Working with Close Tolerances for Rapid Prototyping in Minneapolis, MN

August 10th, 2016 · No Comments

As a precision engineering and stamping professional, Thomas Engineering Company specializes in working with extremely close tolerances to develop parts with high functioning accuracies down to exact specifications. In order to produce high-quality parts at such a tight level of precision, it’s necessary to spend significant time planning and testing each part before finalizing the design. TEC offers advanced rapid prototyping in Minneapolis, MN, to work with our customers during the prototyping process, forming parts at very close tolerances.

Because we specialize in precision metal stamping, we frequently work with material thicknesses of .001″ to .125” and are forced to handle tight tolerances, often running as close as ±.0002. Understanding these tolerances is critical to fully visualize the level of precision at which our engineers operate.

Mechanical Tolerances:

In mechanical engineering, tolerances are a limit in space. This limit is connected to the pre-designed clearance between two parts or two sections of a part. Mechanical tolerances serve as set boundaries during the manufacturing of a part. Because complete exactness is impossible if a part is to function in the real world, there has to be some measurement of fluctuation taken into account.

The greater the tolerance, or allowance in variation of a part, the lower the precision at which a part will function. Working with extremely tight tolerances allows TEC engineers to produce highly precise parts for the automotive, electronics, and medical industries.

Working with such tight tolerances for the production of a final part is helped along the way with our rapid prototyping services. Using computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) systems, our engineers can quickly design and produce a prototype part using tolerances that will provide the most accurately-functioning part possible.

For more information about our capabilities with close tolerances and working with our team to develop your unique part using our services for rapid prototyping in Minneapolis, MN, contact Thomas Engineering Company at (763) 533-1501 today.

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Material Basics Part I: Steels Used for TEC Metal Stamping in Minneapolis, MN

August 3rd, 2016 · 2 Comments

This is Part I of a three-part series covering metal stamping materials used at TEC. Part II covers copper and copper alloys, and Part III covers aluminum and other alloys.

Metal stamping serves a significant range of industries, providing parts used in anything from large vehicles and machinery down to the smallest metal parts needed in precise medical and electrical tools. While the form and function of stamped parts varies immensely, there remains a commonality between each part created: the deliberate choices in material. Metal stamping companies around the world place great weight on the ability of quality material to make or break the value of a part. This three-part series covers the basics of the materials used at Thomas Engineering Company with precision metal stamping in Minneapolis, MN.

Some of the most commonly-used sheet metal materials are various types of steel, valued for degrees of strength, relative flexibility, and resistance to corrosion.

Steel, in the most basic terms, is an alloy of iron and carbon with varying levels of other elements such as ferrite, austenite, graphite, chromium, nickel, and more. These other elements determine the type of steel, and each steel type is further broken down into a steel grade. In the U.S., SAE International has regulated these steel grades since 1955.

Of the numerous steel types in this system, TEC uses three specific kinds:

Carbon Steel is a basic steel type consisting of iron with carbon as the main additional element, equaling to .12% to 2%. Carbon steel also has a maximum requirement for levels of other elements peaking at 1.65% for manganese, .60% for silicon, and .60% for copper. This type of steel works well for parts that undergo heavy wear over extended periods of time.

Electrical Steel is a type of steel alloy specially altered to have magnetic properties that allow an electrical resistance that streamlines the conduction of any electrical current. Electrical steel grades can be altered based on the orientation of the crystalline particles.

Stainless Steel is commonly used in situations where exposure to corrosive materials and potential oxidation is consistent. The alloy has a higher content of chromium which forms a layer of chromium oxide. This protects the part from the damaging factors of rust, staining, salt-water corrosion, and other forms of tarnishing and damage.

For more information about any materials we use in the manufacturing of quality parts with our precision metal stamping in Minneapolis, MN, contact Thomas Engineering Company at (763) 533-1501 today.


