Put the crackers down. The shop is calling. Nope, not to tell you they have to remake everything, but to let you know the part-makin’ is going perfectly. Why? You knew what to look out for.

On the screen it looks spectacular, right? but can it actually be made? For many designers and engineer’s designing parts to be manufactured is second nature. However, there are ways we model parts in SolidWorks that can get us severely scorned by the people making the parts and that’s what were here to deal with.

Materials and Manufacturing
A boring topic? of course. Figuring out how a part will be made is not always the fun part of modeling. Designing something to be manufactured can be tedious but not difficult. Most of mess is learning the capabilities of the manufacturer. The rest is just getting familiar with the materials you need to use. Sooner or later, you’ll have a list of items you use, a library of parts to start from and know the material properties like your own family.

Learn what Manufacturing can do First
It’s always best to learn what a manufacturer can or can not do before getting to far into the design and engineering. They can usually help you source material as well. If in doubt, go to ‘the shop’ – where parts are manufactured, ask questions and learn the process.

10 Tips to Design Parts for Manufacturing
There’s a lot of tubes and sheet stock we could throw at this topic, but when cracking open a fresh part file and making a incredibly complicated machined version of there a few important topics you’ll want to carve into your arm for future reference.

Fillets, Radius and Chamfers
What areas on a part need to have fillets, radius or chamfers?

Machined parts need these features like babies need hugs. Often, it’s not how you would initially model a part. Here’s what you need to know. Fillet may be needed on inside corners. Chamfers are easier than a Radius.

It’s easy enough to add these features in SolidWorks, but down at the shop, it may require new setup, tool replacement, or extra operations. Save a machinist time, add fillets where needed and trim material with chamfers instead of a radius.

Tool Size
What size tools are used on the CNC, mill, router, etc?
The above tends to bring up this issue. You’ll need to know the size of the cutting tool and how deep it can go. This is where you’ll need to know about what kinds of tools are going to be used to create your parts.

Once again, in SolidWorks, we can add features all day without thinking how they’re going to be created. The best thing to do is to make a list of tool sizes the shop uses to make parts.

Material Size
What material sizes are in stock/available to order?

This is the minimum of what you need to know to even start a design. Sometimes this depends on the manufacturer. Best thing to do is to check directly with the manufacturer to see if they have the size you need or if they can get it.

In the U.S. a lot of material come in increments – 1/8″, 1/4″, etc. Planning this into the design can make manufacturing the part much cheaper. After you get this info you can set up parts in SolidWorks with common thicknesses you use and add properties for the densities and material type.

Bend Radius
What bend radius and k-factors does the shop use for XX thickness of material?

Sheet metal has a minimum bend radius. The manufacturer will have the tool to bend sheet metal… usually. However, sometime they won’t use the bend radius show in the charts. This is another example of where it’s going to be important to coordinate with manufacturing.

SolidWorks allows you to put it any bend radius you want. It won’t tell you a bend is too tight and cause the metal to split.

What tolerance do I need to add to the part for manufacturing?

Will that nub really fit in that hole? It may look like it does in SolidWorks, but you’ll slap yourself when you try to put the parts together and they don’t fit. Not everyone is an expert on Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing (GD&T), but the shop guys can tell you what the machines are capable of and what works best.

There’s also the thickness that create the build-ups we don’t think of – Paint, Velcro, Laminates, adhesives, etc. – These can turn a project into shoulder-jerking nightmare, so take note.

SolidWorks also has a handy tool called TolAnalyst. It takes a bit to figure it out, but with the information you get from the shop, it can help build better design practices into your parts.

What forms, molds or jigs will be required for manufacturing ?

If you’re creating some right sexy, curvy parts that need forms, jigs, or molds, you will need to find out what the shop will require to manufacture your part. For composites it may just be a hand-built form. Plastics may require a mold to be created. Tolerance can get really important here, so it’s important to know the process and details.

What thickness and materials are available/ required?
If you’re working with foam or composites, you’ll need to know what materials are used since there are many available. Many times this kind of process isn’t even detailed. Other times process specification are used. Regardless, it’s important to know the materials and if any extra adhesives, fire-blockers or epoxies will be required

What are the lead times on materials and purchased parts?

It won’t matter how good it looks if you can’t get the parts. This is a huge issue with scheduling projects and can increase cost fast. The shop will typically know the vendors that have the long lead times, but if there are new parts and materials being used, look into it and coordinate with the shop.

This may not seem to affect your design or modeling, but right when you get a hinge or fitting modeled and integrated into the assembly, you’ll find out it will not be available in time, so a different type will need to be used, which means re-work. Check lead times.

Assembly Sequence
Can it be assembled if manufactured this way?

It’s hard to see assembly sequence when you modeling everything in place and it super easy to hide parts. This is just one area where assumptions can’t be made. With the shop, go through how certain parts will be manufactured in context of where they will be used.

In SolidWorks, you can create configurations to take you through the steps of how an assembly would go together. Access to attachment is the bit to watch for.

Manufacturing Support
Are other details needed in order to aid manufacturing?

Sometimes, the drawing you supply manufacturing with, will not be enough or you may not want to show certain things on a released drawing. Supplemental drawing that give manufacturing extra data may help speed up the process and not add a lot of extra work for you.

The best example is sheet metal. You may not put a flat pattern on your drawing, but this is something SolidWorks creates automatically that can be put on another document for the shop to use.

The moral of the story? Party in the shop, baby!
Probably the best thing you can do is go down to ‘the shop’ and get familiar with everything. Take this list and makes notes about all the details. Learn what the shop need to make their life easier. This will, in turn, make your life easier and you’ll have a greater appreciation for how your parts are made.


Josh is founder and editor at SolidSmack.com, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.