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The power of sheet metal design

Small changes cut production costs dramatically
THE FABRICATOR MARCH 2011
FEBRUARY 25, 2011
BY: GRANT HAGEDORN

Effective sheet metal design should not set out to eliminate welding, but
instead uncover the most cost-effective ways to manufacture a part. The best
designs exploit strengths of the welding process and minimize its
weaknesses.

Smart sheet metal design can ease downstream manufacturing. This design gives space for a mechanical locknut,
eliminating the need for welding.

Sheet metal design. These three simple words can have a tremendous impact on a company's
bottom line. Ideally, effective, innovative, and creative sheet metal design ideas come early in the
product design phase, because those ideas will influence the entire project, from the point of
manufacturing to the product's end use.
A good designer must know all of the available shop technologies, and it's no secret that one of the
most labor-intensive is arc welding. The sheet metal designer should never set out to eliminate
welding; after all, arc welding often is the best joining option for the product. The designer's goal
should be to maintain design intent while maximizing manufacturing efficiency, and reducing or
simplifying welding often can help.

combined with software. perhaps a rib or offset would suffice. The designer must have a solid understanding of bend theory. and on the right one tab is horizontal. Such software also allows him to try all bending sequence options and. manufacturing should be as easy as possible. it will probably be welded. ultimately. . Fixturing is simple.? What is the design intent? Consider similar circumstances. Figure 2 shows an assembly with two end caps. or nearly so. it is almost impossible to put a 0. Often this requires fixtures. Notice the different tab and slot positions. In this case.75 in. if the flange is required. CAM software for the press brake allows the designer to visualize all bends to discover which parts can be produced only by welding.-thick material. This knowledge. and software helps designers quickly run through numerous possibilities. on the left they are both vertical. 0. Imagine the challenge of a welder trying to obtain an exact center position by using just his eyes for every bracket.Good sheet metal design should reduce. can be a real force in driving down costs.25-in. the process is moving backward. simplify. which have associated costs. The Simplicity of Tabs Determine how parts will be assembled and held in place during welding. If. a new design eliminates welding but makes the bending process incredibly complex. but a welder can fixture it in only one position. The assembly still requires a jig. In other words. This ensures that the part goes together only one way. But must the flange be only 0. discover instances in which he can eliminate welding entirely. Tabs also can ensure there is only one way to assemble the part. For example. Figure 1 shows tabbing cut with a laser. Parts also may be designed with tabs so that the part's own weight keeps it together long enough for a spot weld. But using tabs cut by a laser or punch can make a part self-fixturing.-high strips there to stiffen the assembly? If so. The more knowledge a designer has. Some Ground Rules One rule of thumb: Bend long parts and weld short. Asking just a few questions may eliminate an entire process from manufacturing. only now with thinner stock and shorter flanges. Are welded-on. the more questions he asks. the stiffening rib could be formed with an offset tool on the press brake (if the brake has sufficiently high tonnage for the job) or a form tool on the punch press.25-in. and mistakeproof shop floor processes to ensure greater efficiency and. say. dramatic cost reductions. and the tabs ensure proper alignment. in some cases.75-inch flange on 0. thus eliminating the need for a fixture.

