Hey there, folks. If you’re reading this, you probably already know who I am. For those that don’t, I’m DJ Urbanovsky of American Kami, operating out of Omaha, Nebraska. I’m a custom knife and tool maker, musician, artist, writer, and US Army veteran, and I’ve been a one-man operation full time under the American Kami moniker for 13 years now.
As a one man show, I can only build so many full custom pieces by hand each year, so in 2012, I decided to expand and offer a second product line which I dubbed Professional Grade (midtech). While still 100% USA made out of 100% USA made materials like my full customs, the Professional Grade knives and tools are CNC machined by outside vendors, which alleviates a portion of the heavy lifting on my end, and allows me to turn out far more product than if I were to grind them by hand one at a time. I get to make and sell more product at a more affordable price point. I get to keep production within the shores of the good old US of A and stay true to my original vision. I get to create jobs for my fellow citizens by giving them work and helping them keep their own businesses afloat. And everybody gets to win. The American Dream. Sounds great, right?
As I was to discover, contracting out manufacturing processes leads to its own unique challenges. Not the least of which is machine shops missing deadlines and wrecking my raw materials due to machine programming errors, incompetence, or just a lack of diligence or caring about doing good work. The person who ordered the knife or tool does not see any of this. All that person sees is me, the guy whose name appears on the finished product. The guy that they paid with their hard earned dollars.
During the last five years running the Professional Grade project, I have had to fire two machine shops. This might not seem like a big deal. But changing machine shops means different machinists, different machining approaches, different machines, different fixturing and tooling, and complete reprograming of CAM (which is machine specific) so that all component parts can be fabricated on those new machines. And this must be done for each component on every model in my catalog. Essentially, it is a complete reboot of the Professional Grade project from the ground up each time that I fire a machine shop. The expense and time commitment involved in this process is astronomical and painful. How astronomical and painful? Well, in September, I sat down and did the math to get an accurate picture of what using these outside machinists has cost me, and I am still trying to wrap my head around the numbers. Here are those numbers since I launched the Professional Grade project in 2012:
Amount that I’ve spent on successful machining operations. This does not include shipping, heat treat, coating, fabrication of sheaths, etc. It is machining of components, ONLY: $177,267.79.
Amount that I’ve issued in refunds to paid customers due to machinist missed deadlines. Missed deadlines includes any reason the machinist was late, from a lack of understanding of their in-house production timeline, to broken machines, to wrecking a part and then having to start the machining process completely over from scratch: $28,717.05.
Amount of lost revenue from unpaid customer order cancellations due to machinist missed deadlines. Same deal as above regarding what is encompassed by missed deadlines: $21,795.00.
Value of ruined raw materials (I am still digging into this, so this is not even the full value): $13,095.00.
Total expense of using outside machining vendors: $240,874.84.
Look at those numbers again and allow them to sink in. That’s a quarter of a million dollars. And bear in mind that I’m just one man doing this thing. I don’t have a crew. It’s just me. Personally, I think I’m still in shock. Those are just the tangible numbers backed up by physical paperwork (cancelled checks, invoices, etc). And how does one calculate the revenue loss due to damage to the brand that I’ve devoted the last 13 years of my life to building? I can’t begin to put a dollar amount on that. When the machinist is driving around in a brand new $50,000 pickup, and I’m driving a truck from 1996 that is equal parts rust and metal, then clearly, I am doing something wrong. Clearly, it is time for a change. I cannot go back in time to change the past and recover that $240,874.84. But I can learn from my mistakes and use those lessons to create positive change. And that is why I am asking for your help. The situation with my current machine shop has become untenable. Repeating the same behaviors and expecting different results is ludicrous. So, instead of repeating the reboot cycle of the Professional Grade line as I have done in the past with yet another machinist, I’ve purchased two machines (which you can see images of at the end of this document) and all of the necessary infrastructure to “make them go.” I know I can do at least as well as any machinist I have encountered, so I’ve devoted all of my remaining liquid capital to this latest equipment upgrade. That’s $21,381.04. It is the biggest check I’ve ever written. Both machines are now in place, and I am sorting out the CAM side of things on the CNC now, but that will take me some time.
