Delivering Rapid Prototypes in rapid fashion!

The secret to success and longevity in any business is excellent customer service. The simple fact is that if you don’t look after your customers, somebody else will!

PI Castings has been manufacturing and supplying high-quality investment castings since 1950. If our ethos was anything other than to do our utmost to fulfil our customers’ requirements, we would not be in the position that we find ourselves in today; operating as one of Europe’s longest established investment casting manufacturers.

Over our 65+ year trading history, we have used our casting expertise to evolve and expand upon our capabilities in order to assist our customers with a broader, more diverse range of manufacturing solutions. One of our first ventures into capability expansion was the addition of Rapid Prototyping to our long list of services. Rapid Prototyping is an important part of product development. Being able to supply customers with a tangible version of a product quickly helps them confirm proof of concept and finalise a design before committing to mass production.

30 Years ago we were pioneers of Rapid Prototyping and we continue to satisfy prototype requirements for many of our customers to this day. Our Rapid Prototyping process allows us to produce prototype investment castings that have very similar characteristics to those that we would manufacture in production. This can be achieved as our casting technique is unchanged regardless of whether we are manufacturing prototype or production castings.

Why are we able to manufacture prototypes in a shorter lead time than production castings if our technique is the same?

Looking beyond the simple and logical explanation that it takes less time to manufacture a small quantity of castings than it does a large quantity of castings, there are several reasons why our prototypes can be “rapid” without being “rushed”.

Production times can be reduced by up to 5 weeks due to the fact that our rapid prototype castings do not require tooling in order to be produced. We are able to produce the wax patterns that we need in order to manufacture investment castings via a wax thermojet printer, removing the time and cost associated with creating production tooling. Another factor that helps us reduce production lead times is the way in which plan work in. Effective planning can help us compress the lead times for jobs that need to be completed quickly. We prioritise the workload in the foundry by delivery due date. Our colour coded route card system allows us to identify which jobs need to be fast tracked through our production facilities. This easily distinguishable marker, along with considered planning from our production team, ensures that jobs with particularly tight lead times like our Rapid Prototyping work can be treated as a priority. These jobs are carefully factored into our workflow in order to ensure that we don’t compromise the progress of one batch of castings for the sake of a batch that has to be produced expeditiously. Regardless of whether an order is for production castings or rapid prototypes, we always work as efficiently and effectively as possible to maximise the number of pours that we can carry out in a day; this practice helps us to meet our output targets.

Through our rapid prototyping services, we have produced castings in an assortment of shapes and sizes for use in many different sectors. Regardless of the diverse nature of the components that we manufacture through these services, they all share one common characteristic; they are needed yesterday!

Producing quality castings in the required lead time can sometimes be a tall order. However, it is at times like these that the vast amount of experience within PI Castings becomes invaluable.

Putting it into practice!

One of our most recent rapid prototype orders called for fully machined castings to be delivered in 5 weeks from order placement. Our customer needed 10 finished products delivering in enough time to allow them to carry out testing before using the castings in a presentation to their management team on the 17th of June.

As every manufacturing company knows, each product (and order) has its own distinct challenges. This particular requirement was no different.

The quantity requested (10-off) was on the upper boundary of what we usually consider an economical batch size for rapid prototype castings. With this in mind, we decided to proceed down a slightly different route than usual in order to meet our target. Rather than producing wax patterns through the usual wax thermojet process, we commissioned a “quick tool”.

The main drivers behind this decision were the time that it would have taken to produce 10 patterns on a wax thermojet machine and the costs involved with doing so. Where many companies would charge extortionate premiums for low volume orders that are needed quickly, we believe in trying to maintain economic viability for our customers. In this particular instance, the cost of commissioning a “quick tool” was less than the cost of the 10 wax thermojet patterns that we would have had to have produced. The difference in the time that it would have taken to “print” the patterns compared to the time that it took to manufacture the tool was negligible. We knew that with some careful and considered planning, we could manufacture rapid prototypes from production tooling and still meet the required delivery date.

Rapid Prototypes - Route Card - Priority Pink

4 days after our customer placed their order, the tool was completed by our toolmaker. It was duly run on one of our wax presses and the necessary patterns were formed, assembled and degreased ready for “shelling”. After a further 12 days of processing, the castings were in our machine shop for finishing operations.

Having our own CNC machining facilities on site allows us to perform machining operations without having to incur subcontractor costs and the delays which result from shipping products to and from a subcontractor. In addition to enabling us to complete machining work quickly, our machine shop helps us to keep costs down for our customers.

Now, I hear the machinists amongst you crying “why didn’t you just machine the prototypes from solid?”  – Although we could have produced these prototypes on one of our CNC machines, the material waste would have increased the cost substantially.  The design of these particular components would have required a lot of material to be removed from a solid billet in order to form the required shape. One of the many advantages that investment casting offers is freedom of design. Complex shapes and features can be produced through casting, and the fact that the process does not reply on removing material to form parts ensures that metal is used efficiently. Even though some of the components features had to be produced via machining, 95% of the required form could be achieved through casting alone. This saved on machining time and material waste, along with the associated costs.

Not only were we able to ensure that we could fulfil our customer’s current requirement in a cost efficient manner, but we have been able to provide them with an economical solution for manufacturing subsequent batches of these castings. Proceeding down the route of producing a “quick tool” has also allowed us to be able to offer our customer a straight forward way of commissioning more pre-production castings in the future due to the fact that tooling is now in place. This will spare the expense of having to produce wax thermojet patterns or indeed tooling at a later date.

Our incredibly efficient processing saw us complete and deliver this requirement a week early. In total, the project took just under 4 weeks to complete from start to finish. This project is a testament to not only our investment casting capabilities, but our ability to listen to our customer’s needs and plan an efficient and effective route to manufacture that will satisfy those needs.  As far as we are concerned, a cared for customer is a happy customer; and a happy customer signifies a job well done.

Get in touch

If you have any questions about our Investment Casting services, Machining services, Rapid Prototyping services or Low Cost Sourcing services, please make contact with one of our capable engineers and they will provide you with more information