Take a moment to look around you and make a count of the objects you see that contain metal.
Do you see electronics? A TV, a computer, or a speaker system maybe?
Do you see any appliances? An oven, a dishwasher, a washing machine?
How about vehicles? Cars, trucks, construction vehicles? An airplane flying overhead?
These are just a few examples of the applications of custom sheet metal fabrication. Sheet metal is everywhere, from the phone, computer, or tablet you’re reading this on to the trim of your house and the innards of rocketships.
Given its ubiquity, it can be quite interesting to know how it’s made. Read on to learn how sheet metal fabrication works from start to finish.
The Process of Custom Sheet Metal Fabrication
The process of sheet metal fabrication begins with a piece of raw metal: steel, aluminum, copper, or brass, for example.
The piece is shaped into the desired form using one or a combination of techniques to cut or form it. Cutting techniques remove material from the piece, while forming simply reshapes it. Joining is a third type of fabrication technique that involves affixing two pieces together.
In some cases, professionals will use sheet metal fabrication tools by hand, but most often, they will program the necessary specifications into a computer. This takes some experience and expertise.
Sheet Metal Fabrication Techniques
The type of technique applied when fabricating sheet metal depends on several factors, such as the type of metal used and the desired shape and intended use of the final product.
There are two types of sheet metal cutting: shear and non-shear. Shear is less precise than non-shear but still suffices for many non-industrial purposes.
Shear types of cutting involve the use of a single or multiple blades or a shaped metal punch to cut or punch through a piece of metal.
Non-shear types of cutting involve using lasers, plasma, waterjets, or machinery. These types of cutting are extremely accurate.
Forming is the process of reshaping a single piece of sheet metal without making cuts.
The simplest type of forming is bending. The piece is bent by machinery or by hand into the desired shape.
Stretching involves pulling the metal apart with machinery, stretching it into the desired form.
Stamping and roll forming involve pressing a piece of metal to change its shape. Stamping uses two dies to shape the piece while roll forming presses it between rollers to create a coil.
Joining is the process of affixing two pieces of metal together. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this.
Welding and brazing involve melting the pieces together with a filler substance. In welding, the pieces are partially melted, while in brazing, only the filler is.
Riveting and adhesion are the use of other materials or substances to join the pieces together. Riveting uses other metal parts driven through the pieces, while adhesion uses glues or other substances to join the pieces.
Finishing the Job
Once the sheet metal is cut, formed, or joined into its final shape, finishing techniques may be applied. These include painting, silk screening, powder coating, or sanding (known as deburring).
Other finishing techniques, like laser etching or embossing, can occur at this point as well.
Certain tools work better for certain types of metal. On top of this, while the tools often work automatically and can be extremely accurate, the programming can require expertise. It is important to consult a professional for custom sheet metal fabrication jobs.
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