Using work manufacturers for personal projects?

So I’ve been really enjoying my first job doing design, especially having come from an engineering background. I have gotten valuable experience working with factories overseas, and have been able to really see the design processes more intimately than ever before.

Now having worked with these factories with my professional projects, I would like to use them for some of my personal projects.

Is there any sort of etiquette for this sort of thing? Should I inform my employer, or does it really not matter?


I think it would be important to be honest with your employer. If your company/consultancy is already working with a particular manufacturer and you start to work with them on a side project, the relationship could get a little complicated.

Before you even start discussing a particular manufacturing partner, you may want to make sure your employer is ok with you working on a side project. Depending on what industry you work in, or what market you are developing your side project for, your employer may take issue. It all depends what the working arrangement is. If he is accepting of the side project, it would be really easy for you to then ask him about using a common manufacturer.

The last thing you want is to do something behind your employer’s back, have them find out about it and then get on thin ice at work.

Yea, they already know I do side projects and let me know when I started that I need to disclose any projects I am working on for profit. This project in particular don’t think is in their market so I should be good to go, but I do still need to run it by them.

The other part of the equation is balancing the pressure on the manufacturer.

Your side project should be viewed as separate by the manufacturer, so they (or you) do not confuse the hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent in the business with your employer with the smaller number you will be spending with them. What I am trying to say is balancing the desire to ask for a favor because of the volume of business coming from your employer. The goodwill built by your employer’s business should not be factored in. This will complicate your relationship with both sides.

You should think of the business as if you walked up with no other contact, the manufacturer should feel free to turn down your business without obligation.

Your business is not part of a bulk order.

Good point. I am planning to contact them with a separate email when/if the time comes so as to help to not get them confused.

Would it be a bad idea to mention that I work for my employer, or just leave that reference out of the communication? I would think it would only confuse things.

I do it quite a bit.

My employer doesn’t care as it is not competitive.

I try to separate it as best I can. Send files from my personal email instead of work email. Setup my own account instead of a work account, but I usually pay cash and get the cash discount.

I have done this with our 3D print guy, laser cutter, machinist, printer, film guy, extruder and our vacuum-form guy. I have not made an IM tool, but I was close once.