Steps Involved in Getting a Part Fabricated
When it comes to custom metal fabrication, there are a number of steps and choices in the process. We are going to summarize some of those here to help make it seem a bit easier to follow and know what sort of questions to look into asking if you get a bit stuck in the process of bringing your own custom pieces into reality.
Research and Design
The first step is always research and design. This can be a design from scratch or based off an existing part/design. This is obviously a very important part. If the process stalls or fails here, moving forward isn’t possible. Measurements need to be as accurate as possible to ensure functionality within the application. Getting this step correct is important. Better to spend the time and money to make fewer errors here. If you have errors here and move forward, you could end up back at this step, but having spent a good amount of money in prototyping and small scale manufacturing that might have been avoided.
Also in this step is the digitization of your part into a CAD program. The majority of manufacturing relies on the ability to be able to generate reliable copies and machines will need this design step to accomplish the task. The digitization is also important when small adjustments (not redesigns) are needed to the design. A number of techniques and processes exists to help you in digitization of a design that was physically created or based off a physical part. Check out some of our other articles on these.
Creating a lower cost prototype for checking of size and functionality is important before going through more expensive reproduction processes. Fortunately, a number of quicker and less expensive prototyping methods exists today that were not available even 10 years ago. The advent of multiple 3D printing technologies can even make larger stronger prototypes in a relatively short amount of time. Larger pieces still require other technologies, but even those are faster and more accurate (those often less expensive) than in the past.
The prototyping step allows for adjustments to be made to the original design before more expensive machining and manufacturing of parts begin. The further we get into this process the more expensive and delayed any changes having to be made will become. Working with your manufacturer during prototyping can also help make the best choices in moving forward.
This is where we bring the product to market. A number of choices need to be made at this point, and hopefully, the prototyping process helps with some of these decisions. What material should I use? What type of process will I use? If I’m cutting, will I want to use a shearing process (traditional shearing, die cutting, etc.) or a non-shearing method such as laser cutting? If I need to generate bending, what type of bending do I need?
Fortunately, we have some other articles that you can read more details on some of these options as well. Also, feel free to ask questions and work with your manufacturer for recommendations.
Assembly and Joining
Often times, custom fabrication will involve multiple parts that must then be put together. During the prototyping phase, thoughts on the decisions to be made here were already developed and the decision may have already been made. Are you going to weld the pieces together or would rivets or screws be a better option? Whichever choice is made now is the time to do it!
Now that the part(s) are designed, manufactured and assembled, it is time to clean it up. Finishing can include a number of things. Maybe sanding and smoothing joints and surfaces is needed for the application. Polishing up could be wanted or needed even as far as a mirror shine. Painting or screen printing may be desired for brand recognition or protection from corrosion. Powder coating may also be desired for protection against abrasion or corrosion. Stamping or laser etching could also be used if serial number or other permanent identification is needed directly on the part.
You have a number of decisions to be made in the process for custom metal fabrication. At times, it may feel a bit overwhelming, especially if it’s a brand new project. Feel free to reach out to us at Engineered Mechanical Systems. We are here and prepared to help you through the entire process with technology and experience.