Engineers who design prototypes with the intention of transitioning to production can benefit significantly from working with Wagner Machine.
As a precision machine shop specializing in prototype-to-production, we have decades of experience machining prototypes while optimizing them for production. The earlier you bring us into your prototyping process, the more we can do to ensure a seamless journey from prototype to production.
When we work with customers to optimize prototype designs for production we don’t just focus on making our lives easier. Design for Manufacturing (DFM) involves give and take, but we often make suggestions to improve functionality, and only ask for changes to simplify manufacturing if there are obvious cost drivers that might be avoidable. Our customers are regularly surprised by features that look complicated but don’t drive increased cost. Through the DFM process, we learn more about your specific needs, and you learn more about current manufacturing capabilities.
Engineers often make assumptions about what’s manufacturable based on parts they’ve had manufactured in the past. They may be under the impression that certain features are too difficult or expensive to machine because they aren’t up to speed on the latest manufacturing technology. As a result, they end up making sacrifices in their design—sometimes at the expense of the functionality of the part—because they fear they can’t get what they truly want for a reasonable price.
At Wagner Machine, we specialize in complex machined parts and are known for making the impossible possible with precision machining. While it is always a good idea to stick with common sense and proven best practices in part design, new advances in machining processes, tooling, and programming are constantly helping us push the limits of what can be machined at a reasonable cost. Parts that might intimidate other shops are often just another fun project for us. Before you consider design changes that might negatively impact the performance of your part, ask us. Chances are we already have the fine-tuned processes and capabilities in place to manufacture some of your more crazy requests.
One specific example is high-speed 5-axis machining. Most 5-axis mills are big, expensive, and slow. Historically, it has not been possible to take advantage of 5-axis milling for small, inexpensive, high-volume parts because the bill rates and machining speed of most 5-axis mills drives the cost up over that of faster and cheaper 3-axis processes. We have five automated high-speed 5-axis mills where we regularly run high-volume jobs of any complexity. Automated production with the latest 5-axis technology saves time, reduces cost, and improves part quality. If our math is right, that is a win, win, win!
All this is to say—if you have an ideal design in mind, talk to us before making major sacrifices. The better we understand your needs, the more likely you are to end up with exactly what you want in terms of performance and price.
Of course, some design choices do complicate production machining and drive up part cost. Some parts, features, tolerances, finishes, or even material selections are just not easily scalable. Often, basic missteps that aren’t a big deal during the prototype phase can lock you into a future full of increased cost, high scrap rate, production delays, or performance issues once your project gets into production—and we’ll help you avoid those.
One common mistake engineers make is specifying a proprietary material or coating. Many of these only offer small performance benefits over standard options, but once you go down that route, you have no alternatives if there are price increases, production delays, or other supply chain issues. It is important to consider these risks when considering highly specialized materials or coatings with single suppliers. Sometimes they are absolutely necessary, but be wary of single-source coating or material options.
When you work with Wagner Machine, we’ll look for potential red flags up front during prototyping to prevent issues from costing you valuable time and money down the line.
Here’s what you can expect from our prototype-to-production process:
We are happy to make prototype parts with no intention of going into production. We regularly work on prototype only jobs for universities, research institutions, and national labs. We are also happy to quote jobs that are already at the production stage. We have automated production processes for turning, 3-axis milling, and 5-axis milling to support any production volume you need. If you need prototype parts with the intention of transitioning to production, we can take you all the way! Based on your specific needs, there are subtle differences in how we will approach your project.
If you have a true prototype-to-production project, we’ll want to get an idea of the project’s scope so we can begin planning for what’s next. Knowing that production machining is your ultimate goal, we’ll consider how to make the manufacturing process most efficient for production. We will test different programming approaches and determine how to optimize tool paths to ensure the fastest cycle time. Thorough documentation will also be prioritized along the way.
Expect us to ask many questions about your design! Here is the phase of the process where we’ll determine if you simplified or complicated your design unnecessarily. We will work with you to get you the exact part you want for the best price.
Next, the prototype machining begins here in our Illinois shop. The back-and-forth communication will continue throughout this phase—all in service of making sure that you are completely satisfied with your part. Often, our prototype machinists identify opportunities to further optimize manufacturing that can make a big difference during production machining.
Something that sets Wagner Machine apart from other precision machine shops is that we add a customer’s primary contact information to the job traveler and encourage our prototype machinists to email or call that person directly. There is no more efficient way to conduct a design review than to get the person who is machining the part talking to the person who designed the part! We’re happy to provide our customers with this personal touch, which they won’t always get from other shops.
Iteration is to be expected during prototyping—although our goal is to help customers keep iterations to a minimum. Sometimes we are able to make slight variations across a batch of prototype parts in a single run so you can evaluate the difference between slight design changes. Once the initial prototype batch has been completed, we’ll send it to you. If you need a second iteration, we’ll get right back to work. Very rarely do we go through more than two iterations on projects when our customer gets us involved early.
When your prototype has been finalized, we’ll transition seamlessly to low-volume or high-volume production machining. With our thorough knowledge of your project and all the programming and documentation already in place, we can hit the ground running. We also have records of the exact cycle times to make your parts, so we can provide fine tuned and affordable production quotes. We are flexible on production requests and are happy to accept blanket orders and stocking agreements to help keep costs down and ensure a reliable supply of parts. There are no additional fees and the best part is that you never pay for stocked parts until you request a shipment!
Ready to get your prototype-to-production project going? Request a quote, and let’s get to work!