Designs We Love: Sheet Metal

Posted On February 11, 2022 By Scott Trecartin

If you’ve worked with us in the past for your sheet metal parts, you know that we’re all about efficiency–getting your quick-turn parts to you…well, quickly. There are a handful of design best practices our customers can keep top of mind to ensure a smooth process from design upload to the moment you have your finished part in hand. Here are some sheet metal design elements and features we love to see.

All in the Details

Whether preparing an accurate quote or finalizing a part for manufacturing, gathering all the need-to-know information ahead of time is the first crucial step. It’s like putting together a puzzle—each detail included in the customer’s CAD model or request for a quote is relevant (the desired material, the finish, the hardware, and any critical feature) and helps shape the entire process. Think of it like a laundry list of essential part information all compiled in one spot.

For example: when using a punch form feature, is there a critical dimension we should be aware of, such as the height? A single note included in your request could eliminate a tooling charge when we’re able to use a tool we already have in-house. Each precise detail you add to the model helps us create the most accurate quote and ultimately, the best part possible for you.

Staying Flexible

You may know your part design through and through, but you can lean on us to help minimize design risk, lend feedback to refine your part, and fine tune the production process. You may have a plan mapped out for your part’s manufacturing process but staying flexible and willing to let us adapt it if needed helps us get your part to you quickly without adding extra time or cost. Many times, we can help fast track your part by slightly adjusting the manufacturing process.

Achievable Tolerances

In terms of tolerances, sheet stock comes in a thickness tolerance ranging from +/-0.002 in. - +/-0.015 in. (+/-0.0508mm to +/-0.381mm) depending on material thickness. Tolerances in your designs that are too tight can be costly and may also require special processes such as machining to achieve. We love to see part designs with standard tolerances, which ensure manufacturing efficiency and proper part function. Tolerances also vary depending on part features, such as bends, offsets, holes or inserted hardware, so be sure to refer to our guidelines.

Safety First

Keeping our employees and our customers safe is our number one priority. To mitigate the risk of safety hazards (cuts, abrasions, pinched fingers, etc.), be sure to follow our sheet metal part size restrictions, including minimum and maximum sizes. Finished products that are too large or heavy can be dangerous as they need to be handled while they’re being fabricated and maneuvered manually within our facility. Parts that are too small can also pose safety risks such as hand or finger injuries when working with a multi-ton press.

Another design feature we love to see is when customers eliminate sharp and dangerous corners by rounding these off with radii or chamfers. If we have a concern about your part fitting within our safety requirements, we’ll certainly let you know.

Flat Patterns

All sheet metal parts start out in a flat state but can be shaped in different ways depending on need. While we do have technologies to accommodate multi-axis forms not consisting of flat planes (hot and/or cold forming techniques can achieve this), keeping your part features in a flat pattern is a much simpler route. Flat patterns require a bit of thought, but they are easier for your manufacturer to work with compared to shaping material into multi-axis forms.

Off the Shelf Products

For parts that require inserted hardware, we opt to use a parts distributor such as PEM to ensure proper inventory and availability. If you prefer to utilize hardware from another source or supplier, be sure to provide us with that information as soon as possible to help eliminate guesswork, extra time, and potential duplicated efforts. When possible, we love to see part designs that keep it simple with standard, off-the-shelf hardware.

So, those are some of the things we love to see in CAD models for 3D printing. Read about the design elements we love in our other service lines: CNC machining, injection molding, and 3D printing.