So, finally, we get to the “ask”: Please help me by donating money to me directly via Paypal Friends & Family, at email@example.com .
Why not Kickstarter or Gofundme? Well, both of those things are an added layer of complication between the donator and the beneficiary. They both take a cut of your donation. And if I am exchanging a reward for a donation (as with Kickstarter), then that’s more stuff that I need to build on top of the people who already have orders on my books and who have been waiting patiently. And that’s not fair to those people. So. What exactly DO you get out of this deal?
Well, first, you get to feel good knowing that you’re doing a huge, humanitarian thing to help a fellow human who is fighting his way back to his feet. Again, I cannot fully express the lifechanging nature of finally having my own CNC machine. It is massive. Just that one machine means that I get to keep a big chunk of the revenue that I lose by using an outside machine shop, and that means the ability in the future to purchase more machines, and even create more jobs by hiring human beings to run those machines. In other words, I’m not part of the drain on our economy, I’m part of the solution. It also allows me to spend more time on each individual machining operation, which equates to finer finishes and thus, an even higher quality for the final product.
Second, it’s not just about the wasted time and dollar value of the materials that outside machinists have ruined, it’s the environmental impact of that waste. When you end up with scrap because you didn’t verify your programming or fixturing (or you just don’t care about doing good work because it’s not your name on the product), you’ve wasted all of the energy and environmental damage to dig up, refine, engineer, make, and transport those raw materials. And then you’re wasting more time and energy turning those expensive raw materials into useless scrap. Not to mention my having to drive to a machine shop to pick up and drop off materials, and have words with the machinist. That’s not green at all. It is the very definition of non-sustainability, and it’s an example of why our planet is dying. Having my own CNC machine solves all of those problems by minimizing both waste and my own personal carbon footprint.
Third, the CNC machine allows me to bring additional processes back in house on things like laser engraving for the spork line (once programmed, and with the appropriate tooling, this machine will engrave as good or better than any laser), and it makes things that weren’t feasible, if not totally feasible, then at least more feasible. Such as optional handle colors beyond my standard black, coyote, and OD offerings.
Fourth, I gain back that lost time that would have been spent dealing with outside vendors, and that time lost due to machining errors and outside delays. And with that reclaimed time comes not only the ability to build product in a more expedient manner, but the ability to resume innovating, as well as the ability for true rapid prototyping. I can have an idea in my head at midnight, and by dawn, be holding a finish-machined prototype of that exact product in my hand.
I have verifiable real-world experience with both 2D and 3D CAD software, with machining operations, production, and project management in bringing physical products to market, and I am deeply familiar with my market segment. From conceptualization of a design all the way through to standing in line at the post office to ship it, my hands are on it, and I’ve done it all. You can Google me or the business name if you wish. Again, this has been my life for the last 13 years. And I have great hope for the next 13. But right now, I’m doing one of the hardest things for me, ever: I am asking for your help to get me over this hump. This is a big, scary thing. But it is my hope that perhaps people will remember some of the nice things that I have done for both individuals and for organizations these past 13 years, and return some of that banked good karma my way.
Finally, here’s a level of transparency that you will never see in this industry. Here are all existing orders that I have on my books. Whether they’ve been paid for or not, I currently have parts in the production queue or raw materials physically on hand to cover ALL of these orders, and then some. Once CAM and fixturing for the new CNC machine is handled, all of these pieces (and a whole lot more) will come together very quickly.
Full customs: 21
Professional Grade folders: 28
Professional Grade fixies: 45
Professional Grade axes: 26
Sporky stuff: 24
Again, to make a donation to myself and the mission, you can Paypal Friends & Family me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org . Paypal Friends & Family means that I get every penny. Paypal keeps nothing, and no intermediary is taking their cut off the top. It’s all going to me, and every little bit will help. If you can’t afford to make a donation, please at least help spread the word on this. You’re not just helping me. You’re helping my family, and you’re helping me continue to support those who have served as I did, and those who continue to serve.
Thanks for your help and your time, gang. I appreciate all of you. Be well. Stay safe. And happy holidays to you and yours.