Cost-Saving Design Practices and Tips for Custom Sheet Metal Parts & Enclosures
Many of our design resources and tips are aimed to help you work within our manufacturing capabilities and make the best decisions for your specific requirements, in order to end up with a result that is both functional and beautiful. One aspect of a design that can be absolutely critical is budget constraints. Depending on your project’s goals, your industry and even your company’s status in the marketplace, coming in under budget can be the most crucial part of your design.
This blog post will outline some steps and measures you can take to help you save budget while ensuring you end up with a design that functions as intended.
#1: Be detailed with Design Services
If you don’t have the time or knowledge to create the design you require yourself (even when Protocase Designer makes it as easy as possible!), Protocase Design Services are an excellent option. A member of our Design Services team will create a design based on your requirements and description (which can include a sketch or the components that need to be within the enclosure or assembly). However, when using our design services, I highly recommend you give as much detail as possible. Our Design Services are priced hourly. The less time we are required to research, design, modify and redesign, the lower your overall cost will be. (Dan elaborates on this more in our Proto Tech Tip video about Design Services).
#2: Reduce the number of cutouts
The more cutouts your design has, the longer the time under the laser it will require, which will in turn increase the price. Vent patterns, in particular, can get costly when the patterns have a large number of small cutouts. Switching to longer slots for your vent cutouts, or using perforated sheet metal, can be effective in reducing cost.
#3: Simplify your design
Sometimes, we encounter designs that appear to be far more complex than they are required to be, containing things like bends, cutouts and other features that are providing no tangible benefits. Of course, we’re here to make your custom design exactly as you need or want it to be. But, if you are under strict budgetary requirements, you are best to keep your design as simple as possible and remove anything that doesn’t serve a specific purpose. Try to minimize the number of fasteners and keep things like thread size and fastener type the same across your design in order to bring the cost of your design down as much as possible.
#4: Reduce the number of parts
Similar to the point above, there are often designs where you can reduce the number of parts by combining two or more parts into a single one, which may drastically lower your price. If you can attach two parts via a bend, or turn separate panels into a single piece, it is highly recommended you do so, if you want to save on cost.
#5: Replace welding with fasteners or other alternatives
Welding is very beneficial to certain sheet metal enclosure and part designs. Here at Protocase, we’re able to weld light-gauge sheet metal using cold-metal transfer welding technology. But, as a general rule, deploying welding in your design will increase the cost. You may be able to solve the same design challenge with fasteners or another easy solution. If you need a bit of guidance on minimizing welding in your design, or removing it entirely, our Design Services team is happy to help!
#6: Tell us if it’s a reorder
A good tip: If your design is something you’ve ordered previously from Protocase, tell your Account Manager. This ensures that old designs won’t be treated as though it is brand new, which in turn will help keep costs down. Sometimes things like renaming a file can lead us to treating your files as a completely new design, when this may in fact not be necessary.
#7: Use Protocase Designer
The most cost-effective method to create your design can often be Protocase Designer. Protocase Designer is our in-house CAD software that is completely free and easily accessible even if you do not have any CAD experience. It is a quick, elegant and easy-to-use tool for creating your designs. Protocase Designer ensures that your design will be manufacturable through design checks and warnings customized to our manufacturing process. Protocase Designer is recommended to anyone who wants to get their designs done quickly and efficiently, staying within our manufacturing capabilities and stocked materials, fasteners and components.
#8: Provide one of our preferred file types
Protocase’s engineering team uses SolidWorks to create our designs and build instructions for our production team. If you are able to provide native Solidworks file types, such as Step files, IGS or Parasolids, as well as Protocase Designer files, we can work on your job more efficiently, which will in turn provide you with a more efficient design cost.
#9: Use vector files for artwork
If your design includes graphics (either digital print or silkscreen), you should ensure you send your artwork in a vector file will allow us to approve your files more quickly and reduce cost. Adobe illustrator files are an example of a common vector file type. (This blog post about the Dos and Don’ts of Graphics is really helpful).
