Modernizing Sheet Metal Processes

Technology is enabling faster sheet metal prototyping and shorter lead-times on production sheet metal parts.
Caleb Chamberlain - CEO, OSH Cut
24 Apr 2022
Digital fabrication

Problems in Sheet Metal Manufacturing

The other day I talked with a shop owner from New Zealand about sheet metal manufacturing, and why it can be difficult. His shop is relatively new, and as we talked, it struck me that the problems he described were a mirror match for the problems we tackled in our first years at OSH Cut.

Especially for a young shop, sheet metal manufacturing is challenging. There are points of friction and delay at every turn. Preparing customer files for production, bidding on jobs (at first using a spreadsheet), scheduling and nesting jobs, digging for material among full sheets and remainders, dealing with machine eccentricity and errors, trying to track scrapped parts, talking to the programmer to re-queue job deficits, handling shipping and invoicing... the list is endless.

These are all problems that require solutions. It's fair to say that most shops avoid logistical overheads by focusing on mass-production: it's OK if bidding takes forever if you mostly take jobs that keep your machines occupied for hours at a time. It's OK to manually track deficits in production if you are only running a couple large production jobs.

That strategy is reasonable and there is nothing wrong with it, but it can be frustrating for customers. Every project starts as a prototype, and most production jobs start small and grow over time. It's frustrating to try to order parts in an industry that has avoided solving logistical issues by ignoring small jobs.

Solving Sheet Metal Process Issues with Technology

We've solved (and continue to solve!) logistical issues with custom software that manages the production process, from quote to part. That starts with instant quotes and manufacturability checks: OSH Cut currently quotes over 1000 parts per day, but we have zero quoting staff. The immediacy of our online quotes allows customers to get prices right away and iterate on designs to solve manufacturability issues. This eliminates what is often a days or weeks-long back-and-forth with shops to get a sheet metal job ready for production.

The changes don't stop there. Early on, we discovered that offering instant prices is nice, but it turns out that compared to actually making sheet metal parts, providing software-generated prices is quite easy. Instant online quoting makes it really easy for customers to order sheet metal parts, and that's great. But as a shop, how do you maintain customer experience when you are filling hundreds of high-mix orders every day?

Our first four years saw rapid development of process management tools to fix bottlenecks and overheads. We've automated material purchase order creation and management, inventory and remainder tracking, job nesting and scheduling, process pipeline management, scrap management and production re-queues, and shipping label creation, among other things.

Why Should You Care?

For an OEM, contractor, engineer, or sheet metal buyer, there are numerous advantages to ordering from a tech-enabled shop:

1. Easier ordering experience. Prices are generated instantly. There is no need to send an email and wait days for a response.

2. More consistent quality. You can have confidence that even as we scale, your orders will be managed efficiently and quickly. Production minutia and bookkeeping are automated, so our expert personnel are free to give your parts the attention they need (as opposed to scrambling in confusion to manage thousands of other parts in production).

3. Efficient Management of All Job Sizes. Because we've eliminated overheads that usually make short-run or prototype jobs difficult, we are more than happy to fill an order of any size, whether one part or thousands, with lead-times as short as same-day.

4. Shorter lead-times. Efficient, automated processes mean your order can be pushed to production and completed far more quickly than through competing shops. That means shorter default lead-times, and opportunity for extremely rapid turns as short as same-day.

5. Better prices. Reduced overheads mean we can drive prices down, especially for processes that are traditionally very inefficient, like bending.

6. Reduced inventory requirements. When you can reliably order sheet metal parts on-demand, you don't have to keep as much in stock. As an OEM or shop, that means you can stay lean, keeping less capital tied up in inventory.

Broader Tech Adoption is Good for Everyone

More and more operations are taking notice and modernizing their processes. Our friends in New Zealand are just one of many. Brokers are improving quoting and ordering workflow, new startups like SendCutSend and OSH Cut are making it extraordinarily easy to order parts quickly and cost-effectively, and a new generation of shop owners are applying their tech savvy to make their jobs easier and their customers happier.

We've said this before, but the modernization of the sheet metal industry will benefit everyone, from companies, to shop owners, to consumers. We are excited to participate in that change.