Steel Fabricated Brackets – Staub

When outsourcing the production of metal components, tier one manufacturers have two primary options: metal fabrication or stamping. Traditionally, higher volumes of repeat production runs have utilized stamping, while much smaller quantity projects could be handled by metal fabrication. Despite recent technological advancements that challenge these assumptions, they’re still considered standard practices throughout the industry.

Today, the factors influencing the fabrication versus stamping decision are changing. Although stamping is still preferred high-volume scenarios, the pivot point where fabrication is both viable and more cost-effective is moving. In fact, the cost/volume scales have tilted to reveal a new sweet spot for metal fabrication — which includes larger production quantities than were previously thought to be possible.

In this installment of our Smart Fabrication Sourcing blog series, we’ll provide some insights to guide the process of selecting one production method over the other. It starts by understanding what’s behind this changing decision calculus and reviewing the pros and cons of each method.

The costs and benefits of stamping out high volumes

Among metal forming technologies, stamping is synonymous with high production volumes. Once custom tooling has been built to support project requirements, stamping can crank out quantities from tens to hundreds of thousands of units per year. Production runs can be coordinated with manufacturing schedules, ramping up and down as needed.

But stamping comes with a notoriously high overhead and some notable limitations. Tooling costs alone are typically tens of thousands of dollars, which raises the stakes when making outsourcing decisions. Stamping is also inherently inflexible and doesn’t lend itself to making design iterations to support ongoing product improvements. Once the die is set, design changes cannot be made without tooling revisions and their associated costs.

Although long-run stamping dies are considered “permanent,” their maximum useful life is typically three years. Over time, deformations can create excess material waste and non-conformance issues. Manufacturers typically accept these common stamping challenges as costs of doing business.

For stamping to make smart business sense, mass production volumes and project-specific requirements must justify the expense of tooling.

New Laser systems offer a high-precision, high-volume production alternative

Over the past few decades, automated laser systems as well as advanced press brakes have revolutionized the metal fabrication industry. Offering superior precision and intricate design capabilities, laser cutting is ideal for everything from rapid prototyping to everyday fabrication. Still, many manufacturers overlook its potential for mass production as an economical and reliable alternative to traditional stamping — without the costs and limitations of tooling.

The sheer speed at which advanced laser systems can operate has increased significantly in recent years. Modern machines offer all the advantages of laser cutting with the potential to deliver tens of thousands of units per year. The decision for fabrication versus stamping boils down to two key questions: What production volumes are possible? At which point should stamping be used?

The answers to those questions depend on the capabilities of the metal fabrication supplier. At Staub Manufacturing Solutions, our customers are often surprised to learn that we can support production volumes around 30k and even up to 50k annual units per year in some cases — volumes that traditionally were reserved only for stamping. As always, we would only recommend such an approach if it delivered the greatest benefit to our customers. At higher quantities, the cost/benefit analysis of stamping may still win out.

Our production laser system enables us to easily support our customers through iterative engineering improvements and/or design changes. Unlike the costly limitations of tooling, we can simply make a program change in the machine to accommodate new features or design upgrades. Which means you don’t have to wait another three years to update your tooling and make product improvements.

So, the next time you’re considering stamping for a high-volume production run, don’t overlook the potential for laser cutting. STAUB’s metal fabrication experts are happy to evaluate your project requirements and advise you on the most viable option for your business.