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Working with Progressive Stamping and Stage Tooling for Precision Metal Stamping in Minneapolis, MN

July 27th, 2016 · 1 Comment

There are many kinds of tools, dies, and other types of equipment used in the metal stamping industry. Each of these types and combinations of equipment function in a way specific to a metal stamping technique. For the manufacturing of each part, the optimal method must be chosen to produce the highest quality, cost-effective results. At Thomas Engineering Company, we utilize our full range of stamping techniques to best serve our customers with precision metal stamping in Minneapolis, MN.

While we have the capability for a variety of stamping techniques, TEC uses two specific stamping techniques for many of our orders: progressive stamping and stage tooling. These techniques are similar but have slightly different functions and benefits.

Progressive Stamping

  • Function: Progressive stamping uses a single die that performs a series of operations within that single die. Each operation is highly precise and works to further the finalization of the part. An individual part is passed through each operation in progression, but the die can have parts passing through continuously, holding a part in each stage simultaneously.
  • Benefits: Because progressive dies can operate with a part at each stage, continuously producing finished parts, the progressive stamping technique is optimal for filling large orders of intricate parts. This method can be more cost-effective with a faster production rate than stage tooling.

Stage Tooling

  • Function: Stage tooling also performs in a series of stages, but uses separate dies for each operation. Most stage tooling techniques use a series with a blanking die, a forming die, and a cut-off die. Depending on the part needed, the series will also include a piercing die, a coining die, or a trim die.
  • Benefits: Stage tooling may not be the most effective technique for large quantity orders, but is an effective option for low to mid-range quantity orders. Stages and the order of each stage can be changed, removed, or added. For some of the most technically-complex, unique parts, stage tooling can provide excellent results.

At Thomas Engineering Company, our parts production is centered on our ability to offer the greatest quality and precision for our customers. Progressive stamping, stage tooling, and all our stamping techniques allow us to perform our expert precision metal stamping in Minneapolis, MN. Contact us at (763) 533-1501 today for more information.

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Prototype Fidelity with Rapid Prototyping in Minneapolis, MN

July 13th, 2016 · 1 Comment

The production of high precision parts in metal stamping requires a good deal of planning. Without the accuracy developed throughout each step of the design process, Thomas Engineering Company (TEC) engineers would be unable to produce the precision stamped parts our customers need. This kind of design process is possible thanks to our rapid prototyping capabilities in Minneapolis, MN.

TEC rapid prototyping relies on the customer’s needs and original design, our experienced engineers design plans following the customer’s specifications, and our advanced computer aided design and computer aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) software.

Using these aspects of outlining a concept for a part, TEC is able to begin creating a prototype using a process of increasing levels of fidelity. Each level of prototype fidelity corresponds to the design’s resemblance of the finished part, both in form and function.

Prototype Fidelity

Low: The beginning of the prototyping process yields designs with a low fidelity to the finalized part. This may include the customer’s idea and sketches, an original CAD/CAM file, or our engineers’ mockups and design schematics. While this stage of the prototyping process will almost always need modifications further down the line, it is crucial to start with these basic designs to create a final, precision-based quality part.

Medium: The next stage of the prototyping process generates designs that resemble the final product much more closely than low fidelity designs. These medium fidelity designs can be anything from more-advanced CAD/CAM files to trial physical prototypes. This stage of the design process allows our engineers to review the schematics with the customer, troubleshoot potential problems, and begin making modifications that will bring the prototype closer to the final product.

High: The final stage of the prototyping process demands the production of a finalized design with high fidelity to the physical part. This often means that the high fidelity prototype is an exact replica of the part, and the design plan can be used for part production.

The process of rapid prototyping used at TEC will rarely remain at low or medium fidelity for long. The use of mockups, design plans, and prototype drafts is quickly replaced by a prototype that has high visual and functional fidelity to the actual part.

For more information about TEC precision metal stamping and rapid prototyping in Minneapolis, MN, contact Thomas Engineering Company at (763) 533-1501.

