When founder Dan Bolfing couldn’t find a CNC router that met his needs, he started creating his own.
Prior to launching Autoscale XYZ in 2012, Bolfing was manufacturing sleek windsurf boards. First as a way to keep costs low while pursuing his obsession, and then as a way to rise among the ranks of his peers, Bolfing spent years fine-tuning a preternatural gift for board making.
“I made my first surfboard because they were $350 — and that was a lot of money in the 1970s,” Bolfing says. “My friend and I would strip old surfboards and reshape the boards and be able to have our own brand-new boards. We eventually got into windsurfing, and those boards are even more expensive. So, as I was competing and doing fairly well, I was also filling a niche by making these boards for bigger surfers who needed bigger boards — because most of the surfers in the area were smaller.”
Bolfing eventually moved to Hawaii, began working with some of the best shapers in the world, launched his own brand of boards, and even competed with a team in the World Cup. Once ready to transition out of board making, Bolfing intended to design and sell hybrid cars — still mostly uncharted territory in the late 2000s. But his entrepreneurial needs remained unmet by the CNC routers on the market.
“Back in 2008, 2009, it was hard finding a router big enough to cut a car,” Bolfing recalls. “So, I started building one to build all the car parts. As I made bigger routers, I was selling previous routers to fund the company and eventually realized making bigger routers was a business.”
At his California-based company, Bolfing crafts custom CNC routers for a wide range of clientele. But what makes his business truly stand out is the material he uses to manufacture his machines: composites.
“When I started, my competition was machines that were $500,000 to $1 million dollars to buy, and you had to build this huge foundation or footing to install these huge machines, which would require building permits on top of the cost of the machine,” he explains. “Because my background is in composites, I decided to make my machine from composites — which instantly made them just as rigid as I needed but allowed me to design them in a better structural way than if I had built them from existing extruded or steel that you could buy off the shelf. It also lightened the machine enough so that the legs didn’t need to be so heavy duty, which means you could mount the routers onto almost any footing.”
Despite the proof-of-concept, Bolfing’s competitors have yet to go the lightweight route when designing their CNC machines. In fact, he has seen many competitors go in the opposite direction.
“I’ve seen competitors go down the more heavy-duty route,” Bolfing says. “But the issue is that you actually aren’t gaining much for a bigger router. I’d prefer having more people doing more things with a less expensive router. A less expensive router may not have all the options of a more expensive one, and it may not be quite as accurate as a more expensive router, but it gets the job done within tolerance that most people wouldn’t even know the difference.”
In addition to building lightweight custom CNC routers, Autoscale XYZ also provides CNC machining services and consulting — an offering borne out of customer requests. “We come from a background of manufacturing and building,” Bolfing adds. “If you go to a competitor, they’ll probably tell you how to run a machine or how to cut certain things. But the way we take things a step further is we’ll tell you to use certain resins, use certain foams, and what to use when working with certain composite materials.”
Autoscale XYZ’s manufacturing space is a 5,500-square-foot warehouse with different “money spaces” designated to specific portions of the manufacturing process: machining and welding; foaming; a temperature-controlled area for painting, finishing, and sanding; and an area for layouts.
Challenges: Prior to the pandemic, Autoscale’s lead-time on custom CNC routers was about eight to 12 weeks. But as a result of the supply chain issues that have turned practically every industry upside down, the company’s lead time has, in many cases, doubled. “It’s been a battle the last few years trying to get on top of what we can actually assemble and deliver on time as a result of the supply chain issues,” says Bolfing. “You don’t want to push something if you can’t deliver it, so that has been the biggest hurdle for us.”
Opportunities: Building on a history of innovation for bettering his fun, Bolfing is now launching a line of adventure vans that will show off everything his composite CNC routers can do.
“Being that I’m always making products and have always enjoyed designing products, I’ve been really into doing adventure van stuff,” he explains. “I’m using my machine to show how much of the manufacturing will be done with these machines. It’s kind of a double hitter for me: I’m able to design and make product that I’m going to sell and that I’m also going to use to show off the capabilities of my machines.”
Needs: Though Bolfing can foresee large-scale 3D printing as part of his business, the process has yet to quicken to a pace that fully makes sense for Autoscale XYZ. “Large-scale 3D printing is something I’ve been working really hard on,” Bolfing says. “It’s not something that’s ready to market, but it’s the thing that’s been burning me. The problem is that the speed that it goes at and the cost customers are willing to pay for the product don’t quite line up yet.”