This technical information has been contributed by
3-Dimensional Services Group

Prototype Shop Develops Full Vehicle Frame Capabilities

Rapid Prototyping

A Michigan company and its partner have developed prototype frame-building capabilities that promise faster product development for automakers and their suppliers.

Two Michigan-based companies have teamed up to launch a major program aimed at helping automakers and their Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers achieve faster product development times. 3-Dimensional Services of Rochester Hills, Mich., and its affiliated company, Urgent Design & Manufacturing (UDM), located in Lapeer, Mich., both specialists in rapid prototyping, have partnered to provide build services for vehicles' full-frame prototypes, typically those used in the production of full-size pickup trucks, vans, and sport utility vehicles (SUVs). Both 3-Dimensional Services and UDM are part of 3-Dimensional Services Group, which also comprises Urgent Plastic Services, of Rochester Hills, Michigan.

According to Mike Brabandt, senior sales engineer at 3-Dimensional Services, the move into the full-frame build capabilities is the culmination of nearly eight years of the companies' work in developing engine and rear cradle units for independent suspension vehicles, plus the fabrication of many frame components, modules, and frame sub-assemblies.

"Many frame and chassis build suppliers have transitioned to lean manufacturing practices in the last few years," notes Mr. Brabandt, "and have begun to outsource the prototype fabrication processes. Our experience and in-house capabilities, with stamping presses to 7000 tons, hydroforming, laser processing, a wide array of fabrication equipment, and the space we have committed to frame building, has put 3-Dimensional and UDM at the forefront of the frame prototype shops. It's these capabilities along with our oversight of the entire build process that allows us to complete projects within a 12- to 15-week time period."

"We're currently finishing up a frame build project," Brabandt continues, "that encompasses over 130 individual components, nearly 40 sub-assemblies, with 12 variations of side rails and 14 different upper and lower cross members (28 total). All within 15 weeks from project commencement to shipping of completed frames. That includes tool design and manufacture, fabrication of components, production-sequence setups, and assembly."

As Brabandt explains, the frame or main ladder consists of the front and rear side rails, reinforcement brackets and mounting clips, and the various cross members for mounting the engine, transmission, fuel tank, rear hitch, and cab/body mounting. The current project entails both 15-foot long frames and extended length 17-foot versions. Urgent Design & Manufacturing and 3-Dimensional are utilizing a diverse range of fabrication equipment for this frame project, including some of their larger presses of 2000- to 5000-ton models for up to 5-inch draw designs of the six- to seven-foot long C-channel rails, and smaller 400-ton units for hang-on components measuring 6 inches x 8 inches. Robotic welding stations are used to assemble many of the rails and cross members, while 5-axis laser systems cut access holes that, due to tolerance requirements, are processed post-assembly.

The companies have also established, within the 20,000 square feet of space allocated for frame build, four build tables and assembly stations, where many of the individual clips, mounts, and brackets are added via robotic and manual welding cell operations.

"One of the critical elements that we bring to the prototype frame capabilities is in verifying production intent," says Brabandt. "From tool and die designs to welding, the prototype process has to simulate, as closely as possible, the actual production environment. We follow the production build sequence to assure clearances and tool accesses, and part fits, so when production starts, there'll be no surprises or delays.

"Importantly, the manufactured prototype frames also have to duplicate production type processes since they will be used for extensive testing," he continues. "The frame suppliers and automakers will use the prototypes to develop full data on vehicle assembly procedures, crash and crumple zone trials, and fatigue testing, and put the vehicles through rigorous testing that equals three to four times the expected life cycles. The automakers and, ultimately, their customers, are depending upon these tests results, and anything—a part or a process—in the prototype frame that does not measure up to production-like quality, is unacceptable."

3-Dimesional Services was founded in 1991 to provide machined, formed, cast, molded, and stamped prototype parts to diverse industries worldwide. Its partner, UDM, began operations in 2000 as an extension and broadening of 3-Dimensional Services' capabilities. Urgent Design & Manufacturing specializes in the fabrication, forming, and assembly of larger prototype parts—truck and automotive frames and cradles, body panels, and appliance shells, among others.

Currently, 3-Dimensional Services and UDM offer hydroforming and associated CNC tube bending, 3-axis and 5-axis laser cutting and welding, waterjet cutting, and robotic and manual welding. They also offer CNC machining, plus a large stamping and forming department that includes numerous smaller presses as well as presses with up to 7000-ton clamp force. There are also a wide range of CAD and engineering workstations with various software capabilities.

The efforts of 3-Dimensional Services and UDM, along with Urgent Plastic Services, are combined to offer comprehensive rapid prototyping services that encompass virtually all manufacturing processes and technologies. The companies define rapid prototyping as using advanced processes and manufacturing technologies to reduce prototype part development times by 50% to 70% as compared to conventional prototype shops.

Edited by Design-2-Part Magazine.

For more information on 3-Dimensional Services Group, visit the firm's website at

This technical information has been contributed by
3-Dimensional Services Group

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