can sell it wholesale and still make a few bucks. I should note that I am not willing to sacrifice the detail of the design or skimp on cheaper materials. This is for kids, after all.

So, I would love to hear your thoughts. Has anyone been able to make a detailed project like this financially viable? Or is laser cutting/engraving only good for small, custom things or one-offs at this point?

Thanks so much!


#2

My thoughts are if you aren’t willing to sacrifice in detail of the design or on finding more cost-effective materials, your only other options would be:

Finding a laser that can process the job much faster. The cut time will be pretty much what it is for any 40/45 watt laser. Some other laser systems can engrave much faster, albeit at a $$$ premium. To speed up cuts, you’ll need more power.

Buying more lasers to increase your hourly output.

Design changes. How much of that can be converted from engraves to scores?

Is the laser cut box imperative? Could you buy a pre-made box from Darice or somewhere, and modify that - eliminating glue up time, etc?

What’s your expected selling price and what are people willing to pay for it?

I’m of the opinion that if you can’t put it together and make dollars at a wholesale price, then things need to be rethought. But that’s just my belief. Direct sales are wonderful but much more expensive to acquire typically.


#3

If you’re not willing to change materials or methods, then consider changing your marketing: aim for the top of the market. I’m constantly amazed at what people will spend for something with the proper marketing.

Your other option is a printing process, use something mdf-like and dies for the cutting. There is an upfront cost for the dies, but once made production should be fairly cheap. You could then offer a deluxe edition with a maple-ply box (with the pieces still printed and die cut.)


#4

The Glowforge engraves at a snails pace compared to most other laser systems. Sure, if you want to do deep engraves, 45W is 45W, but for light engraving the pace of the Glowforge is very disappointing. I find myself avoiding engraves in my designs because of the speed.


#5

A similar boat that I’m in. I bought this wonderful machine to provide additional income, and maybe one day kick off to a new path of income. What I’ve found (in my very short time with the GF) is that there is a sort of sine curve of what people are willing to pay vs. our direct cost and time to produce. I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, more smaller projects are the way to go. For now. Or buy things that are not GF material to laser.

I hope that you find a solution. Maybe some of the material is GF made and some is sent out? Or as @jbmanning5 says above, a lot of them are scored? I did a score test with spacing of lines rather than engrave, and it speeds up the process considerably. I think I’m allowed to add a file here.
Test-Run-Score-Spacing.zip (1.5 MB)


#6

The average cost for a modern board game is around $60 and much higher for games that have models and quality pieces. Look at Gloomhaven its around $140.

If you can get the parts made for $25 dollars and it takes you two hours to box and assemble you could probably make do selling it at and MSRP of around $80. Even taking a large loss and selling to stores at $50 a unit you would be profiting $25 or $12 / per hour. While not amazing it beats minimum wage.


#7

I seriously doubt anyone who bought a Glowforge is accustomed to working for anything near minimum wage. This isn’t enough profit to warrant the time.

Now if you hired an assistant who worked inexpensively, maybe. Big maybe. Lots of pitfalls there too.


#8

I don’t disagree with this, however if anyone wants to start business “crafting” anything besides software they have to realized they aren’t going to make six figures at the onset.


#9

Thanks @jbmanning5. Fortunately/unfortunately I’ve already taken care of that. It used to take about and hour per character so I made changes and now the entire design is scores. There are just a lot of lines.

And I’m assuming that I will not be the one to do the lasering for any amount of quantity. I don’t have the money or space to invest in a big, fast machine, so I would be farming that part out. I’m just hoping there are other options that are cheaper than the 1 place I’ve talked to so far.


#10

Definitely a great point. Thanks.

For the die cutting method. Do you have any thoughts on the printing of the design before it’s cut?


#11

For sure. I know that a tool like this is most ideal for prototyping and fast iterations. The problem I run into is that those prototypes just look so stinkin’ good that I want my finals to have the same look. Haha.


#12

There was a recent BoardGameDesignLab podcast with the founder of Victory Point Games that touches on producing and fulfilling games in house (using a laser cutter among other things).

That episode and the podcast in general is worth a listen if you are interested in designing games.


