I’d met one of the engineers from Brighton Sheet Metal a few years ago at Southern Manufacturing and had a good old chat, but until we visited last week I never realised how expansive and impressive their facilities actually were. I took a group of 10 students out to visit and we were greeted by Bill Taylor, the company director who gave us a short overview of the company, it’s history, customers and facilities. We were learning from the outset, Bill was talking about how they work with clients, and more importantly for us, he outlined some of the design for manufacture requirements that help to make their lives easier (and ultimately how to make the products they manufacture for their customers quicker and more cost effective). We then split into two groups and were given the royal treatment. My group, led by Bob Jones one of the engineering managers, talked us through the process of getting a job through the system, how they deal with it, how they interact with designers from outside the business, and then how this gets fed into the various machines that are available on the shop floor. It really is astounding when you meet a guy like Bob, how frustrating it must be sometimes when dealing with designers. The experiences of engineers like Bob really are worth reflecting on and learning from as much as possible…and many of the issues that crop up day to day are standard DFMA (design for manufacturing principles), and others are a little more specific to sheet metal work. For instance, the use of standard components and stock material, is something that sometimes gets overlooked. Using 1mm sheet steel (as opposed to 1.1mm) may not influence the performance of the product at all, but will make the manufacturing process much simpler (in fact generating non-standard measurements may add HUGE costs to the process, may add additional processes, or may not be possible at all!).
Other, simple things, like which catalogue or suppliers different manufacturers work with can make a huge difference to improving turn around times, ordering efficiency and clarity of communication. The choice of fasteners, to be consistent or VERY different can save the sanity of many shop floor workers. Having to insert 15x4mm allen bolts and 20x5mm allen bolts into 150 parts can often be made much simpler by simply specifying 35x5mm allen bolts. Sometimes not, of course, but in many cases it can make life simpler for all involved. And then there’s software, and file types. Knowing the software (and version!!) used by the manufacturers can make their lives easier. Do they use Solidworks? or Catia? or Pro/Engineer? and what file type would they like it in? Software specific like .sldprt, or generic like .iges, or .step? and would they like the part made as a solid component, or made as a specialist sheet metal component, with a sheet metal net easily spewed out of the software? and what machines do they have? what sizes can the machines cope with? what are the available settings, jigs or tools that the manufacture uses? what method of calculation do they use? in the case of Brighton Sheet metal, they use a certain calculation for determining the bend radii of parts. Others prefer k-factor. It’s always worth asking, or even better, before you start designing visit the company (whoever it is you’re working with!), and ask these questions: get to know them… it will save everyone time and money in the long run! And before you visit, read some of the seminal work by Boothroyd and Dewhurst (e.g. Boothroyd et al, 2010), who pioneered the DFMA process and have made the lives of many manufacturers easier, and the products of many designers better!
Reference: Boothroyd, G., Dewhurst, P., and Knight, W. 2010, Product Design for Manufacture and Assembly, Third Edition, CRC press.
P.S. Thanks to Martyna for the pics!