Automated price quoting is an idea just catching on. The most recent site is from eMachineShop.com and comes with a twist a 2D-CAD program and guidelines for reducing part costs. The software works much as one would expect: Users load part drawings into the program, it examines models for manufacturability, and then returns costs to users. All this happens on your desktop. If the numbers are agreeable, e-mailing a purchase order to the company gets the job rolling.
The no-cost software downloads in about 20 min over dialup lines and another minute brings in a cost list. It lets users draw 21/2D parts or import .dxf files. A 21/2D part is one made on a 21/2D mill. The developer says parts can have as many as six setups. Parts can also be made by stamping, laser cutting, bending, and more about 11 processes in all. If users work with AutoCAD, Cadkey, or several other 2D drawing programs, the one here will be easy.
I found the 2D package basic but sufficient. However, you'll probably be able to draw with greater precision in the program you use most often, so I'd advise going that route and importing the drawing. When users select a material they also select a thickness, and that lets users spin 3D versions of their model. The software also includes a drawing wizard for gears and one for unfolded boxes based on user-supplied dimensions.
After drawing or importing the part, hit the Statistics tab to calculate the part's volume, weight, and maximum length, width, and height. In addition, the software reports minor problems. For example, parts may have marks and scratches because no surface processing was selected. A correction would be to apply a brush surface or similar finish, and the software will indicate where to make that setting change.
Once you have a finished product, the software calculates a price along with ways to lower costs. For example, it quoted $445.91 for 100 sprockets individually wrapped, but also suggested that cost could come down by wrapping stacks of several sprockets. With batch packaging, the price came back at $441.99.
The pricing summary includes other possibilities. Hitting the two-machine button reveals production machines that might be used but are not because of design limitations. For the sprockets, a solution is to change the material so production can proceed on a wider range of machines. Other general cost-lowering suggestions include ordering several different parts at once. But the suggestion only applies to parts that can be produced by laser, CNC punch, water jet, and wire-EDM. Additional general cost-reduction techniques include minimizing the number of different machines needed for each part, and avoid machines that need tooling for small orders.
If the numbers are acceptable, a purchase order sends the job to one of several machine shops for production. The drawing and quoting program comes from eMachineShop.com, 666 Godwin Ave., Midland Park, NJ 07432, (201) 447-9120, www.emachineshop.com.