Prototyping makes production easier

Seeing is more than believing in manufacturing, particularly when you're considering new large, heavy and expensive machinery and parts. Yet, creating a full-scale model, just for demonstration and bids, can be prohibitively expensive. That's where prototyping offers a keen advantage.

12/01/2008


Seeing is more than believing in manufacturing, particularly when you're considering new large, heavy and expensive machinery and parts. Yet, creating a full-scale model, just for demonstration and bids can be prohibitively expensive. That's where prototyping offers a keen advantage.

A prototype from CAD can save a company time and money compared to a full-size, full-cost part fabricated according to a drawing.
Frank's Casing Crew & Rental Tools uses prototypes often as a means of developing, costing and introducing new product lines and parts for its business. The Lafayette, LA-based company is a leading provider of equipment and personnel for the oil and gas industry, specifically providing installation, threading, welding, driving and distribution of oilfield tubular casings for drilling. The company has 70 years of experience, especially in providing, servicing and customizing deepwater equipment through its 25 locations across the U.S. and more than 50 locations throughout the world.

“Our tools and equipment are very large, as much as ten to 15,000 pounds each, and the machinery is quite intricate,” explained Jeremy Angelle, manager of the special operations group for Frank's. “Prototypes are very helpful in demonstrating to vendors what we're looking for, to reduce costly errors and ensure we get exactly what we need.”

Starting from a 3-D CAD solid model drawing, the prototyping machine can quickly create a scale model of a part.
To fabricate its prototypes, Frank's has turned to the Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Louisiana, or MEPOL, a program of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. MEPOL's Polymer Services division offers rapid prototyping using Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology, which joins plastic ABS material layer by layer to form complex shapes that resist heat and chemicals.

Starting from a client-supplied 3-D CAD solid model drawing, the prototyping machine can create a scale model of the part within 15 hours, at an average cost of $300. “It's a quick and cost effective way to have proof of concept,” said Rebecca Scherff, MEPOL's project director for the prototyping service. “Prototypes allow companies to test dimensions, alignment and interaction of parts, and other details via a scaled down model, rather than paying the cost of creating an actual full-size part.”

The most recent MEPOL prototype is for the main body of a casing elevator, which grabs segments of pipe to build deepwater casings.
The most recent prototype Frank's has developed through MEPOL is for the main body of a 1,250-ton casing elevator. The elevator grabs segments of pipe %%MDASSML%% each of which can weigh as much as 80-100 pounds per foot %%MDASSML%% to incrementally build deepwater tubular casing strings. The elevator would be the first in the industry to go beyond 1,000 tons in capacity, which had been the industry standard for more than 25 years. The need today for deeper drilling requires stronger and longer casing strings, which the new elevator would be uniquely able to install.

Frank's provided Scherff's office with CAD files for the part, and within just a few days received the small 3/32-scale model. At less than six inches at its widest point, the prototype served as a model for a part that would be ten times wider and 12,000 pounds at its finished, actual size. “The machining for this part was so difficult,” said Angelle. “Drawings alone could not provide enough detail, and could lead to costlyThe new elements will be the industry
mistakes on all sides. Communication is definitely easier and clearer when we have a model.”

One prototype at a cost of $300 provided Frank's all it needed to meet with vendors and get the part into production. The actual cost of the full-size part is approximately $100,000. Angelle reports that the prototype saved the company time to market by several weeks. Even more important, Frank's avoided the cost of building a full-size, full-cost part just from drawings, that, given its complexity, would almost certainly have needed rework or errors corrected.

Approximately twice a year, Frank's will turn to MEPOL's prototyping services for new parts and products. Every new item might not need it, said Angelle, “but for those high-cost parts in which we want to ensure fit and accuracy, prototyping is definitely the way to go.

“Bottom line: 3-D is much better than 2-D.”


Author Information

Corinne Dupuy is the director of MEPOL, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Louisiana. MEPOL provides manufacturers with workable solutions, in-depth industry knowledge and complete resources to help companies increase their efficiency, profitability and growth, and lead them to a sustainable future. For more information, visit

MEPOL is an affiliate of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), located in Gaithersburg, MD. Information can be found at its Web site: mfg@nist.gov .




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