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Manufacturing is as much a math problem as it is a process and materials problem

Advantage Engineering Manufacturing Equals Math Process MaterialsThere are many kinds of manufacturing processes today, including CNC machining, injection molding, urethane casting, stereolithography and MJF, and other additive manufacturing technologies.

While there’s an ongoing debate in the market about the benefits of each, the reality is that every part that is created has different needs and uses and hence, must be matched to a specific type of manufacturing process that delivers on expectations.

At Advantage Engineering, we have often seen customers talk to us about producing a certain part using a certain process. At first glance, the data from their model looks right and using that particular process makes sense. Further, as customers trial the process and get an end-product that they’re satisfied with because it meets its intended use or purpose, they neglect to think about other processes that might be a better fit.

We recently had a customer at our facilities who wanted a certain part manufactured using injection molding. They’d not done a test run as yet and didn’t know if the process was suitable. During the conversation with us, they realized that trying out other processes could be a good idea and shared more information with us, including the math behind their design.

It turned out that the customer could use injection molding in the long run, but to test the design of the part they wanted, they could just as easily (and reliably) use stereolithography (SLA) to get something that was production grade. Once they were happy with design and part, they could use cast urethane to make a small first batch, and finally transition to injection molding once they need bigger batches.

In the eyes of the customer, what we achieved together was a great victory – not just because the different processes we suggested for their different phases would result in lower costs for them as compared to starting out with injection molding in the first place but because it allowed them more flexibility to create a part that truly met their needs.

The customer’s engineering team hadn’t worked with us before, but they quickly realized that using Advantage Engineering’s consultative process was a good idea because it gave them clarity and helped them go beyond the math and the models to think about materials and processes.

While math forms the theoretical basis for a certain part and leads to the decision about initial process and materials in the lab, experience and expertise in translating all of that into a part or product in the real world makes a big difference to the final outcome – both technically as well as financially.

With all the innovation that’s happening today, keeping up might be a challenge for teams focused on designing products that delight customers. However, for the specialists in our team, being up to date on cutting-edge materials and knowing not only how to push the limits of production equipment but also where to draw the line is what gives them the edge and allows them to serve as consultants to our customers.

“It’s about fit and need”

I often say that the choice of manufacturing process and material is about fit and need. What works for once customer doesn’t necessarily work for another, even if both are in the same industry.

An example of this is when one customer wants a certain number of parts which is significantly higher or lower than another customer who we produce a similar part for. Sure, it is theoretically and technically feasible but there’s often a better solution that can deliver the desired part, and there’s a high chance that the alternative will not only save the company some money but also some time.

From experience, a lot of companies prefer CNC machining. It’s a great process and Advantage Engineering does a lot of work with it for a wide variety of clients, but we understand that it isn’t a be all, end all solution.

To be fair, CNC machining can often fit a lot of math models because theoretically, the technology is very robust and can support a wide variety of materials – whether that is ABS plastic, aluminum, or something else.

However, other processes, including stereolithography and selective laser melting can be better alternatives. Companies may not prefer them outright because they’re not familiar with the technology behind it (or know what’s new in the materials that these new processes can use) but the reality is that keeping an open mind is important.

At Advantage Engineering, it’s exciting to see a swath of our customers switch from one process to another – if not immediately then over time – because they trust our judgement, are happy with the advice, and ultimately, are able to work with us to improve their models and even see the results in their data.

Truth be told, I think the manufacturing space is seeing more innovation at the top, from the world’s leading companies, in terms of adopting a variety of processes and materials. That’s bound to inspire others in the space, to go beyond their comfort zone and re-think & re-imagine what the future holds for their parts.

keeping an open mind is important.

At Advantage Engineering, it’s exciting to see a swath of our customers switch from one process to another – if not immediately then over time – because they trust our judgement, are happy with the advice, and ultimately, are able to work with us to improve their models and even see the results in their data.

Truth be told, I think the manufacturing space is seeing more innovation at the top, from the world’s leading companies, in terms of adopting a variety of processes and materials. That’s bound to inspire others in the space, to go beyond their comfort zone and re-think & re-imagine what the future holds for their parts.