Sheet Metal Fabrication
What is Sheet Metal Fabrication?
Sheet metal fabrication is the process of making products from aluminium, steel and other metal sheets. The process uses different manufacturing methods. From cutting and bending to surface treatment and assembling, the completion of a product often comprises many steps.
Sheet Metal Fabrication Techniques
The journey from sheet metal to metal product starts from CAD engineering. After making the models, each part goes through the necessary sheet metal fabrication processes. The most common ones are:
Laser cutting is the preferred option for cutting sheet. A very quick and precise cutting method that guarantees good results. With thicker materials, plasma cutting may be used because of its quickness. With thinner materials, it is not so evident. Because the cutting quality favours laser cutting, we would advise to go with laser when possible.
Punching is another way for making holes into the sheet. A metal punch hits the sheet, perforating it. It is suitable for large-scale production but not cost-effective for smaller orders because each cut needs a specific tool with the right shape.
When it comes to actual engineering, there aren’t many metal components that elude the bending section of a fabrication shop. Press brakes are responsible for the folding of sheet metal parts. This is probably the most difficult step in metal manufacturing because of the complexity of some bends. An engineer must be well acquainted with sheet metal fabrication services to design products that are possible to manufacture.
Assembling is the ultimate or penultimate step when you want to fabricate a product. If assembling includes welding, the parts have to be clean – powder coating follows it. Otherwise, parts are already powder coated and adjoined using other methods, like riveting and bolting.
Powder coating is a process where an electrostatic powder is applied to a charged metal component. It is the preferred surface treatment method when no special requirements, like wear-heavy or acidic environments, apply to the construction.
Advantages of Sheet Metal
Sheet metal design options are very flexible. Clients can express a need for certain functionality and sheet metal materials leave room for many different solutions.
Single prototypes to volume production are possible. While contemporary production methods, like 3D printing, provide quick lead times that are well-aligned with the needs in prototyping, the wide-scale use of sheet metal manufacturing processes allows seamless transition from the first stages to large-scale production. The required infrastructure and capabilities already exist on the market.
A wide range of finishes. Those include powder coating, painting, galvanising, plating, etc. This allows many different looks but also provides protection in different circumstances.
A wide range of materials. Sheet metals come in many forms – you can select regular steel, stainless steel, aluminium or any other available material for your cut metal parts.
Sheet Metal Applications
Looking around, it is clear that sheet metal has a plethora of applications. There aren’t many home appliances, constructions, etc. that don’t incorporate any sheet metal parts. Still, different sheet metal groups have some specific uses. And we can go over them.
Cold rolled steel is comparatively cheap. As the name suggests, it is rolled at room temperature. Cold rolled steel is only limited to 3 mm thickness but has a nicer surface So it works well in applications that require nice smooth finishes. Some examples include home appliances, furniture, lockers and cabinets. Cold rolled steel is also used in larger structures, e.g. steel sheds and garages.
Hot rolled steel is formed in a heated state. The only real advantage here is that they are easily formable at high temperatures, making thick sheet plate production possible (anything over 3 mm is hot rolled).
Stainless steel sheets are good in corrosive environments, when a combination with strength is important. Mostly used for all kinds of surgical instruments, cutlery, kitchen accessories, sinks, etc. Still, there are great industrial use-cases for storage tanks, valves, piping and the like.
Aluminium sheets may not be so common for every engineer because of its heavier price-tag but find a lot of use throughout the industry. It is corrosion-resistant but most importantly, strong and lightweight. This makes it especially central for the transportation industry where each extra kg results in long-term losses. Consumer goods like phones, laptops, etc. often have durable and light casings made of aluminium.