#13

There are other people on this forum with real experience in this type of printing. But I know you can print directly onto all sorts of surfaces. With a die the point is to have a uniform piece of printed material, then cut it. The entity that does the printing doesn’t have to be the one that does the die cutting, but it would probably be cheaper.

I’d start by trying to find local printers that serve the light manufacturing sector. They will specialize in labels and stuff like that and since they aren’t consumer-focused finding them with a web search can be challenging. And disregard anything I say if someone with actual experience in this chimes up. I’m used to dies for our custom labels, tape and packaging materials, not pieces like this.


#14

Here’s my two bits the real cost for you is going to be time and unfortunately the glowforge is slow! I’m working on my own mass production products and have already admitted that I’m going to have to pick up an epilog or something similar. But there are a lot of companies that you can ask for a price to do it, if you provide all the cut files and eliminate their design time it shouldn’t be horrible.

Another place to sell that does surprisingly well for board games is Etsy. In fact there are a few people that put a lot of marketing into selling games that other people product. Maybe it’s work looking some people up and shooting them an email. It’s gets rid of the marketing headache that way.


#15

Is there anyway you could find someone to machine out stamps for the characters and other details? So you can just cut the pieces then hot press the metal stamps into them. You’d remove the engraving/scoring part entirely cutting down on your time without sacrificing detail.

The inital cost may be a bit up there, I can honestly say I’ve never looked into it. But it’d be an option to up the speed.


#16

Lots of good answers above and this is not the answer you want but it may be the answer you need. Do the math. I sell things that are partially made on both my 3d printer and the :glowforge: and I always hope to be forced to farm the work out but alas it is at this point cheaper to keep in house.
Get some estimates on farming out the laser work and start crunching numbers. Start selling and if at some point it would be cheaper to farm it out do so. Otherwise, enjoy any success you have and forge on.
Also realize that when they come off the :glowforge: one at a time it is quite easy to offer customization and one-offs for premium $$


#17

The GF is great for prototyping and low production runs, but I would never use it for anything like mass production. I used it for my Kickstarter and it was excruciating even though I was only making around 120 Christmas ornaments. Any higher quantity and I would have sent it all off.


#18

No offense, but I think its silly to not even consider alternatives. You can always decide “no”, but you dont really know the quality or the cost or the time until you’ve tried.

You’re using proofgrade maple, yeah? That’s a fairly big expense, making your end product more expensive. Its also sounds like a huge time suck to remove all the masking. If you used, like, Baltic Birch plywood, you’d quarter your costs just in materials. Though you would need to finish the pieces. Maybe.

Youd have to experiment with masking versus wiping vs sanding vs who knows what other options there are to clean the smoke and residue off the end product. I bet someone around gere has probably tried it all already and could point you in the right direction.

I love your artwork, but you have the outline scoring as deeply as the interior details. Have you considered doing a much lighter, quicker score for patterns and shading? Not only would it maybe save you some time (although I’m not sure if it would amount to much), but it would also make your artwork a little more dynamic. Or, what about cutting out the pieces and stamping your design on? Or stickers? I have a feeling stickers would change the look and feel of the game, but would give you the option to add color, which might be fun.

The other thing I would experiment with is size. How much time do you save by scaling it down 25%? How much does that change the look and feel of the game? Could a smallet game be more travel friendly?

Also, have you considered alternative packaging? That box is lovely, but it could reserved for, like, the deluxe version of the game, not the one you wholesale. That might save you quite a bit time and space and cut costs.


#19

One other suggestion I’ve not seen mentioned yet: it is possible to increase the efficiency of your scores and cuts by carefully planning exactly where each line goes. I suppose you would have to do it with different colors since we don’t have access to exactly how the motion planning is done. What I mean is planning the beginning of a score so it is close to the end of a previous one vs all the way across the sheet of material. I’ve not done this, but I could swear I saw a posting a few months ago about it. If I find it I’ll link.

Edit: here’s one of the posts. I think there might be another one also. Increasing Cutting Efficiency


#20

Oh darn, I thought I was going to learn a new word today. Just a garden variety typo. :smile: