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Creating a Metal Prototype: What Are My Options?

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Typically, metal prototyping tends to be more expensive than producing the equivalent parts in plastic. Considering the purpose of the prototype, it may not always be essential for it to be made of metal. However, when metal prototypes are a requirement, it’s important to know your options.

In this blog, we look at the top processes you can consider for making metal prototypes.


CNC Machining

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining is a versatile and our top pick for metal prototyping. It involves using computer-controlled machines to precisely cut and shape the metal into the desired form. CNC offers high accuracy and can work various grades of metals, making it suitable for producing functional metal prototypes.


cnc machining metal prototypes to high precision


CNC is generally a more cost-effective option than metal 3d printing. Additionally, it offers faster lead times compared to alternative processes that involve tooling manufacturing, enabling you to obtain your prototype within a matter of days.


Metal 3D Printing

Metal 3D printing is especially valuable process for creating lightweight, one-off parts and prototypes in a single assembly — eliminating the need for multi-component fabrication. Metal prototypes are mostly made in aluminium or steel, however, Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) offers options like Cobalt Chrome, Titanium and Inconel. This is especially useful if the purpose is to emulate the mechanical properties of the production part.


metal 3d printing prototypes with complex geometries in a single assembly


While additive manufacturing has evolved tremendously over the years, and emerged as a viable alternative to conventional methods of manufacturing, it is important to acknowledge that unlike plastic 3D printing, the cost of metal printing still has a significant gap to bridge before reaching comparable affordability.


Sheet Metal Prototyping

Sheet metal prototyping is another viable option for metal prototyping. Sheet metal fabrication allows for the creation of prototypes using thin sheets of metal. It involves various processes such as cutting, bending, forming and laser cutting to shape the metal into the desired prototype.


sheet metal fabricating prototypes and product parts


Sheet metal fabrication offers a cost-effective and efficient approach for prototyping, especially for applications like enclosures. It also offers metal material options like mild steel, CRS and spring steel. However, it’s important to note that sheet metal fabrication requires adherence to specific thickness requirements (between 0.006 inches and 0.25 inches).


Metal Prototyping: Which Technique Should I Use?

Selecting the appropriate metal prototyping technique depends on your specific projects requirements and priorities.

If you prioritize design freedom and complexity, metal 3D printing may be a suitable choice. On the other hand, If the main concern is quick turnaround times and high precision, CNC machining is a reliable option.

While this article serves as a good starting point, to make an informed decision, it is recommended to reach out to a member of our team. Contact us HERE and we’ll be able to help you with picking a metal prototyping process for your project.

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