Metal stamping can be quite pricey, especially for prototype products that require low-volume, short production runs. If you're in the middle of metal stamping cost estimating, here are a few ways you can bring that number down and make the manufacturing process more efficient overall.
Reducing Metal Stamping Costs
You can cut down on metal stamping expenses by examining materials selection, order volume, tooling, secondary processes, and design choices. More specifically, take this advice ...
- Don't go for exotic materials
- Watch the materials market
- Consider strengthening a weaker, cheaper material
- Reduce scrap
- Get the most out of your production run
- Optimize your tooling
- Know your vendor's tooling skill
- Cut down on tooling maintenance
- Look for places to automate
- Add to your shopping cart with secondary process services
- Buy only what you need with inventory management
- Consult with a manufacturing engineer
- Look for easy design wins
1. Don't Go Exotic
Is your product currently made of a luxury or exotic metal? Is that material absolutely necessary for its application? One simple cost cutting method is using cheaper, readily available materials in place of expensive luxury metals. These days, you can find viable alternatives for most high-end metals in both strength and/or appearance.
2. Watch the Market
Whether you need an expensive metal or not, you can also save money by watching the metals market closely and grabbing your material when it drops in price rather than buying it as needed. Your manufacturer should be keeping an eye on this, too.
3. Give Strength to the Weak
If your application requires a higher strength material, your manufacturer may be able to come up with a secondary process to increase the strength of a cheaper metal. For instance, one of our clients was able to use thin embossed steel instead of aluminum, which provided the same strength and lightweight qualities at a much lower cost. You can download the full case study here.
4. Reduce Scrap
Finally, you can cut materials costs by reducing the amount of scrap produced in a production run. If you're currently producing two parts per sheet of metal, try rearranging the layout so you can fit four parts on one sheet.
Taking scrap out of your company's metal stamping cost calculation will make you a folk hero!
5. Get the Most out of Your Run
Very simply, the more parts you can manufacture at one time, the less it will cost you overall. Setup times -- switching out tooling and dies, re-calibrating machinery, getting the materials in place for each client -- are a major factor in all manufacturing costs. If you place a large order that your manufacturer can set up once and let run for a good part of the day, you will greatly decrease your overall costs.
The shorter the run, and the fewer parts manufactured per run, the more expensive it will be to produce. Sometimes, as with prototype pieces, short & low volume runs are unavoidable.
Machinery & Tooling
One way to reduce costs is to look at the machinery and tooling used to make your part.
6. Optimize Your Tooling
Do you know what kind of tooling best meets your needs? If you're running those low-volume, short runs, your manufacturer should be using soft tooling. If you're ordering high-volume runs, hard tooling is usually best. Soft tooling is much cheaper, but it doesn't last nearly as long as hard tooling.
7. Know Your Vendor's Tooling Skill
Can your manufacturer maintain the tooling you need for your project? Make sure your manufacturer knows how to maintain and repair the tooling you need.
8. Cut Down on Tooling Maintenance
Are frequent maintenance breaks cutting into your manufacturing time? Too little and too frequent maintenance can increase your metal stamping costs. Also, figure out if you can make design changes or change the tooling to decrease required maintenance.
9. Look for Places to Automate
Is there any part of the process that can be automated? The cost of manpower is one of the biggest factors in manufacturing pricing. The more you can automate, the less you have to pay for manpower.
Secondary Processing Services
10. Add to Your Shopping Cart
Does your manufacturer offer services beyond metal stamping? Hiring a manufacturer who does more than just stamping will save money in transport and shipping costs, plus you'll only need to communicate with one vendor. Some manufacturers offer the full package:
- Additional metal forming
11. Buy Only What You Need
Some metal parts manufacturers also offer value propositions that include inventory management and inventory consignment. Inventory management ensures you aren't overbuying and overstuffing your facility.
12. Consult with a Manufacturing Engineer
Having a manufacturing engineer optimize your design can save you a surprising amount of money in the long run. Manufacturing engineers are trained to understand what design factors make the manufacturing process as efficient and cost-effective as possible.
For instance, the strengthened embossed tube we mentioned earlier was designed by one of our top engineers to help a client meet their new budget. The engineer took their dilemma (aluminum costs were too high and the client was no longer making a profit) and designed a clever workaround that lowered the manufacturing cost while keeping the product quality the same.
13. Look for Easy Wins
Similarly, a non-manufacturing engineer might not realize the little tricks that can drastically effect the cost of manufacturing. For example, circular holes are much easier to stamp than square holes.
Talk to Your Manufacturer
Sometimes, clients aren't open to suggestions from their vendors. Engineering designs are like children; many people don't appreciate unsolicited criticism about their creations. So, many go un-optimized.
If you ask your manufacturer how you can cut metal fabrication costs, you may be surprised by how much advice they're willing to offer.
(Editor's note: This article was originally published in March 2016 and was recently updated.)