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A sheet metal prototype is an early model, sample and release to a metallic product. It offers designers or engineers to test their design concept or the sheet metal fabrication process before any formal manufacturing. The prototype can tell them any potential design and manufacturing inefficiencies, helping save thousands of dollars and a lot of time during full-scale production. And a good prototype plays a critical part in moving the design from sketches or CAD format to sales displays.
In this article, we will explore the benefits of sheet metal prototyping throughout the product lifecycle and introduce some technologies that can be used, such as the rapid metal prototyping process.
Use Sheet Metal Prototype to Promote Communication
Coming up with a new design idea is not the end. You have to convince your company executives to agree to further development, which is crucial if you want your idea to finally present on the market. Making several prototypes can give a tangible example to them for assessing and testing. It also makes easier to compare with the existing products on the market thereby enabling designers or engineers to efficiently show the executives the differences and potential benefits.
Use Sheet Metal Prototype to Optimize Design
Without the sheet metal prototype, often some minor design elements can be missed. For instance, the insertion of wiring harness assemblies may look reasonable in CAD design. However, when it comes to actual assembly, it may result in the wire harness to be clamped or notched. Or even if the sheet metal parts may fit nicely, deciding the right tight space may still slow the assembly efficiency of factory workers thereby upsetting the assembly line balance of the factory. For sheet metal manufacturers, incorporating sheet metal prototyping into the design of their manufacturing process can also test various manufacturing tools and help determine whether it is cost-effective to produce new designs of sheet metal.
Gaining Interest of Customers & Investors with Sheet Metal Prototype
A sheet metal prototype gives customers and investors a sense of what the final product looks like and how it functions. And it also gives customers the opportunity to carry out any tests, such as installation tests, functioning tests. This can play a critical role in moving buyers from being merely interested in products towards placing orders. And these orders can help fund full-scale production to ensure a smooth new product launch.
In addition, while waiting for the first sampling to be finished, the prototypes can be used efficiently to enrich sales brochures and sheets, attracting customers’ attention in the exhibitions. Especially, the sheet metal prototype can help highlights the new features or advantages of your new products, such as a new fixture, enabling your products to stand out in the competitive market.
Accelerate Processes between Concept and End Result
In the product design phase, it may not be necessary to make some sheet metal prototypes to try out different design ideas. But at a number of phases following that, from testing to mass production, making the sheet metal prototype can significantly save time and costs. It is a cost-effective step prior to mass production. And with the prototypes in hand, will also speed up the product development cycle. For various industries, including robotics, transportation, appliance, consumer electronics, Bio-Medical Devices, sheet metal prototyping can deliver considerable benefits.
Ways of Making the Sheet Metal Prototype
To cater to changing customers' demands, prototype manufactures have developed various ways of sheet metal prototyping.
One method is the stamping. It is a traditional sheet metal prototyping technique. Firstly, it involves the feasibility analysis, the utilization of specific software, such as 3D simulation. Then a variety of sheet metal forming processes, including punching, blanking, and bending follow up. Different processes involve different technologies. A process could be used is incremental sheet metal forming. In this process, local sheet metal deformation on the milling machine is carried out using a single smooth tool. This process enables 3D finished parts to be made.
Another method is called rapid metal prototyping. It uses a 3D printer to automatically fabricate metal prototypes. The 3D printed prototypes can give out a lot of details about the final product. A technology that is called Ford freeform fabrication technology (F3T) - a piece of sheet metal is clamped around its edges and formed into a 3D shape by two stylus-type tools working in unison on opposite sides of the sheet metal blank - could be used. Traditionally it takes six to eight weeks to produce the dies and molds for sheet metal. F3T makes it within a week.
An improvement on the traditional stamping process has led to the development of the precision metal stamping process, which is specially used to process high-precision pieces with different complexity working to high and low tolerances. But compared to the traditional prototyping methods which need weeks, the biggest advantage of the rapid metal prototyping method is that it requires only a few days to make sheet metal prototypes and costs much lower.