The sheet metal industry in the United States is worth a staggering $19.4 billion as of 2020. Researchers also expect it to register a global GAGR of 5% between 2019 to 2025. If you’re itching for a piece of the pie, then the new year presents the perfect opportunity to do so.
Investing in any manufacturing industry is a tough gamble, given the unpredictable nature of this industry. Sheet metal fabrication is a promising venture, but only if you know your stuff. That’s why before investing your money into the business, it’s a good idea to understand the ins and outs of the sheet metal fabrication process.
Today’s guide will be delving into the fundamentals of the sheet metal fabrication process. It will cover the process basics, the various sheet metal fabrication subprocesses, and their importance.
What Is Sheet Metal Fabrication?
Sheet metal fabrication is a complex industrial process where flat workable metal sheets are converted into functional metal structures. We have products like pipes and pipe fittings, steel beams, car parts, and the likes because of sheet metal fabrication.
The entire process divides into various systematic subprocesses that culminate in the creation of the final product. The steps must follow a predefined and coordinated order to give the final results. The process is a staple for specialist industries like construction, automotive, and robotics.
Sheet metal comes in various thicknesses or gauges of between 0.006 to 0.035 inches. The metal sheets can be copper, aluminum, steel, and zinc. Sheet metal fabrication companies use thicker metal sheets for heavy duty parts because the thinner the metal sheet, the more malleable it is.
Techniques in Sheet metal fabrications
There are myriads of sheet metal fabrication techniques you’ll find in the “sheet metal fabrication shops near me.” However, you don’t need to know all of them if you’re just starting. Knowing the six fundamental techniques is great for a start before progressing to the more advanced stuff.
Here are the basic sheet metal fabrication techniques.
Cutting is the first step of the entire process. There are plenty of ways you can choose to cut metal; the one you choose depends on the thickness of the metal and the products you’re making.
Here are a few ways for cutting metal sheets:
Torching: Torching is where you use a cutting torch to cut the metal sheet. A cutting torch is among the sheet metal fabrication tools that use an oxyacetylene flame to cut through objects.
Water jetting: Water jetting is where you pass waters through a tiny nozzle under high pressure to create a powerful jet of water that can cut through metal.
Sawing: You can use sawing to cut through thick metal sheets that can’t you cant cut using water jetting or torching. You can use a circular or band saw to cut through thick metal. Sawing is a labor-intensive process and should be a last resort for very thick metal.
Laser cutting: Laser cutting is a cutting technique where you use a powerful laser to cut through the metal. Lenses and mirrors help concentrate the laser to make it more powerful. It’s ideal for thin and medium gauge metal sheets, but powerful lasers can cut through thick metal sheets.
Plasma cutting: This is the most advanced cutting technique that utilizes a continuous stream of ionized gas to create a hot plasma jet. Plasma cutting can easily slice thick metal sheets with ease. It’s a fast and accurate metal sheet cutting technique.
Most of these cutting techniques can be used for cutting other products besides metal sheets. However, you can only use some techniques to cut sheet metal. You can think of sheet metal cutting as a subtractive subprocess before the final desired result.
Once you cut the metal into various shapes, it’s now time to bend it into the shape you want. There are two common ways to bend metal, and they are:
Form bending: Form bending involves placing the metal sheet over a sharp edge and hammering it continuously to make it bend. It’s a more hands-on approach that’s suitable for bending thin metal sheets.
Metal brake: This involves clamping one end of a metal sheet with a bar and placing the other end inside a gate. You then lift the part of the sheet inside the gate while the other end remains in place. This bends the metal as per your exact specifications.
Bending creates the standard “U” and “V” shapes that are all too common with sheet metal fabrication. Although bending seems simple, it’s actually a very complicated process that requires a lot of skill. That’s because metal tends to spring back or regain its original shape once you bend it.
That means you must bend the metal excessively so that it does so to the desired shape when it springs back.
Welding means combining two separate metal pieces into one. There are many techniques you can use for welding metal. The technique you settle for depends on the type and thickness of the metal.
It also depends on your welding machine. That said, the standard welding techniques include:
(i) MIG welding: Involves feeding a wire electrode through a welding gun to join metal pieces in a weld pool.
(ii) Laser welding: Involve using a powerful laser to melt metal and join separate pieces together. It typically generates welds of higher quality than MIG welding
Sometimes you need to shrink metal to iron out any dents and mold the metal to the shape your desire. There are three major methods you can use to shrink metal, and they are:
Heating method: A hot flame is used to overstretch the areas with dents. The dents then shrink once it cools down.
Shrinker machine method: Uses a special machine that forces metal pieces together, effectively shrinking the dented areas.
Tucking metal method: This is where you tuck the areas with dents onto the sheet metal and hammer them until they smoothen out.
That pretty much sums up all there is to shrinking in metal fabrication. Using a shrinker machine is the most efficient shrinking method. You can find out more about shrinking and other important steps in the sheet metal fabrication process if you do your homework.
Choose Your Sheet Metal Fabrication Method
There’s much more you need to learn about the custom sheet metal fabrication process before you can invest in it. Sheet metal fabrication is an essential process that creates most of the metal products we see around us today. It’s also a profitable venture if you know your way around the industry.
For more informative reads, be sure to check out the other pieces on the site.