There's a bigger underlying issue with kit manufacturers and GA companies that trumps the others but I didn't mention.I do. The smaller the operation, the bigger the issue. Many small businesses have run out of cash with a closet full of unsold inventory. The bankruptcy courts generally order the inventory liquidated to pay creditors and that's that, no more business.
That was exactly my point. Even Boeing doesn't, you certainly wont, and ALL inventory is expensive. As a small kit maker you want zero, or as close to zero as possible, inventory. I gave an example of throwing away 50,000 parts but it can be just as financially disastrous to throw away five, or one.
However, low volume outsourced fabrication will push you to holding inventory. Fabricators of all types charge setup fees that push you to buy in lots. Quality control issues will push you to buy a bunch when you find someone who gets the parts right. That was the point of the 50,000 part story; not that we ever should have bought 60k parts at a time (the product that used the closure was selling under 100 a month and holding 500 months of inventory for a product with a lifespan of maybe 120 month production is iffy at best), but volume pricing, frustration with consistency issues, and a big slice of wishful thinking caused someone to rationalize seriously overbuying. In a small kit plane business one mistake like that can mean closing the doors.
The big majority of expenses at a kit company is overhead, being salaries (and a much smaller fraction being a workshop/building).
The price of small bough-in hardware, if done right (see below) is tiny.
But, those last two lines are what you should do anyway. That allows you to outsource everything from a single source.It is funny how two people can take the same facts and, based on different experience, come to polar opposite conclusions.
My point was that the volumes are extremely limited. We aren't going to overtake Van's. Van's is in a much better position to outsource because their sales volume is higher and more predictable. As a new kit maker you may go months between kits. Each time you get an order you start making and buying parts for that kit. You don't invest your own money there, the builder's deposit pays for materials.
So you get a check from a builder. It clears the bank. You call your fabricators and line up people to have one set of parts made. Except the machine shop you used last time you sold a kit is out of business, the welders have a huge order and can't get to you until next February. The sheet metal shop is happy to have your business and turns around a set of cut and drilled parts in a week, but the rib blanks are cut from 6061-t6 instead of 2024. Aircraft Spruce gives you all the AN hardware you need so no problem there, but even they would give you a 10% discount if you bought enough for two kits and of course you will sell another kit right so some of your own money goes out the door to allow a higher profit on the next sale....that stuff is going to happen, and because the volume is so low you may well be dealing with that stuff for every single sale.
Or you have one basic CNC tool in your garage, and design your whole plane around what it can produce. Then when you get an order you buy material (itself a challenge at times) and everything else is in your control.
Combining a welded airframe, with machined parts, sheet metal skin and some composite parts and outsourcing all that is asking for trouble. Make it fully sheet-metal instead and outsource it to a single shop.
Even if you outsource the whole primary structure however, it's laughable how little it costs to outsource that. How much would it cost to waterjet-cut a complete Sonex kit. 5K? Sell 20 a year and order the cut sheets twice a year and compared to the size of your company, that's a tiny portion of your cash flow. Even at that volume, it'll be considerably more expensive to do that in-house.
I've worked (as chief engineer) for a small manufacturer.If you were talking about making most products, even really niche consumer products like high end mechanical computer keyboard kits or similar, I'd be 100% behind the idea of concentrating on the part you do best...but for something like kit airplanes I think you need to operate defensively. You need more control than outsourcing allows, and that means bring the tools in house if at all possible. Not because it is cheaper in itself, but because it allows you to run your business leaner.
For metal hard points it's a no-brainer. You get a 3.2 (or a declaration of it being 2024T3) plus absolutely perfect parts. Easy to check and many shops - at least here - give a significant discount if you have 4-8 weeks before you need them (nice in-between job). Much better quality than trying to do it internally, cheaper as well.
Adjustable rudder pedals were maybe a good example. We tried the sailplane setup. Great, but welded and machined parts with all the trouble you describe. Two alternative ones worked way better. Two square extrusions sliding over each other (with a nylon slide plate inside) and rudder hinge blocks that were hinged in a molded-in line in the floor and locked with a std locking pin. We could only do that by taking the pedals themselves out of the mix, pulling a mold with all the hard points and making those ourselves.
Instead of those 1500 bucks, we went to 2-3 hours of labor plus extrusions any supplier can deliver and us cutting it to the correct length and drilling a few holes in it.
And that's why many kits just have a complete unit from Beringer or Tost. More expensive, but it works right out of the box. In the end it's cheaper to get it right the first time.And BeLite does...but think about this one: My plane has disc brakes. The wheel is a standard Azusa nylon ultralight aircraft split rim, which is held together by three screws that go into nuts that drop into hexagonal pockets so they can't turn. The mount for the disc is a belite-designed and machining outsourced tripod that replaces the nuts. You reuse the screws. BeLite has been selling this setup for years. So...when I went to put together my wheels and disc brakes...the screws wouldn't thread in properly. Turns out the wheel came with inch size screws and the disc mount had metric threads. BeLite had no idea and sounded genuinely surprised by that. So...did the machine shop install the wrong tap when they made parts this time? Did Azusa go from metric to inch? Is there a metric and an inch version of the wheel and BeLite's supplier switched them? Something else? I don't know, and I don't think you can eliminate all of that, but you can eliminate it in your skins and other simply cut parts.
In a broader sense, this is why it's pretty much impossible to make money at the lower end of the aviation market. People won't put up with Van's RV-pricing, or even the Sonex price points. But much lower than that and it's pretty much impossible to make break even without cutting a lot of corners or doing the large volumes that aren't going to happen.
And there we're back at square one. It's the huge amount of labor, development cost and time and overhead that drives aircraft pricing. Not the price of carbon, or outsourcing some metal parts.