While on vacation at the Colorado River, the founder of Superior Metal Shapes, David Stockton, met a kind-hearted family enjoying their own river vacation. This family had recently discovered that the youngest son was diagnosed with autism. After hearing their story, David wanted to find a way to help them raise awareness through an aluminum extrusion project. Keeping our low minimum order quantities (MOQ) for new manufacturing projects in mind, he combined the family’s ideas and his own aluminum extrusion knowledge to orchestrate a plan for raising awareness with extrusions.
The Autism Society created the Autism Awareness Ribbon in 1999, and usage of the symbol has since spread among other non-profit advocacy organizations within the autism community as a symbol of hope. Though the shape of the ribbon is like that of other awareness ribbons, this one is painted with multi-colored puzzle pieces to reflect the complexity and diversity of the autism spectrum. In recognition of this symbolism, a puzzle piece was chosen as the design for a product that could be shared with others and sold to raise money for autism awareness.
Putting the Pieces Together
This project presented multiple challenges that had to be overcome. The family had no previous manufacturing or CAD drawing experience. Instead of our typical process of using the client’s drawing and adjusting it to our machine’s capabilities, we started from scratch and did the initial engineering in-house. Since we normally work with client-provided drawings and designs, our team created and revised several versions before they were satisfied. We also knew this product would need to be safely handled by children, as the family intended to decorate the pieces, so finishing operations were especially important. Every piece had to be free of burrs, with smooth and rounded corners to mitigate the risk of injury. The finish also needed to be paintable. Our team ultimately created a die in the shape of a basic puzzle piece. Given the special nature of the case, we created a die for the project at no cost. Using this die, we extruded the metal directly to create what amounted to a log of potential puzzle pieces. We cut the extruded log at every ½ cm to create individual puzzle pieces, then finished them with a tumbling process.
Vibratory tumbling smooths parts by tumbling them in a barrel with a mixture of water, abrasive media, and a surfactant. The barrel is sealed, and centrifugal force tumbles the pieces around until the edges are smooth and safe. Once the tumble finishing process was completed, our QC team reviewed every piece to make sure it was safe for handling and painting by children.