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Planning Ahead: The Basics of Rapid Prototyping in Minneapolis, MN

July 6th, 2016 · No Comments

Thomas Engineering Company is first and foremost a precision-based manufacturer. This means that the parts we produce, which serve the electrical, medical, and automotive industry, demand the highest accuracy and quality of design to meet their functional purpose. Because the production of our parts must meet such precise standards in all cases, our engineers place great importance on pre-production planning for each part. This is where the great advantages of our rapid prototyping in Minneapolis, MN, come in.

Rapid prototyping using computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) software is one of the greatest benefits to engineering industries today. Rapid prototyping gives us the tools we need to create a pre-production part design that is accurate down to the last detail.

Essential Steps

In simplified terms, the rapid prototyping process can be broken down into three basic steps.

Creating a prototype for the part needed is often the most involved step of the process. This can include anything from the rough mockups of an early design to the final product with the highest fidelity to the actual part. In all cases of a prototype design, our teams start with their best judgement based on their experiences with past materials and practices with similar parts.

Reviewing the design with customers and our engineering team is the next step in the process of creating a prototype. This is crucial to gathering information about any potential flaws in the original design. Feedback from the customer after the initial consultation and creation of the original prototype is almost always helpful to further evaluating the expectations of the part and the parameter needs of the customer.

Refining the original prototype design to meet the functional needs is the next course of action to modifying the design for the final part. At this stage, the clarified expectations of the customers and the engineers’ understanding of the part’s function are included. Sometimes this step leads to drastic changes in the prototype design, such as the use of a different material or even scrapping the original design for a brand new slate.

These basic steps of creating a prototype can be repeated multiple times over before the design is finalized. At TEC, we take pride in our perfectionism when it comes to creating any part for our customers. For more information about our rapid prototyping in Minneapolis, MN, contact Thomas Engineering Company at (763) 533-1501.

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Blanking and Piercing With Precision Metal Stamping in Minneapolis, MN

June 28th, 2016 · No Comments

At Thomas Engineering Company, we work with a variety of metals to create a large range of parts. The production of these different parts requires a system of quality preparation of the basic part dimensions before the more detail-oriented tooling and altering can begin. To maintain the final production quality of TEC parts, we perform highly accurate operations in the beginning stages of production. These processes are called blanking and piercing, and both are a key stage in the manufacturing of quality parts with our precision metal stamping in Minneapolis, MN.

Blanking and piercing are performed in the same physical process. Using a punch and a die, a metal sheet is cut into sections specific to the basic starting form of a part. The operations differ based on the product.

Blanking is used to cut a usable piece from a metal sheet, and the material left behind becomes scrap. Piercing is used to cut a piece of scrap from a usable cut sheet—often from an already-cut blank.

 Variants, or varying types of the blanking and piercing process, include the following:

  • Trimming cuts away unwanted edges or faults in the final stages of a part formation
  • Cutoff is a common operation used with progressive dies, and works to separate each part from the strip of parts passed through the die sequence
  • Lancing opens a slot in a metal blank that can then be bent away from the metal sheet without altering the mass of the material
  • Notching is the term for when a piercing operation is used to cut pieces away from the edge of the part or metal sheet
  • Perforating is another piercing operation used to cut several holes with close proximity to each other in a single part or metal sheet
  • Nibbling forms a contour inside or along the edge of a part of metal sheet using slots or notches that overlap to produce complex shapes
  • Shaving is an operation that is often used during the final stages of part production to remove slivers of metal from a part, increasing the accuracy of the form and part edges

To learn more about blanking and piercing operations used in the manufacturing of parts with our precision metal stamping in Minneapolis, MN, contact Thomas Engineering Company at (763) 533-1501.

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Back to Basics: Materials Used for Precision Metal Stamping and Rapid Prototyping in Minneapolis, MN

May 19th, 2016 · No Comments

With every distinct part, there is a specific material that will best serve the functional purpose of that part. Stamping parts out of soft, expensive gold would be counter-intuitive engineering if those parts are meant to be repeatedly put in high stress, industrial situations. Thomas Engineering Company has over 50 years of experience in producing parts, utilizing the best material possible for our precision metal stamping,
and rapid prototyping in Minneapolis, MN.