#10: Choose your material wisely
Aluminum and cold-rolled steel are our most cost-effective material types that Protocase keeps stocked. Stainless steel is a premium metal option that can drive cost higher and is often a non-critical part of the design.
#11: Stay in stock
The more open you are to design changes, the easier it is to find aspects of your design which you can bring your cost down with. This is especially true for things like hinges, fasteners and other components. At Protocase, we keep a large supply of stocked components and hardware. Often, we will have a stocked variation of what you originally thought you required that will function exactly as you intended. Using stocked components is an easy way to reduce the cost of your design. Click here for a full list of our stocked fasteners and components.
#12: Holes and fasteners
The type of hole you choose for your part or enclosure can be a cost-driving factor. Tapped holes, for instance, can be replaced with fasteners, and countersinks can be switched to through holes. Nuts and other fasteners are a great way to reduce cost, and can be more structurally sound and long-lasting.
#13: Go for the grain
Powdercoat is awesome for creating a corrosion-resistant surface, and improves the aesthetics of your design. However, you can lower the cost if you omit powdercoat altogether. Grained finish looks sleek and is typically a slightly less costly option compared to powdercoat.
#14: Stick with in-house finishes
We offer 40+ powdercoat color options stocked in-house, which reduces lead time and cost. For anodizing and tin plating, on the other hand, we need to send your parts to a third-party supplier, which will not only increase your lead-time, but your cost as well.
#15: Avoid non-stock colors
Using a stocked powdercoat color is a simple way to reduce cost and lead time. We offer a large selection of stocked colors in a variety of textures that can meet many needs. Unless you absolutely must opt for a powdercoat color we don’t stock, we recommend choosing from one of our in-house selections, especially if you are budget conscious.
#16: Part marking options
Part marking is very useful for part identification, and can be often a major requirement for industries like aerospace and defense. In some cases, part marking may only be looked at a single time at the receiving stage. If this is your use case, choosing a less aesthetically pleasing, but nonetheless functional part-marking solution, such as Dot Peening, Rubber Stamping or Avery Labels can meet your needs while reducing cost.
#17: Laser marking
Out of all of the permanent marking options we offer, Laser Marking is the most precise, sophisticated and efficient. We offer a number of laser-marking options that cost a varying amount based on how long the laser needs to operate to create the mark. Some of the more cost-effective options are Outline, Silver, or Ablate.
#18: Digital print vs silkscreen
With silkscreening, each color of the graphic must be laid onto the metal using a separate screen. Because of this, there is a charge per silkscreen setup, which means if your graphic has multiple colors, it can greatly increase the cost of your design.
Being open to using direct digital printing is a great way to help stick to your desired budget, especially if your graphic has multiple colors. Digital printing also offers other advantages, such as the capability for smaller fonts and gradients.
#19: Longer leadtime (if you can)
We recently changed up our business by introducing two distinct service streams:
Priority: This is our signature manufacturing turnaround of 2-3 days, for orders with in-stock materials and our in-house services.
Economy: Our new Economy leadtime has a base leadtime of 2-3 weeks, plus the Priority leadtime of 2-3 days. Orders with the Economy leadtime are slightly discounted from our Priority pricing.
Our new economy service allows our production team to more efficiently schedule and prioritize jobs in our production facility. By offering two different service streams, we can ensure our equipment and production team is optimized at all times – resulting in leaner manufacturing processes.
If you have some leeway on time in terms of your project deadlines, and are looking for the best pricing possible from Protocase, our Economy service is a great fit for your needs.
When you quote a design for us to make, you can opt for either Economy or Priority leadtime, including when you submit a Request for Quote, quote in Protocase Designer, or reorder through My Account. Give it a try!
These are just a several ways we can help you bring your cost down as much as possible here at Protocase. As always, we here to help you further if needed.
Contact your Protocase Account Manager to get started. We’re here to help you stay productive, meet your critical deadlines and create a finished product that you’re proud to show off!