If there’s even a 1% shot you’re doing sheet metal prototyping in China, or any other kind of prototyping for that matter, read this article.
You might have read about China’s amazing infrastructure, how it’s eating up 30% of the world's manufacturing, how its skilled workforce is in a golden age of cost and quality…
“Bulletproof manufacturing”... yeah right.
I’ve founded MorphoMFG an odd 10 years ago, right here in Guangzhou. We’ve had hundreds of clients, we’ve helped design, prototype, mass manufacture, and ship thousands of products overseas…
And here’s the true story - from first hand experience.
Wait, Are You Pro or Against Chinese Manufacturing/Prototyping?
Just give me a second. This info can save you from losing your money, your reputation, and in the end - stop you from the embarrassment when you present your “prototype” to your coworkers, investors, or family members.
To show you where I’m going with this, let’s take my company as an example. We do millions in revenue per year and keep growing year-over-year.
But get this:
30% of our clients lose $50,000 on average in China before they hire us as their contract manufacturer who leads the way. And we’re just one contract manufacturer.
To tell you how this helps you with sheet metal prototyping, first I have to answer the following.
How does a company earn millions with ZERO marketing and why should you care?
First: Yes, we’re pro-Chinese manufacturing. We’ve been based here for the past 10 years, and have had tremendous success with zero marketing.
And that should tell you something.
Think about it. Tremendous success, millions over millions, success story after success story. And zero marketing?
What’s more: We’ve had to hire a web dev agency this year to help organize our website, partly because we’ve no idea what to do with all the reviews & “thank you from the bottom of my heart” emails we’re getting.
So we’re geniuses & there’s no one else like us? No. The simple truth is supply and demand.
The demand for high-end manufacturing in China is: HUGE!
The supply of high-quality manufacturing in China is: ALMOST ZERO.
And the result of this imbalance?
People stumble upon “yes men”, fake companies, false promises, language issues, and a dozen other barriers to entry far more often than they do upon legit companies.
That considered, the 30% number doesn’t seem very high… but still, I’d like to get that number as close to 0 as possible… Hence me taking the time out of my day-to-day to write about this.
That’s enough about Chinese manufacturing in general. But you had to know that. High-end manufacturing in China is not only possible, it’s wonderful! But yeah, you’ve got to find the right people.
Now that you know that, let me briefly guide you through sheet metal and its prototyping process in China.
Sheet Metal Prototyping Across Industries
When I got here some 10 years ago, I started visiting one factory per day. I did that for years. Why? So I can find out who’s specializing in what material, what type of product, who’s only after numbers, and who’s capable of high-end manufacturing.
And you bet all of this footwork resulted in some high-value relationships with factories I would’ve never found otherwise. So whether your sheet metal prototype needs to be big or small, requires stainless steel or copper, it’s necessary to find the perfect factory match here in China.
Nearly all sectors of the economy use some sort of metal components due to their exceptional strength, long-lasting durability, and rigidness.
They're used in:
and even everyday office tools.
Computers, household appliances… Sheet metal has a role to play there too. And let's not forget about the construction industry, whether it’s:
or other construction elements…
Sheet metal is all over the place. Heck, the furniture you're sitting on while reading this could have some sheet metal components in it.
Related reading: How to Make a Prototype in China: A Simple 8-Step Guide.
The ABCs of Fabricating Sheet Metal Prototypes
There are several good reasons why any sheet metal fabrication process should kick-off with the development of a prototype:
Quality Control: Prototypes allow sheet metal fabricators to test the fit and functionality of the product. Essentially, it's a way to cross-check the actual product against design calculations.
Design Verification: Before kicking off the full-scale fabrication process, you can verify the design.
Review Opportunities: Having a physical model allows for product reviews and necessary adjustments before production starts. It’s also a great way to see what definitely not to do.
Error Correction: It helps in identifying and fixing potential malfunctions.
Eliminating Assumptions: By developing a prototype, you can clear all the assumptions made during the design phase.
Easing Transition: It makes the shift to actual and mass production smoother.
That was more like QDREEE than ABC, but hey the latter looks better.
The Challenges With Sheet Metal Prototypes
As you navigate the waters of sheet metal prototype fabrication, there are some waves to ride out:
Precision: Getting a prototype exactly right can be a tall order. Especially if you only have a technical drawing and theoretical values as your guiding stars.
