Everything You Should Know About Custom Sheet Metal Fabrication

September 26, 2020

The traditional industry of custom sheet metal fabrication was a sum of straightforward processes. Metal fabrication meant welding, cutting, machining, and assembly.

The industry has evolved by magnitudes since da Vinci’s first sketch of a modern sheet metal technique in 1485. The industry also represents the foundation of aerospace, construction, energy, and the automotive industry.

In response, metal shops have adapted by diversifying their portfolio. In this article, you will learn what metal fabrication is and how the process works.

What is Metal Fabrication?

The exported metal fabrication industry in the U.S. made more than $40 billion dollars in 2014. Sheet metal fabrication is projected to grow through to 2024. You use many products, daily, that form parts of the metal fabrication sector. Mailboxes, roof gutters, phone casings, and air-conditioning ducts/furnace flues are all examples.

Metal fabrication takes sheet metal from its recycled or manufactured state into new products. Most metal fabricators work with sheet metal. Sheet metal is industry-standard sheets that are cut, folded, and shaped into end products. Sheet metal is used for both mass production and custom products.

How Does Metal Fabrication Work?

Metal fabrication uses complex machinery and manufacturing processes to produce high-quality products. Sheet metal typically arrives from a wholesaler or metal mill. Sheet metal is cut, folded, formed, bent, engraved, and more. Standard tools that a metal fabricator will work with include lasers, punch presses, and press brakes.

High-quality products require clean cuts and no discoloration so will often be manufactured using a laser cutter. Intricate patterns are also better performed with a laser cutter. Laser cutting can handle a wide variety of metals, including carbon steel and titanium.

Metal fabrication involves many different types of metals. More than 3,500 different grades of steel alone exist, over 75 percent of which have been developed in the last twenty years. Metal is highly adaptable. A wooden framed house must be crafted from undamaged recycled pieces and fresh timber. Yet, four recycled steel cars can be fabricated into a 2,000 square foot house.

The Metal Fabrication Process

Product engineers start the process by sending out plans and sketches to different fabricators to get quotes. The fabricators come up with a cost estimation and timeline based on their experience and the potential project.

From these quotes, product engineers select one fabricator for that particular end product. Some end products can have several different fabricators involved in different elements. The fabricator then orders materials for the project, typically sheet metal, bars, rods, and tubes.

Once the parts arrive, the fabricators begin to work. For custom sheet metal fabrication, the fabricators may play a role in the design process as unique products need specific techniques to achieve the right result. Highly skilled fabricating shops like All Metals Fabricating are usually able to produce any product after deducting the best manufacturing process for it.

The final step of the manufacturing process involves assembly and finishing. These processes prepare the product for use, whether with joining techniques or coatings. Methods like graining with a belt sander or putting a vibratory sanded finish are two raw metal finish options.  Other common finishes include powder coated or various plating specifications. 

The Processes Involved

The process of metal fabrication involves special machines. Some of which are unique to metal materials. In total, there are many processes involved in metal fabrication. Here are a few examples of the processes involved in sheet metal fabrication:

  1. Cutting - Shear, CNC Punch presses, Lasers, Waterjet, plasma 
  2. Bending - Press brakes, folding machines, panel benders
  3. Welding - Mig, Tig, robotic, laser 
  4. Hardware insertion - Haeger Presses
  5. Grinding & Graining - cleaning up welds, belt sanding to put nice grained finish

The Benefits of Metal Fabrication

Metal fabrication is a highly skilled and potentially complex manufacturing process. Fabrication is expensive, so it is often reserved for high-quality products. Below is a shortlist of essential reasons why metal fabrication could be the right choice for your manufacturing project.

The final appearance of your product is the key to profit. Many high-quality manufacturers such as tech companies have opted for a metal design. Metal gives smartphones and computers durability and a modern, sleek look.

The durability of metal products is naturally superior to plastic. Not to mention, metal can withstand higher temperatures. If the manufacturer has taken into account expansion under heat, the heat will usually not damage the product.

Especially in high volume manufacturing, metal is far more cost-efficient than other processes. Process replication can reduce the manufacturing cost per unit. The method of sheet metal fabrication is also more versatile, allowing for a wider variety of approaches. Other materials cannot withstand many processes which can be carried out on metal.

Custom Sheet Metal Fabrication

Metal fabrication is a complex manufacturing process, but it is highly versatile and adaptable. With the right fabricator, the process can result in a high-quality, distinguished product. Ultimately those products can be cheaper to manufacture. Not to mention, sheet metal fabrication gives you more control over the end product.

Custom sheet metal fabrication is highly flexible. Still, some processes will not work with certain materials or be limited by product design. Therefore, it is crucial to contact a professional metal fabricator for advice and guidance during the design process to confirm your plans.