Though we use many different types of metal for parts production at TEC, these types can be broken down into several categories depending on their molecular content.

Ferrous Metals: Any metal containing iron is categorized as ferrous. For example, steel is derived from iron ore and is therefore typified as a ferrous metal. In almost all cases, ferrous metals are magnetic. The benefits of using these metals are many, but ferrous metal parts are also more likely than nonferrous metal parts to deteriorate from oxidation or rust corrosion.

Steel is one of the most common ferrous metals we use for precision metal stamping and rapid prototyping. The hardness of different grades of steel is determined by the carbon content. Carbon is one of the basic elements of steel, and the levels of carbon in a type of steel will change other mechanical properties along with the hardness. However, there are many other factors that decide how a type of steel will act during production and industrial situations.

Nonferrous Metals: Nonmagnetic and lacking in the iron that ferrous metals contain, nonferrous metals have many differences between their varying types. Aluminum, copper, brass, bronze, and tin are common metals used at TEC for precision stamping and rapid prototyping, but some parts will occasionally demand the use of silver, gold, or alloys that are a combination of nonferrous metals.

Alloys: The most basic definition of an alloy is a mixture of at least two metals. However, the mixture must be completely homogenized, and in many cases, stabilizing or catalyzing elements are needed. The point of using an alloy over other metal types is that the combination of metals can provide many benefits.

For more information about the materials we use in precision metal stamping and rapid prototyping in Minneapolis, MN, contact Thomas Engineering Company at (763) 533-1501 today.

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Casting vs Stamping: Advantages of Precision Metal Stamping in Minneapolis, MN

May 12th, 2016 · 1 Comment

Metal casting and stamping are two methods of metal forming that have been around for over a century. The oldest stamping techniques have evolved significantly over the years and now capable of forming precision-based complex parts, from microcircuits to components of heavy machinery. While metal casting has evolved in its own ways, today’s technology in metal stamping holds advantages over casting in many situations. At Thomas Engineering Company, we have taken advantage of the abilities and benefits that stamping has over casting to provide expert precision metal stamping in Minneapolis, MN.

While casting has the ability to produce quality parts in certain situations, for many cases, stamping offers adjustable production processes, faster production, and a variety of other advantages.

Cost-Effective: Metal stamping processes involve a number of highly adaptable, powerful presses that can combine numerous stages of production into a streamlined process. With progressive, high speed stamping presses and in-die tooling, today’s precision metal stamping cuts down on wasted scrap, time, energy, and labor needed for production.

Volume-Efficient: With unmatched accuracy in part design and operations, precision metal stamping offers some of the most cost-effective options for bulk parts manufacturing. For large scale orders, TEC’s precision stamping abilities also allow the production of parts in a continuous strip, ideal for tape and reel packaging of small parts.

Versatile: In the past, stamping was considered inferior to casting when it came to forming difficult parts. Today, stamping technology has overcome this limitation in many ways. With intelligent data processing, in-die tooling capabilities, and complex press and tooling, metal stamping operations are well-equipped to produce some of the most intricate, finely-made parts in the industry.

Flexibility and Strength: The greatest disadvantages of casting a part in most cases are the various weakness left behind. Casting a metal part allows for only a limited flexibility in molecular structure, but when stamping is done correctly, the force of the operation moves the molecules in the metal blank into alignment. This, combined with various methods of heat treatment and tempering, improves the strength and flexibility of a stamped part, giving it a greater durability overall.

For more information about the benefits of stamping over casting, contact Thomas Engineering Company at 763.533.1501 today to learn about our precision metal stamping in Minneapolis, MN.

