Sheet metal fabrication is the bedrock of manufacturing functional end use parts and prototypes for several different industries. Get to know this process of preparing sheet metal for use in manufacturing, the techniques we use, and the vast number of applications where you’ll find this material in use.
The term sheet metal refers to any metal that can be formed into flat pieces that may either be thick or thin. Fabrication of sheet metal is a collection of processes that are used to transform raw metal stock (or sheet of metal) into a usable product. These processes include everything from machining to cutting to bending to welding, all with the aim of producing sheets of metal to be used in manufacturing products for a wide range of industries.
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Depending on the specific project requirement, each part goes through a single or several different processes to achieve the final product. Familiarize yourself with some of the common sheet metal fabrication techniques listed below.
Computer numerical control (CNC) laser cutting involves using a high-powered laser beam to cut custom shapes out of sheet metal. This process differs from normal CNC cutting, which uses a cutting tool like a mill. The benefit of using a laser is that it has the capacity to cut through dissimilar thicknesses of metal at the same time and hole diameters under half a material thickness, all in a low heat-affected zone. It can also achieve detailed and intricate designs.
Using CNC plasma cutting, which is a widely used sheet metal technology, we can cut through thicker metal sheets that a laser can’t pierce. The process involves directing a jet of hot plasma at the sheet metal in the shape of the design entered into the computer. It has a high level of accuracy, and it’s ideal for simple shapes.
Once the cutting process is complete, the sheet metal can be bent to form to the desired shape. Also known as CNC folding, bending involves clamping the sheet metal between the upper tool and a die mould. There are several different machines that can accomplish this process, including a manual press brake, a robotic bending cell, and automated panel benders. The machine used depends on the size and complexity of the design.
When two or more metal sheets need to be joined together, we use small metal parts called rivets to permanently bind them. Rivets come in many different sizes and materials, and we always choose the one that fits the desired design.
During the riveting process, the rivets are placed into holes that have already been punched or bored into the sheet metal. A CNC riveting machine presses down on the head of the rivet, and the rivet body expands into the join, sealing the two pieces of sheet metal together.
Punching is a technique we use to bore holes into sheet metal. These holes can be made in different shapes, depending on what the overall design calls for.
During the punching process, we use a CNC punching machine, which is equipped with punching heads of various size and shape. The machine switches between heads and moves the sheet metal automatically and as needed, so that the punching ram can bore holes in just the right spots and carve out the desired pattern.
Welding involves heating up two pieces of sheet metal at a join so that they fuse together. It creates a smooth, permanent joint that is stronger than riveted joints. Welded metal parts are also lighter in weight than metal parts that are “riveted” together.
There is a wide selection of alloys and metals which come in sheet form and that are used in manufacturing and fabrication. Below is a list of some of the most commonly used sheet metal materials and their characteristics.
|Cold Rolled Steel (CRS)||
|Low Carbon Steel||
Sheet metal parts are found almost everywhere. Sheet metals are used in many intense industries, including aerospace, automotive, electronics, and farming. Their high strength and versatility make them ideal materials for parts like enclosures, brackets, assemblies, weldments, cabinets, and housings, as well as prototypes. You’ll find them in cars, space rockets, planes, trains, air conditioning units, public restrooms, and even in cans of soda.