How could a prototype benefit your next project?

No matter where you are in the process and no matter how much experience you have with sheet metal, working with a dedicated prototyping shop is valuable. A prototype gives you a tangible object that you can hold in your hands, inspect and test in the real world. It’s also a chance to see exactly how a part comes together during assembly and catch errors or omissions before final production. Read more about the importance of prototyping.


At Estes Design and Manufacturing, we understand the value of a prototype and have a dedicated prototype shop to help meet our customers’ needs. Matthew Gray is the Prototype Shop Manager at Estes Express Prototyping. He and his team members have worked together for over 10 years on a range of projects, so they can suggest materials and part geometry based on solid experience. What’s more, each new project is managed by a single person who oversees all stages: quoting, design, CAD, CNC programming and fabrication. That reduces miscommunication along the way and keeps your project moving.


Saving OEMs Time and Money

Many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) use hard tooling to manufacture Estes Rapid Prototyping Machinelarge quantities of parts in their own factories. When it’s time to update a part or create a new one, they can’t always afford the time and money it takes to manufacture a new tool set on-site just to test new parts. This is where a rapid prototyping shop like Estes Express Prototyping comes in, taking the OEM’s prototype designs and making tools for them. Recently, the Estes Express team manufactured and tested a new punch and die set for a large international client. As a result, the company quickly learned that it was worth the investment in this hard tool without having to divert time and resources from its regular manufacturing.


Partnering with Clients to Improve Design

What if you’re developing a new product or have proprietary parts to test? Is your design classified? Can you still get a prototype when the fabricator truly can’t know all of the details?
“There are many times we do not know the end use of a part or assembly that we’re making for a customer… we will ask for as much information as they can give and offer suggestions for design improvements as we can see them.” Matthew Gray, Estes Express Prototype Shop Manager
Gray’s department has worked with enough types of material and parts that they can glean clues and make improvements even without the full picture. Having years of experience means knowing the optimal thickness for hot-rolled steel sheets or if laser welding will increase a joint’s strength even if the final application is a mystery.

Working closely with clients is key. In a recent case, the Estes team worked hand-in-hand with an Indianapolis-area company for over a year to improve a design they were bringing to market. After many meetings and prototype sessions with the company’s engineer, and sharing their sheet metal fabrication knowledge, the final product was easier to manufacture.


Optimizing DFM with Technology and Know-How

As we’ve said before, there’s more than one way to design and build a part. By following Design for Manufacturability (DFM) principles, prototype fabricators can reduce raw and scrap material and improve fit and aesthetics, ease assembly, or speed time to market. Gray’s team studies designs for ways to refine and improve the final product. “In one recent case, we took a three-piece welded design and changed it to a one-piece design that was cheaper and easier to manufacture,” Gray said.

In-shop fabrication equipment plays a role too. Because the Estes shop offers laser welding, they were able to take an enclosure that was originally MIG welded and finished with grinding and change it to a laser welded design. The result? A part that looks better and is cheaper to manufacture. Ed Huntress said in Fab Shop Magazine Direct, “laser welding gives you an opportunity to redesign parts for more efficient production. Some of the greatest advantages come from simpler joints, reduced overlaps and welding in places that might otherwise be inaccessible.”