Time: The fabrication process may be slow since you'll have to adjust the machine or process to meet your new design and configurations. This is where experienced factories that have already done what you need to do play a huge role.
Cost: Everything at this stage is experimental. Therefore, if you're not careful, the costs can quickly stack up. Humble brag, experienced CMs like us play a major role here.
What Do They Use to Prototype Sheet Metal in China?
Thanks to advances in technology, fabricating sheet metal prototypes has become faster, simpler, and more cost-effective. Let's check out some common methods:
3D Printing: This method offers a speedy and cost-effective option, although it might not be the best choice for heat and stress testing, or for sheet metal for that matter, except perhaps if you’re open to plastic prototyping in China.
CNC Machining: In the context of sheet metal prototyping, a design is programmed into the CNC machine, and the machine then shapes a piece of sheet metal according to that design. It's a highly precise method that can produce complex shapes and designs.
Standard Metal Fabrication Methods: This involves cutting, forming, assembling the sheet metal, and then applying a suitable surface finish. Each step in this process has a host of techniques you can choose from.
Regardless of the method, rigorous testing is a must to ensure the quality of the prototype.
Quick Note on Sheet Metal Prototyping Materials
In most cases, you can prototype with the same material as the final sheet metal part. However, for precious, rare, or expensive materials, you might want to consider using a cheaper alternative like plastic for prototyping.
4 Design Tips for Sheet Metal Prototypes
While every sheet metal prototype may have unique rules and specifications, following some common design practices can ensure success:
Choose the right sheet metal thickness or gauge
Know the properties of sheet metal to pick the best prototyping technology
Keep the design simple to ease fabrication and cut costs
For bending, ensure the radius is equal to or greater than the sheet metal thickness
That’s all school stuff. Theory. Very important, and very boring. Luckily, I’ve in-house engineers who love this stuff. That’s exactly why we (contract manufacturers) exist.
We give our clients a whole team of people who take care of the technical and mechanical stuff. We also mass manufacture, handle shipping and logistics, IP protection, rigorous Quality Control, and everything in between.
Design for Manufacturability (DFM) & Sheet Metal Prototypes
DFM plays a crucial role in fabricating sheet metal prototypes. It helps save time and money in both prototyping and the actual sheet metal fabrication process. Getting DFM for a product idea is one of our strong suits. We’ve in-house product designers too.
What About Your Sheet Metal Prototyping Product Idea?
Whether you give us a napkin sketch, detailed prints, or CAD models, we can work with it - if we believe in the idea as much as you do. And if we do, what was once a figment of your imagination and nothing but a “what if” - can become a high-end prototype.
Remember how I talked about visiting a factory every day for years? Well, today, that’s what makes MorphoMFG unique. We’ve built out a network of vetted Chinese factories that do high-end work only.
This allows us to help people like you by using our network to find the best factory in China for every part of your product. As a side benefit, this helps with protecting your IP too, because none of them make the actual product, but specific parts only, and we assemble the product in-house.
We call it the Component Control Method (CCM). Schedule a call with us and we’ll happily answer any questions you may have about the whole process. And if we think your idea is feasible and interesting, we’ll also invite you to consider working with us to make it a reality.
In short, sheet metal prototype fabrication is a crucial step that can't be overlooked. It helps save time, assess quality, and plan for a speedy sheet metal fabrication process. So, if you're ready to bring your idea to life, remember, prototyping is your best friend!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: You mentioned “yes men”, what do you mean?
A: If you ever encounter a manufacturer who agrees to all your requests without asking for specifics, run. These guys might simply take your investment and produce a substandard version of what could have been an excellent product. You might as well throw your money away on a platform like Alibaba.
Q: You also mentioned “fake companies”, what does this mean?
A: They’re fake in the way that they don't develop ideas, have engineering teams, or do any manufacturing. They take your deposit and ship you a 3D printout. They're not in the business of high-end prototyping. If they’re in business at all, I’ve visited “factories” where I’ve found nothing but a PO box.
Q: Where can I see Morpho’s reviews from past clients?
A: Here’s the review page. You can listen to calls from some of our clients, read reviews, and watch videos from our business development team where they talk to clients after we’ve helped them manufacture prototypes and/or guide them through mass manufacturing.