If you were to look at where manufacturing was 30 years ago and where it is today, you might not recognize it. With the accelerated pace of emerging technologies, shrinking lead times, shorter product lifecycles, and a higher demand for value-add engineering services, manufacturing engineers must do more.
The dynamic between customers and suppliers has shifted significantly. Customers who used to look to the supplier to produce the same product over and over again now expect much more from their engineering partners. They want transparency, collaboration, expertise and cost-cutting solutions.
With limited resources and smaller engineering teams, many manufacturing companies are now looking outward to engineering partners who can help them enhance product designs, cut weight, and reduce overall costs through proactive part analysis, conceptual engineering, design modification, and prototyping.
The true engineering partner puts this holistic approach into practice, taking a step back from every new project and analyzing each factor that could impact the end product before, during, and after its production.
For example, even though roll forming is an effective process and a core competency of American Roll Form Products, it is not the only fabrication option we consider. We base our engineering and processing decisions on whatever approach we think will deliver the highest quality part at a reduced cost—factoring in input costs, design specifications, manufacturing efficiency, and yield.
We believe this value-add approach to engineering is a competitive advantage in today’s evolved manufacturing world. Improving engineering processes over time to better meet the needs of manufacturers comes down to two things: 1) asking the right questions and 2) cutting costs creatively.
Ask the Right Questions
For engineers, deciding the best production process is ultimately a function of cost, quality, and functionality: What will yield the desired product for the lowest cost?
As you decide on the right approach to take, pose the following questions to your engineering team:
- Can we reevaluate the design of the part or product?
- Can we reduce the weight of the product? Is an alternative material either lighter or stronger, enabling us to drop gauge?
- Can we reduce the amount of parts? Is there an opportunity to combine parts?
- Can we make the product easier to manufacture? Easier to assemble?
- Can we reduce the number of secondary operations needed to manufacture the product?
Asking these questions and fully reevaluating a product’s design could result in decreasing secondary operations, consolidating parts, reducing overall weight and ultimately, cutting costs.
Cutting Costs Creatively
Manufacturers are now realizing that bringing an engineering partner to the table in the early stages of a project can yield a superior product design that is optimized for cost and efficiency. To help reduce costs in the design phase, consider a product’s material, design complexity and yield.
Material selection is a critical part of cost control. Through the careful evaluation of assembly drawings, part geometry and mating components, you can better identify where material can be reduced, in-line processes consolidated and assembly costs cut. This holistic evaluation usually results in a part being produced at a much lower cost.
Evaluate part geometry, and identify ways to simplify the profile and reduce the number of bends while still meeting product specifications. In the case of complex sections with multiple bends, hole piercings and punchings, multiple hits are required to achieve the desired profile.
After a complex part or product has gone through its various revision rounds, it is important to keep this in mind: design before you prototype and prototype before you produce. Run stress and real load tests to uncover additional design flaws before the part or product is sent to production.
Another consideration is which process will yield the most units out of the same amount of material. A profile redesign might help maximize material use and minimize drop-off.
For example, roll forming reduces drop-off and scrap through coil-fed processing, compared to press braking, turret punching and stamping, which often require blanked sheets. Aluminum extrusions are similarly high-yield, extruding the aluminum billet in the same linear fashion as coil processing.
Putting It All Together
Little Giant came to us with a problem. Its signature ladder was simply too heavy for some customers. Our team spent weeks researching different, lighter materials and came up with a special aluminum alloy with higher mechanical strength properties than the original extrusion grade, without all the unnecessary weight.
We then configured a roll-formed shape that would add strength in needed areas. We prototyped at least ten different sets of samples during product development so we could do actual product testing and ensure the new design worked. When all was said and done, our engineering team reduced the ladder’s rail weight by 25%, which not only cut costs considerably, but also solved the initial problem.
Bridging the Then and Now Gap
As manufacturing has evolved over the years, the need for engineers to cut costs downstream while still providing value and quality has become even more imperative.
This evolution sets the stage stage for value-add engineers in every industry who are positioning themselves as expert partners. As economic challenges fluctuate, projects get more complex, and technology accelerates, the engineers that adapt will embody the definition of value.