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Plating and Finishing with Precision Metal Stamping in Minneapolis, MN

May 5th, 2016 · No Comments

When it comes to manufacturing the best possible part for the job, following the manufacturing process completely and thoroughly is vital. Even a small part of finishing a production project, like deburring and packaging, should not be neglected. At Thomas Engineering Company, one crucial stage for the manufacturing of certain parts is our plating and finishing services. This stage helps to complete our comprehensive precision metal stamping in Minneapolis, MN.

Plating or otherwise finishing a product consists of coating the surface of a part in a type of metal that will improve or otherwise change the superficial capabilities. The benefits of plating and finishing range between form and function in the following general categories.

Electrical: Applying ionic metals or anodizing a metal surface can alter the conductivity of the part as a whole. Changing the conductivity of a part allows it to become suitable for specific uses in the electrical, automotive, and sometimes medical industry.

Protective: Plating parts with various nickel, zinc, gold, or other alloys can significantly help to protect against elements to which a part can be exposed. Most cases of protective plating and finishing are designed to prevent part damage caused by exposure to radiation, short term or long term corrosion, and general wear from usage. Many plating and finishing techniques also serve to generally harden a part as a whole.

Superficial: Various techniques of plating and finishing also work to alter the surface for reasons other than altering electrical conductivity and enhancing protective qualities. For example, certain kinds of plating and finishing techniques can improve paint adhesion and increase a part’s solderability. Anodizing a part’s surface can also change the superficial qualities in a number of ways, including preventing wear, providing better adhesion for glues and primers, and allowing for cosmetic surface alterations.

Aesthetic: While TEC parts are rarely plated and finished for aesthetic purposes, there are certain cases where anodizing a surface serves both form and function. Anodization increases the oxide layer that occurs naturally on most types of metal. This means that dyes and primers are maintained for longer, and corrosion resistance is increased. The benefits of an aesthetic plating treatment like anodization include wear resistance and the ability to define sections of a complex part with dyes and labels.

For more information about the steps in our manufacturing process, including plating and finishing, contact Thomas Engineering Company about our precision metal stamping in Minneapolis, MN at 763.533.1501.


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CAD/CAM Benefits for Manufacturing and Rapid Prototyping in Minneapolis, MN

April 28th, 2016 · 3 Comments

At Thomas Engineering Company, we have been able to provide expert, quality parts production with both our precision metal stamping and rapid prototyping for the past 50 years. Our abilities in micro-miniature, miniature, medium-sized, and ultra-thin metal stampings are made possible in part because of our advanced computer-aided design and manufacturing systems (CAD/CAM) such as CADKEY and SOLIDWORKS. For state-of-the-art precision metal stamping and rapid prototyping in Minneapolis, MN, TEC production works with comprehensive imaging and data processing, as well as with expert manufacturing and experienced engineers.

Our CAD/CAM systems help us integrate the benefits of precision production, waste elimination, and troubleshooting in all stages of the manufacturing process.


Because CAD/CAM systems are designed to examine and process all dimensions and geometrical values of a part at any stage of the manufacturing process, they allow our engineers and technicians to alter and create the most accurate and precision-based design possible.

CAD/CAM is the ultimate troubleshooting technology, and it helps us keep the process streamlined without wasting energy down the line fixing unseen design flaws or part failures. Integrating this extreme level of precision also allows us to provide cost-effective production and accurate quotes for our customers.


For jobs involving bulk orders of parts, our CAD/CAM systems help our engineers form an efficient, large-scale production environment. When we’re able to understand a part completely, we can create the optimal manufacturing process for rapid prototyping. Our CAD/CAM imaging and processing software allows us to streamline and organize our precision stamping, prototype production, design plans, manufacturing job roles, and more.

Production Quality:

With the highly improved levels of precision, efficiency, and organization that our CAD/CAM systems make possible, our engineers have complete control over virtually all aspects of the manufacturing process. As a result, TEC is able to offer customers excellent production quality for all parts and prototypes.

For more information about CAD/CAM used with our precision metal stamping and rapid prototyping in Minneapolis, MN, contact us at Thomas Engineering Company. Call us today at 763.533.1501.


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