September 26th, 2017
Success with Metal Prototyping Suppliers
As a design engineer, before selecting a prototyping provider or metal prototyping supplier, it is important you have a plan for communicating your project needs. First of all, it is very important that you are able to explain your objectives for the prototype to your potential supplier. No prototype is identical to its corresponding mass production part, so a clear understanding of what key things you wish to evaluate from the prototype is critical. This includes details on all the specifics of the product, including desired aesthetics, functionality, and use; including the intended production manufacturing process. This will allow the best approach to be selected for prototyping, including selecting the closest feasible prototyping material or metal alloy. For metal prototypes, depending on the design, there are many processing options, including: machining, casting, forging, metal bending, forming, and cutting as well as metal 3D printing. Each option may be the best choice in a given situation. Some options may be unfeasible due to geometry; others may be so due to cost or timing. The goal is to find a partner with experience and expertise both in prototype fabrication and in the metal process that is appropriate. For example, in casting applications, sometimes prototyping software can be used to simulate flow characteristics of the metal to help guide important choices in design prior to build. In addition, there are different casting processes available and certain metal alloys are only suited to certain processes. A good supplier will assist you through all of these decisions. Prototype metal parts can be challenging, so where possible choose a supplier who has experience creating the type of part that you need to be produced and with a track record of customer service.
You will also need to be realistic about your expectations. Even a highly qualified company can struggle with a design that is not well suited to manufacturing or has tolerances inconsistent with those achievable with the base manufacturing process. For example, in a sand cast application, tolerance variation is added every time a parting line is crossed in the sand mold. The addition of sand cores and their corresponding core print add additional potential dimensional variation. This comes into play where an individual dimension on the part crosses those parting lines. This inherent dimensional variation is something that the foundry team you are working with can help guide you on. Similarly, machining variations can accumulate with multiple datum references for a single dimension as each physical datum may have a tolerance itself. Correspondingly, selecting which dimensions are to be “as cast” vs. which are to be machined is a whole additional set of choices to make. Similar issues occur in the other metal processes as well such as prototype sheet metal fabrication and other types of forming. Working with an expert, your part or component design can be fine-tuned so that it can be fabricated to meet your exact specifications. Ultimately, the key to success comes partnering and working hand in hand with the right metal prototyping provider prior to the actual build itself.
Global Technology Ventures is a company that you can trust for metal and plastic prototyping. Our personnel will help guide you to a solution that is cost effective and technically sound. You can visit our website to learn about the various services we offer or contact us by phone to speak with a team expert.