Sheet Metal Design Tools Help Manufacturers Save Time, Reduce Waste

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One of the more commonly used materials used in manufacturing is sheet metal, a thin flat sheet commonly made out of steel, nickel, brass tin or aluminum. One of the primary benefits of sheet metal is that is can be fabricated or bent and shaped into nearly any shape or thickness.

Sheet metal manufacturing techniques are applied throughout myriad of industries, ranging from automotive and machine manufacturing to electrical engineering and electronics. Because sheet metal is used in so many divergent applications, manufacturers produce parts for electromechanical parts up to automotive components that range in size from a few grams up to over 2,000 pounds and more.

Despite the emergence of new materials, sheet metal remains an important manufacturing material, due in part to its strength as well as its ductility and malleability. Sheet metal is also the most recycled material on Earth with more than 100 billion pounds recycled annually.

The sheet metal industry is huge. Today there are 12,300 companies worldwide employing 600,000 workers who produce sheet metal goods worth over $732 billion. Due to technology advancements, propelled significantly by the automotive industry, fabricators are now capable of creating high-quality sheets for nearly any application.  New tools are now used to facilitate the metal forming processes as well as cutting, perforating, slitting, and joining the sheets.

New tools facilitate processes, reduce waste

When design engineers embark on the design of sheet metal components, many factors must be considered. They must determine the mechanical properties of the material, select the material that meets those requirements, and select the best fabrication process for the job. Then they must factor in aesthetics, cost, engineering, and manufacturing and assembly method.

Inefficient sheet metal manufacturing leads to high levels of scrap and repetitive manual processes. Specialized sheet metal design tools are used to help design, assess the feasibility, and estimate costing of sheet metal components and guide engineers on how to reduce development time, material costs and number of prove-out trials.

These specialized software tools utilize FEA simulation techniques to assess formability of sheet metal designs. These tools consider component or tool geometry and account for material properties, friction, binder surface, die addendum, blank holder force, pad pressure, draw beads and tailor-welded blanks. Most offer material libraries but enable the addition of custom libraries as well.

Many CAD systems offer add-on integrated tools that speed the design of sheet metal parts by enabling designers to quickly create manufacturing drawings that support sheet metal manufacturing operations. These CAD-integrated tools eliminate many of the common problems by automating the creation and optimization of toolpaths using standard and form tools.

Some of these CAD-integrated tools offer capabilities to simplify the inclusion of punches, cuts, fillets, chamfers, and extrusions that span sheet metal bend plates. These tools also help designers optimize flat patterns in order to reduce manufacturing costs. These tools also enable engineers to apply company-defined standards to ensure compliance.

Other capabilities of these tools include NC programming for turret punch presses, contouring laser/flame machines, nibbling and shearing; automatic tool selection (standard and custom forms) for punching, forming and nibbling; full postprocessor generation capabilities for integration with all CNC machine tools; ability to machine imported 2D/3D models.

By incorporating sheet metal design tools, engineers can more easily take into account manufacturing constraints early in the design cycle, reduce costly scrap, speed up assembly design and reduce overall design cycle time. They can also manage the forming process directly within their 3D design environment.

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