In this article, we’re talking all things low-volume production. We explore the benefits of low-volume production, the different processes which can be applied and the variety of materials which are available.
In theory, low–volume manufacturing is appropriate for any sector which might want to temporarily, or permanently, avoid tooling and production costs. A low volume of prototypes may also be required prior to investment in production tooling, as a final test/sign off in a real world environment.
At Ogle, we have found that the medical and defence industries in particular, often require low–volume production. This is because the design or product is usually of a high value and low volumes will only ever be required. Therefore, the cost of tooling isn’t feasible in these cases.
Choosing additive manufacturing is also highly effective when a part cannot be injection moulded due to its complexity. This ultimately means the investment made in tooling for the part would not be clawed back by manufacturing at high volume.
A recent example of how this approach can work is for a fitness product model we helped produce. A number of working prototypes were needed to be built so the design could be tested and tweaked so upgrades, prior to investing in the manufacturing methods, could be made.
Low–volume production gives designers and organisations the benefit and freedom of multiple changes that can be made relatively quickly at little to no extra cost.
There are several different processes which can be applied for low–volume production.
Vacuum casting is a popular technique because the materials are simulants of production material properties. This means the process can generate an accurate representation of the required part in both functionality and aesthetics, simulating injection moulded parts, which again avoids high–production tooling costs.
A wide range of materials are available for this process, from frequently used plastics such as ABS, Polycarbonate and Polypropylene, to elastomers in a wide variety of shore hardnesses.
Selective Lasering Sintering (SLS) can provide the functionality which might be required in relation to the strength of a single part. At Ogle, we often look at the specific customer requirements and use a blend of processes for their individual core characteristics.
If additive manufacturing, in particular SLS, is used then this allows different components to be merged together to create a single part. This will significantly reduce part count, cut down assembly time on the production line and lower weight and costs of overall assemblies.
When it comes to signing off end production, if SLS is chosen, redesigns and changes to the parts can still be made because it removes the traditional manufacturing constraints. This means a design can be optimised and further flexibility is increased.
For SLS and additive manufacturing in general to be feasible for production, the cost, lead times, quantity and materials available all need to be taken into account before being chosen over traditional manufacturing. But overall, the benefits outweigh any potential concerns as the approach opens up so many possibilities.
Computer Numerical Control (CNC) despite being a subtractive manufacturing method, the accuracy and tolerances achievable with this process are unrivalled. It also means that production materials can be used. This offers the widest variety of materials from a range of both plastics and metals.
At Ogle, we take the business of precision and accuracy to a whole different level and this starts from the moment we are approached by a customer. It is important to us that we deliver a product – no matter how small or integral it might be – that is exactly what our client had in mind.
However, our years of skills and expertise also mean we are experts in producing parts and we will know what will work and will not, which is why we will always provide the best advice right from the start.
As part of the initial brief, we will discuss the requirements of the design, the quantity needed, what its functionality might be, how the client envisages the aesthetics and what the desired timeframe is of the project.
It is important we build up a detailed picture of what the product is, why it was created in the first place and how it will be used as this will often dictate the combination of processes selected.
There is a huge variety of materials available and the function of each will all have a different outcome depending on what the part or prototype will be used for.
There are high-impact resistant materials, fire retardant materials and clear UV stable parts, to name but a few. Commonly used production plastics readily available include ABS, Nylon, polycarbonate and polypropylene.
Ogle can advise on the best material to make the part, which will meet the desired requirements. Click to see a list of common materials available.
People very often believe that unit costs are cheaper than they actually are because they compare it directly to the unit costs of traditional manufacturing methods, such as injection moulding.
We would always suggest that when expensive tooling costs are taken into consideration, additive manufacturing becomes much more favourable for lower quantities in terms of both cost and lead time savings.
Depending on part size, quantities needed, how efficiently they fit into build areas and the process chosen, low–volume production can be quite a swift process.
There is still a gap between additive manufacturing and injection moulding quantities. The material requirements, part size and complexities of the part will determine the most applicable production method.
We strongly advise that the design is fully optimised for whichever manufacturing process is chosen. This can lead to substantial cost savings, reduced overall component weight and a further optimised design.
For more information about low-volume production, click here.