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Hynes Blog

The Business Case for Material Selection

Posted by Randy Myers on August 6, 2014

ARF_Material_SelectionWhat you don’t know could be costing you half a million dollars each year. 

Chamberlain had been making the straight and curved arms in its garage door design the same way for years. But section modulus studies and finite element analysis revealed opportunities to cut material content—by 55%.

By modifying the design and using high-strength steel, Chamberlain replaced the heavier, thicker structural bar and more expensive manufacturing process with a lighter roll formed alternative.

The result? A material cost savings of more than $550,000 annually, a 34% reduction in weight, and an added annual freight savings of $120,000.

The Economics of Metal 

Metals such as aluminum and steel posses a powerful ability to manipulate their physical condition during the manufacturing process without losing their physical properties or strength. This allows metal fabricators to heat, cool, melt, mold, bend, punch and stamp the material into the desired profile.

But the devil is in the details, making material selection a critical part of cost control and design integrity.

Aluminum extrusions are a commonly designed engineering solution. Aluminum, when treated, is resistant to corrosion, and aluminum extrusion dies can be relatively affordable.

Aluminum billets are fed through the dies, molding the material to the desired shape. Because of the process’s continuous nature, aluminum extrusions are a good solution for lengthy parts. 

Steel, at significantly less cost per pound, is another commonly-used material for metal parts. Like aluminum, steel is strong and durable, and can be treated to be highly corrosive-resistant. Steel is often fabricated through roll forming, which gradually forms the desired profile by passing a flat-rolled steel coil through a series of tooling dies.

Roll forming excels when multiple processes are required, such as punching or tapping. It can perform cutting and forming operations simultaneously and in-line, reducing labor and speeding up production.

Stamping and press braking are also viable alternatives for steel fabrication, though they’re not best suited for complex geometric shapes, long parts or high volume production.

As Chamberlain found, inline punching of holes during the roll forming process allowed engineers to change over to a thinner, high-strength steel while still dropping gauge, reducing material and freight costs. 

Assess Your Next Metal Fabrication Project

When deciding on material, take the following into consideration:

Geometry:

  • Does your part require simple bends or complex linear shapes?
  • Which materials and processes are capable of achieving the desired profile?

End Use:

  • What other parts must the component interact with? In what conditions will the end product be used?
  • What materials are best suited to hold up against long-term use or environmental exposure?

Production Run Length:

  • What is the expected production run and EAUs (estimated annual units)?
  • Is tooling cost amortization an option?

Length:

  • How long is your product?
  • Which processes can accommodate the required length?

Secondary Processing and Finishing:

  • Are additional processes, such as punching or tapping, needed?
  • Can these be added in-line to automate processing and accelerate production?

To learn more about choosing the best metal fabrication process for your next project, see these related resources:

Topics: engineering, metal fabrication