Prototype Production: Early Involvement Increases Quality and Confidence
Early supplier involvement in the tool and die, precision machining and fabricating industries can take many paths toward reaching a goal that produces both a quality part or product and one which is economically sound to the end user.
Many companies are involved in the development of materials or processes which produce parts that are stronger, lighter in weight and can be produced in quantities high enough to satisfy a customer's new development program. Others are involved in the material process to help in producing less expensive parts or products by aiding in the initial engineering design or tool design changes. Process changes involving our industry at the start of production can eliminate quality problems or down the road production problems. Early involvement changes save tool life and down time in the production shops.
Early involvement at Triangle Precision Industries takes yet a different form. We are in the business of making quality engineering prototypes and pre-production quantities of parts and precision sheet metal shapes. We do not design, but rather use our customers' designs for the parts we produce. In essence, we prove that the form, fit and function of the designed part is, or is not feasible. We work with a customer who wants one part prototyped or a few hundred parts. Many of our parts are reordered before going into high volume production.
We work with engineering personnel to develop their design into a part that may be used to test an idea in a laboratory environment or multiple parts to be tested in the field. With these prototype parts a customer may find flaws in their design or in the structural makeup. Designs can then be changed or a different material may be tried to produce a satisfactory part.
Triangle Precision does not change our customers' designs; rather we try to prove the worth of the initial design. In the initial startup of making a part we introduce an engineer or buyer to the model maker who will make the unit. Engineering personnel explain what they are looking for in a finished prototype, including critical dimensions and/or changes that may be made up-front. At that point engineers or buyers and model makers interact until the part is completed. If, in the process, we see that it is not feasible as is, or may be expensive to produce in quantity as designed, we may make suggestions to the engineers or buyers and they in turn may change a design or material.
Triangle Precision does work for the automotive industry and early involvement has led to the prototyping of many parts including experimental brake hose brackets, engine and transmission mounts. We also prototyped "air bag" modules for various models of autos and light trucks. Our involvement in the air bag modules has led to changes both in part design and materials, or like materials with different specifications. These units went through extensive testing in both material analysis (fatigue and stress failure) and crash testing of assembled units. These air bag modules are one example of past prototypes that helped the engineers to develop parts that are produced in volume and used on many automobile models now available to the pubic. Our experimental parts were used to develop mounts for a new engine that is just now showing up on some models.
Our prototype involvement is not limited to the auto industry. We work with customers in the business machine industry, ink-jet printing industry and many small companies who are in the research and development areas including government sub-contractors.
We are also starting to work with production sources to help produce prototype parts for their customers. In doing this we are using expertise that many production shops do not have.
For example, a high volume multi-slide shop was in need of 100 pieces to supply a customer with test samples. They were not set up to produce a small quantity, virtually by hand. They came to us with this problem. We quoted and were awarded the job. They were made and inspected to meet their customers' specifications. The parts were delivered and were proven to be an acceptable design. By using our 100 pieces for development, our customer received a production order for tooling and parts. They were able to make the production tooling, but could not cost-effectively produce 100 pieces. They now send us all their Proton needs for quoting.
Triangle Precision is investing heavily in the area of Quality to help our suppliers document their designs for critical dimensions that are needed. We have a CMM and inspection equipment that helps our suppliers document their prototype parts by giving computer printouts of actual dimensions to compare with drawing dimensions. Sampling of parts and/or 100% inspection when necessary is standard procedure for all our jobs. Moreover, all of our machinists and model makers are involved in the quality process on a day-to-day basis.
We are also investing in new technology equipment including CAD/CAM and CNC machining, and are able to download information to many of our standard mills. Making this investment helps us reduce the lead-time necessary to deliver machined and fabricated prototypes to our customers.
Prototyping at our shop using state-of-the-art equipment and a philosophy to deliver the best early involvement samples has given us a broad customer base and kept us in a steady growth pattern even in the difficult past two years.
By working closely with engineering and purchasing in these many areas we are able to help them develop quality parts that have been proven to be acceptable for production. In doing so we are able so save our customers many dollars in tooling cost, both to produce low quantities of quality parts, and in the possibility that designs are not correct, thus producing tools that cannot be used without expensive changes.
As you can see, early supplier involvement takes many paths. The early prototype methods used at Triangle Precision Industries are but one of them.
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