How to Start Your Own Engineering Consulting Business (With a Little Help From 3D Printing and GrabCAD)

A lot of engineers think: “I’ve got a good 9 to 5 doing design work for an established company, but how can I start my own engineering/consulting business on the side?”

A door handle for a BMW E30 designed by Ästhetik.

Whether it’s to get a little extra money, to pursue a passion, or to give back to the community, a lot of engineers are thinking about branching out on nights and weekends.  And if you’re considering this route, the key to success we see from talking to our customers is: find your niche (and dominate it).

Today we’re interviewing Dmitriy Orlov, founder and principal engineer of Orlov Design, an industrial design studio out of San Francisco, Calif.

Dmitriy is a mechanical engineer who works a day job at 034Motorsport (www.034motorsport.com) and a user of GrabCAD Print. We talked to him about the connection between 3D printing and his engineering consulting business.

Question 1: It seems like a lot of your portfolio is redesigning automotive systems for racing enthusiasts. What’s the niche in the market you’re trying to exploit?

Many vehicles on the road are detuned and compromised in various ways. This increases their longevity and makes for a more comfortable ride. But race cars are the polar opposite – squeezing every fraction of horsepower out of an engine, tuning the suspension and chassis to be as rigid and responsive as possible, sacrificing comfort and ease of maintenance.

“What we do with performance aftermarket upgrades falls somewhere between the showroom floor and the racetrack. The goal is to unlock some of the potential within a car while keeping it reasonable for daily use. The products allow customers to dial in their cars to whatever extent they wish. We take on vehicle platforms and create our own packages and products, maximizing potential of the powertrain and chassis while keeping everything working within design limits.

Question 2: How has 3D printing helped in your day-to-day engineering job, and in your work for Orlov design? How does it help you serve customers better?

“3D printing is an incredible tool for visualizing designs and is especially important in the product development cycle. Having physical parts to work with aids in confirming designs prior to committing to production runs and also is a great way to explore the feel and look of a future product. Needless to say, re-printing is a lot cheaper than re-tooling.

“When it comes to client interactions – the prints help relay design features or make it easier to explain features when speaking to a client. Quality prints also go a long way in elevating your image and making the interaction seem more professional.”

Question 3: And what about GrabCAD Print? How long have you been using it, and has it improved your printing process?

“I’ve been using GrabCAD Print since August of 2016. We have a Stratasys Dimension Elite printer at 034Motorsport which is an incredible machine, but the CatalystEX software that works with it is a little outdated. As soon as I discovered that GrabCAD Print was fully compatible with the machine I wanted to implement it. Working with the new software is easy and intuitive. Scheduling and monitoring is very useful and simple.

“The multi-user features allow us to run the printer as if it were a regular paper printer, with multiple users scheduling prints with ease. The intuitive interface drastically reduces the learning curve for new users, so delegating printing tasks is easier and less time consuming.”

Question 4: Finally, how did you get started in this business? Any other advice you would give to engineers looking to start a consulting business on the side?

“In and after college I was working in the financial sector, yet never felt right in the dull corporate world. Being a petrol head, I had made some acquaintances that exposed me to the aftermarket performance world. I was fascinated with the market from both the business side and personal interest. I worked part time in a shop where I picked up some skills and moved on to work as a consultant helping other small shops develop products. I would do the design work and advise on sourcing, manufacturing, marketing, and scaling their product lines. After working as a consultant for some time on the East Coast, I moved to California to join 034Motorsport. I have now started a small brand that is a creative outlet where I can work on small projects, where I can experiment – Ästhetik (www.auto-asthetik.com).

“Consulting is not for everyone and I think that’s one of the more important things to understand – if this effort can fit into your life. Estimating effort and time into projects, adding in buffer and being able to deliver, can be very stressful. I would say that it is really less about the actual design and engineering work than it is about communication and proper understanding of the bigger picture. It’s easy to misjudge, over-promise and under-deliver; much of which potentially comes from lack of a common understanding of scope between consultant and client.

“I will always encourage anyone to reach beyond, try to learn more and grow, but to do so carefully and within their own limits of time and energy. Inevitably, there will always be that crunch time moment, but perhaps it won’t be as bad when you are anticipating it.”

If you are interested in learning more about our GrabCAD Print software click here.

  • Ben

    Great one!