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Manufacturing metal parts: stamping vs fabrication

Supplier: Swift Metal Services Pty Ltd
28 October, 2014

Deciding how to manufacture metal parts using either metal stamping or repetition fabrication techniques is an important decision that ultimately affects the design, quality, timing, cost and repeatable performance of the metal components to be produced.

With many years experience, the team at Swift Metal Services has collated some of the benefits, disadvantages and considerations associated with each of these processes in order to develop a framework for deciding how to most efficiently produce parts that will best support your production requirements.

Metal stamping and metal fabrication – the fundamentals

In order to assess the pros and cons of metal pressing or stamping vs fabrication, it's helpful to review the fundamentals of these two technologies:

Metal stamping

Metal stamping (or pressing) encompasses an array of manufacturing processes such as punching, blanking, embossing, bending, flanging and coining using a machine press or stamping press.

Metal stampings can be a single stage operation where every stroke of the press produces a metal part, or parts can be produced through multiple stages and operations.

Metal fabrication

Metal fabrication predominately refers to creating metal components by cutting, folding, drilling, tapping and welding. This maybe followed by an assembly process.

Cutting can be done by sawing or shearing parts, or via CNC cutters using a laser, mill or waterjet cutting.

Folding is typically done by striking (manual or powered) or using press brakes or horizontal folders and similar tools.

Tapping and thread rolling is usually performed on an automatic thread rolling or tapping machine.

Final assembly brings the individual parts together by using semi-automated or robotic welding, adhesives, riveting, threaded fasteners or swaging of crimped seams.

Precision pressing or stamping

Advantages

Metal stampings are utilised throughout Australia to create a wide range of precision components.

Pressing and stamping is an efficient and cost-effective process for producing, medium to high volume production runs of parts using tooling to reduce costs, and increasingly incorporating secondary operations that produce unique product designs.

Precision stamping is a fast, accurate and cost-effective solution for manufacturing quantities of complex products. The process is well-suited for medium to high volumes because the per part set-up and labour costs reduce significantly as production levels increase

Precision stamping can be performed on manual presses however efficiency is optimised when using highly automated coil-fed presses and incorporating secondary operations within both the press and/or die. Value add operations including automatic stud or nut insertion, in-die tapping, even in-die welding and assembly can be incorporated to increase the value of parts

Complex products and innovative designs can be created using sophisticated precision stampings. Benefits include material flow or drawing as well as close tolerances, and repeatability not possible with fabrication techniques.

Metal pressed parts typically allow for lower per part material costs as metal is purchased purchase in coil stock instead sheet steel, and produce less scrap in the production process.

Companies with stamping and pressing abilities in advanced production techniques such as Swift Metal Services, combined with an in-house tool room for tool design and maintenance are especially equipped for pressing and stamping of componentry.

Disadvantages

Initial tooling expenses may render metal stamping ineffective for short production runs

Longer lead times are usually required due to the 20 -25 working days lead time taken to develop and manufacture tooling

Inflexible due to the costs and downtime required to make design changes once tools have been produced.

Repetition fabrication

Metal fabrication offers a high degree of flexibility and greater agility in prototyping and adjusting product features after a manufactured component has entered production.

Identifying a multi-level supplier who can provide in-house support for a wide range of secondary operations (forming, thread-rolling, machining, tapping, welding and assembly) can reduce both production lead times and overall costs.

Advantages

  • Precision fabrication offers a wide range of production techniques to create value-added metal components that can be customised to specific customer requirements.
  • Lead times from design to production are reduced.
  • Flexibility is key due to the ability to rapidly implement design changes to a part with the obvious cost benefits.
  • Laser cutting and auto-feed saws – A variety of effective techniques can be used to cut raw sheet materials to size.
  • Profiling and forming – Continued advances in multi-axis press brakes offer CNC programmable controls, computerised back gauging and rapid set-up. This results in increased accuracy and consistency in the components manufactured.
  • Machining – Automatic lathes, CNC machining centres, palletised production feed systems, and advances in machine tooling are allowing for more exacting surfaces and efficient production of tight tolerances.
  • Welding and assembly – Stamped, pressed, formed and machined parts are assembled and/or joined together This is typically accompanied with a quality check for accuracy and alignment. Semi-automated and robotic welding processes provide for a high degree of consistency and accuracy.

Disadvantages

  • Metal fabrications are usually more labour intensive resulting in a higher per piece cost
  • Complex parts or odd shapes may require the detail forms of a pressing and stamping die
  • Consistency and repeatability can still be a challenge as compared with a proven stamping die
  • Deep drawn parts are not usually viable with fabrication techniques
  • Generally the production process is slower than metal stamping and pressing
  • Material costs can be higher than with metal stampings

Balancing of priorities

Driven by today's fast changing society, a key trend in manufacturing is shorter product design cycles. Time to market is critical, yet cost is always an overriding influence. This creates a much greater need for rapid prototyping coupled with efficient production. The concentration on overall cost and increased frequency in product changes to meet "new" needs, creates a migration to utilise hybrid design, test and production techniques.

Each decision on producing a part through use of metal stamping or metal fabrication must balance a complex set of priorities to determine the total efficiency of production. One must incorporate the initial design of the part, prototype and production planning, short and long-term costs and the ability to manage the service and complete product lifecycle.

Shorter initial lead times and rapid development from 3D models to fabricate prototype parts has become a necessity for many manufacturing businesses. The current focus on lifetime costs often spreads development expenses for a program over a much shorter time period.

An emerging manufacturing trend has been adoption of these hybrid design and production techniques that leverage the advantages of both metal stamping and metal fabrications. These hybrid designs require machinery capabilities and personnel expertise with both production methods – ideally under the one roof. Clients benefit greatly where a part can "mocked-up" using fabrication techniques and immediately put into production using in-house tooling, once the sample has need approved.

Evaluate the benefits of utilising advanced Australian metal processing companies who have experience and capabilities in both stamping, pressing and repetition fabrication.

Companies that can provide consultation and experience with how to most effectively utilise the benefits of both stamping and fabrication in a single source are the key to not only the survival but overall prosperity of Australian manufacturing.

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