Sheet metal fabrication is crucial in many industries, such as construction, electronics, and manufacturing. This process allows manufacturers to customize the designs of materials, tools, components, and products required by different companies.
Below, we’ll delve into the details and processes behind sheet metal fabrication and the various types and applications of sheet metal.
What Is Sheet Metal Fabrication?
Sheet metal fabrication, also known as sheet metal manufacturing, is a process that involves altering and forming metal sheets to produce the desired shape. This process involves several other manufacturing methods, such as cutting, punching, folding, and assembling, designed to shape the metal to create various products and components for multiple applications.
Historically, the sheet metal fabrication process involved manual methods of cutting and shaping the sheet metal to produce the needed components. Hammers, band saws, and chop saws were used to flatten and cut metals to create architectural materials.
Modern fabrication operations utilize mechanized and automated technologies to improve process efficiency and increase production outputs. Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) machines are among the most popular tools used in sheet metal manufacturing today.
What is Sheet Metal Fabrication Used For?
Sheet metal fabrication is a process that involves the processing of flat metal sheets made from a variety of materials, such as steel, copper, aluminum, bronze, and magnesium. These metal sheets are then processed to create a wide range of products for various applications using specialized tools and techniques.
Some examples of potential applications for sheet metal fabrication products include:
- Construction materials
- Automotive parts
- Industrial equipment
- Decorative items
- HVAC ductwork
- Electronics and electrical equipment
Types of Sheet Metal Fabrication Materials
Manufacturers use different types of sheet metal in various fabrication processes. The fabrication methods will vary depending on the type of metal and the product or component being produced.
- Steel: Four types of steel are used according to their grades, such as carbon, stainless, alloy, and tool steel. You need to choose the type of steel depending on the intended use. Steel is well-known for its ductility, strength, and corrosion resistance.
- Copper: This metal is preferred for its electrical and heat conductivity. It’s soft and malleable, allowing fabricators to quickly produce different parts and components.
- Aluminum: Aluminum is a strong and lightweight metal, making it a versatile material to work with during production.
- Bronze: This metal is known for its low melting point and high ductile properties.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is best suited for making component parts for structures that require stiffness and durability while maintaining a lighter weight.
What is the Sheet Metal Fabrication Process?
Sheet metal fabrication involves several essential stages, and it helps to understand each one of these production processes to see the parts they play in manufacturing product parts.
Cutting sheet metal is a complex process, and the methods one would employ will depend on the type of metal you are dealing with. Another crucial factor that comes into play is the actual product you’re trying to manufacture. Manufacturers use different machines and techniques to cut pieces into the desired form:
- Laser Cutting: This method requires using a powerful laser magnified by a lens. It’s a precise and energy-efficient method for cutting sheet metal. However, manufacturers use this method for thin and medium-gauge pieces since lasers are ineffective when used on harder and thicker metals.
- Plasma Cutter: This machine is best suited for cutting through thicker grades of sheet metal. It forms hot plasma using an electrical channel made from ionized gas. The plasma-cutting process provides crucial manufacturing benefits, such as low setup costs and fast and efficient processing.
- Water Jet Cutting: This fabrication method uses high-pressure jet water, better suited for fabricating metals with very low melting points. A water jet cutting machine combines a mixture of an abrasive substance and water to penetrate through metal.
- Punching/Piercing: This sheet metal fabrication process uses a punch and die, an efficient and precise method for cutting raw materials. With this method, sheet metal is first placed in between a punch and die. After that, the punch drops down on the metal sheet, forcing it into the die. This tremendous force cuts out the essential piece of metal and casts it into the desired shape. The rest of the sheets can be turned to scrap or used in other work pieces.
After cutting out the desired pieces from an entire sheet, the next step in the fabrication process is called forming. In this stage, machines manipulate and form the cut-out metal pieces into the necessary shapes. This part of the process aims to change the shape of the metal without cutting it. Manufacturers use several techniques, such as:
- Bending: Manufacturers use a brake machine to bend metal into various shapes. This machine can create V- and U-shaped metal pieces, including other channels up to 120 degrees.
- Decambering: This metal fabrication process is the reverse of bending. It removes the horizontal bends and works best on strip-shaped sheet metal pieces.
- Metal Stamping: The process of stamping involves the use of a stamping or hydraulic press. Manufacturers use this machine along with a die and tool to form the cut pieces of sheet metal into the desired shapes. With these tools, you can emboss, curl, hem, flange and draw on metal pieces as needed.
- Spinning: You will need a lathe and tool to use this fabrication technique. Metal pieces will be rotated using the lathe and pressed against specific tools to produce different shapes. This fabrication process is best suited for producing metal cylinders, cones and other round metallic objects.
- Rolling: Sometimes, sheet metal pieces are too thick for production. To reduce their thickness, manufacturers feed them in between a pair of rollers. This rolling process also comes in handy if you want to make the thickness of the materials more consistent across all production parts.
- Wheeling: Manufacturers use this process to create compound curves in cut sheet metal pieces.
- Expanding: Expanding is a combination of the cutting and forming processes. Using this process, manufacturers cut small slits into the metal and then stretch them, creating accordion-like shapes.
After the pieces of sheet metal have been cut and formed, the next step is to assemble them. The pieces are put together using fasteners, rivets, screws and bolts. Additional processes like punching may be necessary to create holes to fit the screws or bolts.
In some cases, several pieces may be welded together, which is the case for aluminum and stainless steel parts. Manufacturers use different types of welding methods such as resistance, electron beam and arc welding.
What is the Difference Between Welding and Fabricating?
Fabrication and welding are two essential processes in metalworking that involve converting metallic materials into valuable products in a wide range of applications. While these two processes may be similar, they are quite different in several ways.
Generally, fabrication is the entire process a material undergoes as it is converted into the final product. Within this process are smaller intermediate operations. On the other hand, welding is an operation performed that involves fusing two pieces of metal using high levels of heat and pressure.
Fabrication may also involve welding as one of these intermediate operations to produce the end product. Still, it may not always be necessary, depending on the type of product being manufactured.
Here are some of the other differences between fabrication and welding:
- Techniques Involved: Welding involves techniques that use electricity or gases to produce intense heat that melts metal and fuse them together. Meanwhile, fabrication encompasses several methods to create an intermediate product, including stamping, coining, spinning, finishing, and stretching.
- Tools Used: Welding involves the use of such tools as welding clamps, gauges, magnets, vices, and electrodes. Fabrication uses saws, hammers, grinders, plasma torches, and larger machinery that perform multiple operations at once.
- Skillsets Required: Welding is usually done by hand and requires stationary tools, while fabrication requires a wide range of skills to use the necessary tools and operate the equipment.
What is the Difference Between Fabrication and Sheet Metal?
Fabrication and sheet metal are also essential elements in the metal sheet fabrication process. The main difference between the two terms lies in the fact that sheet metal is the material being used. At the same time, fabrication describes all the operations performed on the sheet metal to produce the desired product.
Work With Sheet Metal Fabrication Specialists
Sheet metal fabrication is a complex process requiring specialized tools. Quick-Way Manufacturing is a precision ISO-9001:2015 certified custom manufacturer. We specialize in various fabrication processes such as metal stamping, precision fabrication and laser cutting. For all your fabrication needs, call (817) 267-1515 or fill out our online contact form, and our consultants will be happy to assist you.
Comments are closed.