Figure 1: This tabbed assembly still requires a jig. stitch cutting. and minimizes the disadvantage of extensive fixturing costs and setup times. these internal flanges would need to be designed with available bending technology in mind. Just asking the question—Can this flange be shorter?—may lead to significant cost reductions. and each has advantages and disadvantages. or can it be cut from the base material? As shown in Figure 6. makes for a self-fixturing assembly. with outside welds. This technique allows all components to stay together in the proper orientation and. Markings may save some welding setup time. The left part. but a welder can fixture it in only one position. form tools on a punch press could do the job in one setup. Figure 4 shows inside and outside welds. but the right component may require only minimal finishing if the welds are hidden after final assembly. produced by either a laser or a specialized tool on the punch press. can be finished from the outside. if the flange is short enough. It maximizes one of welding's greatest strengths. which leaves a sleek appearance. can show where to position the bracket. Here's another question: Is welding the only solution or can mechanical fasteners do the job? Consider Figure 7. A flange in the middle of a large panel may be too long for a punch press form tool and impractical for press brake tooling to access without deep backgauging. again.Another laser cutting technique. and if grinding is unavoidable. it should be as simple and easily accessible as possible. and the tab-andslot approach exemplifies this. the efficient and complete joining of two components. welding may require grinding. A part design should exploit welding's advantages and minimize its disadvantages. but asking another question could save even more: Do I need a bracket attached. it doesn't require grinding and so may cost less to produce. Welding Alternatives Figure 5 shows a bracket affixed inside a cabinet. a joint normally welded that is now laser-cut and then joined with a bolt and . Weighing the Fabricating Options Designers should evaluate finished part requirements. Although the design on the right may require more material. Still. For instance. leaves microtabs on the cut line and allows components to be bent by hand and then welded (see Figure 3). the internal flange could be cut with a laser and formed on a brake with the right tooling. Part markings. Or.

another welding alternative. the laser cuts the part to the dimension of the nut. Smart Design. press brake. and the best choice depends on available machinery and tooling. Design C has no welds and requires five bends. . All options aid manufacturability. welding. Designs C and D. the bend sequence for Design C may produce some clearance issues. Found throughout manufacturing. but the welds are still there. In Design B. though. In Figure 8. but it may not be ideal. the tooling segment widths the operator has available. Design A shows a seemingly simple bracket. finishing. A fatigued operator may inadvertently angle the blank slightly just before the brake punch makes contact. But can welds be eliminated? Will redesigning produce other opportunities for improving the part? Design B shows the bracket redesigned with flat tops to ease bending. Part design requirements also come into play. perhaps enough to throw the bend out of tolerance and scrap the part. three of which are performed simultaneously. and perhaps the material's overbending requirements to overcome springback. the design requires two vertical welds to attach the back plate. the flat tops of the side flanges can slide against the backgauge pad. Its work flow is as follows: laser. Figure 7: A laser cut this part to precise dimensions for mechanical fastening. Design D also removes the welds and requires only four bends. the brake ram would cycle just three times. So in both C and D designs. and the first two again can be formed at the same time. Those three bottom flanges in Design C may have different structural characteristics than the two-bottom-flange option in Design D. depending on the distance between the bottom-back and side flanges. allow the operator to bend the first tabs simultaneously.fastener. Simple Manufacturing Simple designs are not always the most cost-effective to manufacture. All of these designs take backgauging into account. and then assembly and shipping. and the operator can bend only one at a time. For instance. The assembler needs only one wrench to tighten the bolt. This makes it difficult for even the most fatigued operator to inadvertently mishandle the part once the tabs are flush against the backgauge. and they're across the length of the flat part. The flat tops are somewhat narrow.

to varying degrees. improved appearance. the design alternatives have eliminated welding. and then shipping/ assembly. with no room for improvement. By eliminating welding from the part. Here's the new work flow: laser. Big Savings Recently a person from a company with no modern fabricating equipment attended a TRUMPF sheet metal design class. Figure 8: Redesigning the bracket eliminates welding and. provided a flat surface for the press backgauges. That result is a testimony to the power of sheet metal design. the class effectively helped this person reduce production costs by more than half. finishing. students rethought the design and ultimately turned it into a single-piece sheet metal part. . Smart Design. As the class progressed. It wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing. The job shop returned a quote that would make anyone in manufacturing smile. The vertical sides now have a radius instead of a sharp corner. They not only reduce or eliminate welding. press brake.The designs also have another benefit. but it functioned as intended. but they also improve aesthetics and make for safer handling. and he brought with him a part that he thought was welded efficiently. Images courtesy of TRUMPF Inc. and reduced overall weight by adding more holes. eases overall manufacturing. though. Overall. That person then called a local job shop to manufacture the newly redesigned component.