Posted by Kashyap Vyas on August 1st, 2017
If a metal fabrication shop doesn’t change and resists adoption of new technologies; it will soon get obsolete. The same goes for sheet metal fabricators, if they do not change their tools at right time, they too will become redundant. By doing so, fabricators will only be obstructing innovation that drives technically robust and ergonomically efficient designs. It will be equally true even for the fabricators who are CAD driven.
Popularly used sheet metals [viz. steel] will have a gauge size that varies between 9 and 13 and thickness from 0.17 inches to 0.12 inches. Any average cutter with ordinary sharpness will be able to make the desired cut and fabricate by shaping the intended product.
However, the matter here isn’t about cutting. The question is how accurate will the cut be? How correct will be the design according to DFM guidelines for sheet metal? Will the product be sustainable when operative? Is the cutting time optimum or the fabricator can still reduce it further? Can the fabricator be more efficient during the entire fabrication process?
The list of question to be accounted before only undertaking fabrication can go endless. Mind it; this is the case only for cutting. Other necessary and inevitable operations such as bending [for one] will also accompany. The list of questions is never ending.
From this, we can derive the fact that choosing the correct tool for cutting or any fabrication isn’t the only concern and the imperative factor. It is time, to accept that cutting tool isn’t the only and sufficient factor in deciding the final product’s life.
CAD models take charge and aggravate the profitability for sheet metal fabricators. To brief, what happens in a typical sheet metal fabrication shop is that the fabricator starts cutting the sheets that are obtained from the metal supplier.
It is a common phenomenon & belief that feeding the gauge designation and sheet metal thickness on the CAD interface, say SolidWorks will populate the information for generating 3D models. However, this is only as good as banging your head against a wall. It is so because as long as the sheet metal design engineer employs cut list folders; they can populate blank size, but then it creates issues with sheet BOMs.
An alternative to this is using PMI annotated models in 3D CAD, which smoothly generate CAD designs integrating product’s information regarding fabrication process. What PMI holds in store for fabricators is that they assist fabricators on the shop floor and operate cutting, bending, rolling, or welding machine seamlessly.
The information within the annotated 3D models essentially eliminates the need to run to and fro from shop floor or works station to design engineer asking what a certain design meant and what importance it holds. It reduces the machine’s idle time and lets the fabricator explore new horizons for fabrication methods and allow inflow of new designs from the designer that will suit their tooling capacity.
Along with PMI annotated models, another big hurdle faced while letting in innovation is that a considerable time is used up while venturing into new design development, confirming it with DFM guidelines, and also in exploring its fabrication methods. On top of it, if designs are repetitive, only with minor changes, the entire process seems aimless.
However, taking a leap with CAD platforms like SolidWorks and clubbing it with DriveWorks, it aids and accelerates entire design process. With slight alterations in additional features while keeping the base frame constant for the entire CAD model will lead to needed designs and lead to desired features.
Not only these, other needs for BOM, customer quotes, marketing etc. are also at a distance of only a couple of mouse clicks. This gives sufficient time to fabricators for fabricating the sheet metal part, that is robust in design and has no adverse effects of the fabrication process.
Additionally, when the design cycles shorten fabricators are empowered to leverage the saved time to try and adopt new fabrication techniques for increased efficiency and yet penetrate the markets at the right time.
For sheet metal fabricators, it is very important to design and reach out to their customers right on time as to there are multiple competitors in the market trying to reach out. Thus to be profitable they need a right kind of design tool and additional plugin to stay competitive in the markets.
Thus if a fabricator thinks that the sheet metal s/he is working with is of a certain thickness and so a tool with so and so specifications is good to go, they are on the wrong path.
Any business starts with a profitability aim and unto profitability, it shall end; else the entire idea is as good as rubbish. Thus, it is important that the fabricators being with the end in mind, of profitability and select the appropriate tools for their arsenal like CAD platforms and design automation plugin along with the right fabrication method. It will bring profits not only once but repetitively in long terms.
About Author: Kashyap Vyas is an Engineer at Hi-Tech and holds a Master’s degree in Thermal Engineering with several research papers to his credit. He covers CAD and CAE topics for the engineering industry. His contributions are primarily focused on encouraging manufacturers and suppliers to adopt virtual product development tools to build efficient products with reduced time-to-market.
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