Taking a sheet metal component or product from concept to production can be an involved process. Understanding engineering principles for sheet metal fabrication becomes imperative. Sheet metal itself adds to the complexity since it can be made from various metals (stainless steel, carbon steel, aluminum, etc.) and comes in a range of thicknesses, each with their own challenges. The best way to validate a product’s design is to create a product prototype that can be used or tested in your application.
Understanding Your Product
Before you begin the product design, there are questions about the product that must be answered about its purpose and use:
- Will the product be exposed to harsh environmental conditions or chemicals?
- Is compatibility with any other elements something to consider?
- Does it need to be lightweight?
- Is a cosmetic surface finish required?
- Does it require any special coatings?
- What are acceptable tolerances?
- How critical is edge quality?
- How complex is the shape?
Answering these questions will help you determine which type of metal and possibly coatings are best for your product. It may also dictate the equipment used and if secondary operations are required. Working closely with a sheet metal manufacturer with experience in design will ensure you make the right choice.
Design for Manufacturability
Poorly designed sheet metal products can add unnecessary costs. Design for manufacturability (DFM) is a process of designing a part that considers the limits of manufacturing capabilities and how specific metals react during fabrication. It can also be used to reduce costs and increase manufacturing efficiency.
When designing your product, keep in mind the limitations of the equipment used, whether that be tonnage for a specific machine or a general process limitation. For example, if holes are punched, the smallest diameter is generally equivalent to the thickness of the sheet, but if the part is laser cut, the diameters can generally be as small as half the thickness, depending on the metal.
Understanding limitations for the design and placement of holes, flanges, bends, channels, hardware, and other characteristics is a good start. Keep in mind that CAD designs don’t always translate perfectly into real-world manufacturing, where operators have different levels of experience and machines can vary. Working with your sheet metal manufacturer’s engineers early in the design process will save you time and headache.
In addition to ensuring the product’ design characteristics are compatible with manufacturing processes, DFM can be used to minimize part count by combining parts to reduce assembly burdens and lower costs. It can simplify manufacturing processes, ensure that metal is used in the most cost-effective manner, and reduce the need for secondary operations.
Prototypes Lead to High-Quality Production Products
The best way to test your design in use is through a prototype. This allows you to uncover challenges before going into full production. Prototyping can help to ensure that parts fit together in an assembly and will function as intended. Some manufacturers will exclusively prototype in the same material and exact specs as the production part, allowing you to test it in a real-world setting. For critical components, prototyping is essential.
Several prototypes may be required, each having slight modifications that will result in a high-quality production product.
For best results, use the same contract manufacturer that is producing your production part for design and prototype development. This is beneficial for several reasons:
Continuity – A single vendor will offer continuity between design, prototyping, and manufacturing. If different vendors are used, there may be differences in equipment or processes that can lead to reworks or challenges with production.
Speed – As mentioned, design, prototyping, and production differences can lead to delays, but time is also wasted in the handoffs between companies. There may also be a learning curve for production that would be greatly diminished if the design and prototype came from the same partner.
Costs – When designing your product, consider the total costs, which include the possibility of time loss and reworks from using different companies. Delaying time to market can impact your bottom line. If design and prototyping companies don’t have a production mindset, opportunities for cost-reduction improvements can be lost.
Design Engineering and Prototyping with Tusco
From design to prototyping to production, our engineers will collaborate with you to understand your product and deliver the best possible solutions based on DFM and industry best practices.
Using sophisticated technology, including Mechanical Design Automations (MDA), you receive a complete three-dimensional design, along with its subsequent components, subassemblies, and bills of materials. The system ensures the complete compatibility of every intermeshing component in every design iteration.
All prototypes are built in-house under the close supervision of the Engineering Department and are generally built precisely as the subsequent production parts. This ensures continuity throughout the process.
Contact us today for your design, prototyping, and metal fabrication needs.