Upfront Engineering Can Improve Design Process, Reduce Costs for Customers
By Ron Kirscht
President, Donnelly Custom Manufacturing
Lower costs, faster speed to market, less downtime, and reduced scrap are among the many imperatives for today's molders, moldmakers, and designers. Upfront engineering--including design for manufacturability--is vital to ensuring these desired outcomes when companies face major product launches with tight turnaround times. Taking these steps early on helps ensure part quality, minimize tooling costs, optimize material selection, increase processing speeds, and generally lead to better, more cost-effective parts.
When upfront engineering is underserved, many challenges can arise between the initial design and the launch of production of a part. Product flaws, incorrect material choices, and hard-to-manufacture designs can all contribute to bigger problems, such as missed deadlines, longer time-to-market, additional costs, and unhappy customers.
When Graco--a major manufacturer of fluid handling equipment headquartered in Minneapolis--faced one of the most engineering-intensive projects it had taken on, the company turned to Donnelly Custom Manufacturing (www.donnmfg.com), an Alexandria, Minn.-based short-run custom injection molder. Even though Graco had six engineers working on the project, the company chose to work with Donnelly because of the supplier's extensive experience in short-run molding and multi-part project management skills.
Graco presented Donnelly with a big challenge: a $1.9 million mold build project with time constraints and 40 new tools, involving 50-plus parts. The project began without a clearly defined design, which would have made tooling changes, tweaks, and adjustments inevitable.
Donnelly's first task was to make the product more moldable. One part required considerable moldmaker involvement to replace a conventional mold design that used slides in exchange for an A-side cavity lift. The mold base size required to accommodate slide action would have driven it to run on a larger press, resulting in a higher press rate for the OEM. Using an internal lift instead accommodated a smaller mold and, therefore, a smaller machine and lower press rate. This significant change in mold design was a direct result of the involvement of the primary moldmaker, MSI, before product design was finalized.
Donnelly's early involvement also helped in material selection. Graco wanted to convert one part from metal to plastic because the metal was too complicated, costly, and heavy. Graco relied on Donnelly to recommend a material that could provide the same strength that the metal part exhibited. The material supplier brought in by Donnelly determined that a 50 percent long-glass-fiber-filled polypropylene provided the strength needed for the application.
In the end, designing for manufacturability improved the output and minimized necessary tooling changes. Donnelly's early involvement helped get the tools delivered within the necessary short time frame, and Graco was satisfied with the timing and performance of the molds.
This case confirms that leading OEMs and their molding and moldmaking partners benefit from starting the communication process early to realize sustainable cost-saving opportunities by simplifying part design. Providing molders and moldmakers with a deeper understanding of the OEM's business and new products enables the suppliers to recommend changes that streamline the design while maintaining functionality and aesthetic requirements.
Molders and moldmakers also can reduce an OEM's project and product costs during the design phase by identifying multiple material alternatives. Keeping these options open allows the most suitable and effective material to be selected, and it isn't always the first material considered.
Graco enlisted Donnelly's help to bring in moldmakers and material suppliers at the beginning stages of product design, allowing both intensive projects to be completed and launched on time. The results included better mold design and parts and, in the end, better products and satisfied customers.
A good design can become great when designers are open to the possibility of upfront engineering as a way to work collaboratively with the production side of a project. By embracing upfront engineering as a business practice, design teams can leverage resources and enhance value. And at a time when companies are looking for ways to improve their business practices to keep their existing customers and attract new ones, upfront engineering is an effective way to save time and money and promote future success.
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