In 1796, a toy maker from London, John Pickering, patented the first machine to stamp articles out of metal. Modern progressive stamping machines can turn out highly complex precision components that Mr. Pickering couldn’t have imagined. While the technology has greatly advanced, many preliminary steps exist before a part can move into production. One critical step is creating a sheet metal prototype of the design.

Benefits of a Sheet Metal Prototype

Successful products often start with a prototype or several iterations of a prototype to ensure the design is right before it goes into production. While there is a cost associated with developing a prototype, the value is far greater for custom-stamped parts.

Minimize Issues

CAD designs don’t always translate perfectly into real-world designs. Prototyping allows you to minimize downstream issues in stamping and secondary operations and identify product flaws, such as mating parts that don’t fit. It will also allow you to ensure your design is compatible with the metal stamping process.

Prevent Financial Losses

Discovering a problem with your design is much more expensive once it is in full-scale production. Metal stamping is a subtractive manufacturing method, so material that has been removed can’t be put back in the same manner. Reworking the parts, which is costly in itself, is likely not possible, so you are left with scrap. If critical flaws are discovered after the product is in commercial field use, you may face a product recall or a lawsuit if the defective part leads to an injury. Verifying functionality and safety through prototype studies before large-scale production can reduce risk and prevent financial losses.

Optimize Your Design

Prototyping streamlines design optimization. This is particularly beneficial for complex designs. For instance, if through the DFM process, you feel merging two parts into one is feasible, a prototype enables you to confirm functionality by testing different design options. Another advantage of prototyping is the ability to assess various materials to determine the most suitable for your application. By evaluating your design early on through prototyping, you can pinpoint potential cost reductions in design, materials, and production.

Planning Your Design

Prototyping is a critical step in the initial stages of creating a stamped product. Before you begin your product design, be clear about your product’s use and purpose to reduce the number of prototype iterations required. Evaluate the fit, form, and function, and feasibility of the part.

  • Form refers to the part’s shape, dimensions, metal thickness, tolerances, etc.
  • Fit is the ability of the part to interface or interact with other components, including material compatibility. Do holes line up? Is there enough clearance for moving parts?
  • Function is the action the part is expected to perform, which may require a certain strength, chemical resistance, durability, etc.
  • Feasibility is how successfully and cost-effectively the stamped part can be made. An overly complex design may add additional costs to the project.

Working closely with your metal stamping partner will ensure that your prototype and resulting final product will meet your expectations. Using precision metal stamping design for manufacturing (DFM) practices will help uncover any constraints in the manufacturing process, and the part can be manufactured cost-effectively without impacting quality.

Why the Sheet Metal Prototype Manufacturer Matters

Getting from ideation to production is often not a linear path, and you will face unexpected obstacles, twists, and turns along the way. As mentioned, a prototype will help to smooth out that process, allowing you to test a product under real-world conditions. Many companies specialize in prototyping, but there are compelling reasons to allow your metal stamping partner to develop your prototype.

Consistency From Prototype to Production Part

By using a separate service, such as a prototype house or engineering firm, you risk having your project churned out without regard to manufacturability or assembly, resulting in lost opportunities for improvement. If the engineers are not working in a full-scale manufacturing environment, they will not be privy to the nuances of the equipment and critical lessons not taught in textbooks.

Continuity of technology and process from your prototype to production will ensure that the final prototype design can be manufactured and will function as your production product. This is further assured when DFM principles are applied in the design phase. A separate prototype firm will not be able to design with the stamping manufacturer’s equipment in mind, so changes may need to be made to go into production.

Time Savings

When your metal stamping partner develops your prototype, you eliminate the time required to hand off the product, and learning curves are eliminated. If your stamper gets the drawing for your part and they are not compatible with their stamping processes or they notice a design issue, you are back to the drawing board. Changes will need to be made to the design, and your prototype is no longer a valid representation of your production part. When they are both done by the same manufacturer, the part can go straight into production, allowing you time savings to get to market faster or provide timely service to your customers.

Cost Savings

A lack of continuity and speed can both drive costs higher. Opportunities for improvement in creating cost reductions can be lost. Costs go up if the product must be redesigned. Slower time to market can impact potential sales and market share or disadvantage customers. Administrative and logistic costs are also eliminated when a single manufacturer is used.

Streamlined Communication

Fewer points of contact minimize misunderstandings and errors. There can be many people involved in the process of manufacturing a part. Sales, engineers, scheduling, operations, and purchasing are a few that may be involved in getting your project off the ground. Dealing with contacts from two companies trying to coordinate efforts can leave a lot of room for miscommunication. And when two independent companies are involved, you risk finger-pointing when an issue arises. Working with a single partner for your sheet metal prototype and manufacturing minimizes this risk and allows you to build a meaningful relationship with them.

Die-Matic As Your Single Partner

We can take your product from prototyping through value-added assemblies all under one roof. You save time and money and avoid the hassles created by working with multiple vendors. Contact us today to get your prototype started!