Whether it’s your car, your phone, your home, or any of your tools or appliances, these are all products of custom sheet metal fabrication. Suffice it to say that since the Bronze Age, man did not only discover metals. They found, mined, refined, and used all their technology, inevitably becoming a crucial element in our civilization.
In this article, we’re giving you a complete guide to everything you need to know about sheet metal fabrication, from its very definition to its creation and customization process, along with the role it plays in keeping everything in our lives operational.
Table of Contents
What is sheet metal fabrication?
Since it was first developed, sheet metals have progressed enough to take over many aspects of our lives. Not only has it become indispensable for the economy, but it has also evolved into becoming the basis of most engineering developments – from cars and machinery to house facades and furniture.
So, to ensure that you understand just how essential sheet metal fabrication has become these days, let’s take a look at what it is.
A quick search on the Internet will tell you that sheet metal fabrication is defined as the process of producing and creating structures using metal sheets. It may not seem that essential for some of us, but imagine doing away with everything that has any form of shaped, patterned, or precisely cut metal parts, and you’ll get the drift.
In essence, sheet metal fabrication works hand-in-hand with laser cutters to create exact cuts or engraving in a wide range of metals to produce highly complex fabricated metal products like bolts and screws, aluminum phone cases, car parts, etc. even some hand tools.
The Process of Custom Sheet Metal Fabrication Explained
Sheet metal fabrication is a complex process requiring a lot of work and some special machines. Custom fabrication requires even more, as it also includes creating designs and plans for specific pieces of metal to suit a particular engineering purpose.
Consider this: if you are a manufacturing company owner involved in creating some new technological toy and you need material – like a machined steel or aluminum case for a new gadget, you’ll have to seek out a machine shop to find a custom metal fabricator who can deliver what you need.
The process will involve the typical business exchange – a request for quotation, a proposal, and most likely, a contract that states everything expected from both parties, including but not limited to the design schematics, the cost of production, the milestones, the lead time, and the actual delivery date.
Once the business side is out of the way, the custom sheet metal fabrication work will start. The steps that follow are listed below:
The entire process for custom metal fabrication is described step-by-step below:
The design phase involves analyzing the schematics of the product needed. This consists of having the machine shop’s product engineers create plans and sketches based on what you require as the customer. At this part of the process, the engineers select and assign different fabricators to work with the customer and a team of designers to determine the project requirements and manufacturing specifics to produce the designs needed for fabrication.
Typically, once the project specifics are established, it is also the time when the fabricator places an order for the materials needed, which usually include sheet metal, bars, rods, and tubes.
Prototyping is a common next step, following the design phase. It’s not always needed, but professionals always prefer having a rapid prototype created through 3D printing or rapid sheet metal prototyping – so the final product can be examined for feasibility. Plus, it works well in helping the customer and the design team see any need for adjustments right before production starts.
Once the prototype is settled and the design is finalized, the approved final design is programmed into the computer-controlled machines used in the fabrication process. This phase involves taking the product’s CAD design to be used in programming the machines to automate cutting, punching, and turning.
The actual fabrication process begins only after the Programming phase when the machines are “oiled” and warmed up. The process in itself may include all or some of the following steps to achieve the desired product.
Some of them are:
This fabrication process is perhaps the most fundamental of all the functions in sheet metal fabrication. It is the process of turning sheet metal into the right size and shape. The process itself is simple, and it can be easily accomplished by using shears, CNC punch presses, Lasers, waterjet, or plasma laser technologies that are now already available.
Sheet metal bending involves applying force to the metal, causing it to bend at an angle and form the anticipated shape. This simple technique can be achieved by using either press brakes, folding machines, or panel benders.
Welding refers to the process of joining together two pieces of either metal, glass, or thermoplastics. The resulting fusion from the welding process only works when the two objects to be joined have similar melting points and compositions. When welding, you can use Mig, Tig, robotic, and laser stick or SMAW welders.
* Hardware insertion
If you’ve heard of precision sheet metal fabrication, then you’ve probably heard of hardware insertion. This process involves inserting built-in fasteners or hardware parts like standoffs, pins, studs, and locknuts into the fabricated product using Haeger presses.
* Grinding & Graining
No fabrication job will ever be complete without the cleaning up of welds or the belt sanding portions that will give the sheet metal fabrication that nice grained finish to it.
There are other processes involved in sheet metal fabrication. Their need varies depending on the type of material, the requirements relating to the geometry of the part, and the type of usage it will eventually get.
The fabrication phase typically depends on the complexity of the processes and designs involved and the demand for the machine shop. Needless to say, it is at this stage when the fabricators work their magic, producing all the pieces of product elements they need to assemble the final product.
Once the fabrication process is complete and all the product elements are created, it’s all about refining, finishing, and coatings. Two raw metal finish options are methods like graining with a belt sander or putting a vibratory sanded finish. Other standard finishes include powder coating or some other plating specifications.
Joining the product elements is the final step in custom sheet metal fabrication. At this stage, product elements are combined through either welding or electrical integrations to form the final product.
What Metals can be used in Sheet metal fabrication?
Sheet metal fabrications involve the use of different metals and alloys to create sheet metals. These materials typically include aluminum, brass, copper, steel, tin, nickel, and titanium. However, some choice sheet metals include silver, gold, and platinum for decorative uses due to their aesthetic value.
What applications can sheet metal fabrication be used in?
Sheet metal fabrications can be used in a variety of ways. You’ll just need to look around, and you’ll see many applications from home appliances to engineering applications in construction, mechanical designs, and even in decorations.
Sheet metal fabrications can be seen in bodies of automobiles and trucks, airplane fuselages and wings, medical tables, roofs for buildings, transformers, and electric machines. In ancient times, it was both functional and decorative, used by cavalries of old. It is also visibly important for home appliances, furniture, lockers and cabinets, steel sheds, and garages.
In essence, sheet metal fabrication, custom or otherwise, finds a lot of use throughout different industries because it is durable and non-corrosive and because it’s a pretty flexible material with lots of standout qualities that are worth exploring. It’s also perfect for product design, given that it offers more advantages than disadvantages in terms of its ability to be manipulated into perfect little parts. Plus, sheet metal fabrication has already wormed its way across a wide range of industries, with all of them acknowledging its high strength and its ability to be formed through pressing, bending, forming, and welding. It’s been around for years, and there really is no point denying its usefulness given how visible it is in the contemporary world.
Though metal fabrication can be complex in its manufacturing process, it is also highly versatile and adaptable. It wouldn’t be around and in active use for the past 10 millennia if the actual mining and machining of metals were not revolutionary enough to create significant innovations fit for the modern world.
In any case, now that metal fabrication has assumed an even larger role in manufacturing by evolving into an even grander scales with highly specialized machines, its worth is expected to expand in the coming years.
If you still need more convincing, note that with the right fabricator to help you out, you can be guaranteed a low-cost, high-quality product that offers durability like no other. Plus, with sheet metal fabrication, you also get to control the end product more easily.