Many products you come across every day are the results of sheet metal manufacturing. It is used in producing metal structures used in construction, medical tools, car chassis, and even retail outlets. Though straightforward, this process has many steps one must follow to get the best products. 

Before carrying out sheet metal fabrication, it is important to have an in-depth understanding of how it works. This guide discusses the fundamentals of sheet metal manufacturing. It explains the common types of sheet metal fabrication techniques, how to carry them out, and the available surface finish options for sheet metal fabricated parts. 

What Is Sheet Metal Fabrication?

Sheet metal fabrication process 
Sheet metal fabrication process 

In simple terms, sheet metal fabrication is a process that converts sheet metal into functional parts. It involves cutting, bending, deforming, and assembling a metal sheet into functional products. Sheet metal manufacturing is a versatile technique and works perfectly with both soft and hard metals. 

Furthermore, this process is compatible with both thin and thick metal sheets ranging from 0.006 to 0.25 inches. It is easier to fabricate thinner gauges. However, thicker ones are more sturdy and suitable for heavy-duty parts. There are many metal fabrication techniques available today. Many times, manufacturers use more than one for various reasons.

How Sheet Metal Fabrication Process Works 

There are five phases of sheet metal fabrication. This section explains how sheet metal is manufactured 

Preparation Phase

The first step in sheet metal manufacturing is to prepare the part. To do this, 

  • Use a metal cleaning agent to clean the part’s surface. 
  • Pickle the metal thereafter to remove impurities. 
  • Then, do a final cleaning to remove residual chemicals. 

Design Phase

This stage of metal parts fabrication involves mapping out detailed drawings or creating a three-dimensional model of the final part. You do this either manually or automatically with the use of CAD software. 

Fabrication Phase

After getting a pictorial representation of what you want to do, the next step is to cut, bend, form, and weld the part as needed. 

Finishing Phase

The next stage is to carry out essential surface treatment processes such as powder coating or polishing. These techniques add an extra layer that serves both functional and protective functions. 

Assembly Phase

Assembly is the last stage of the metal fabrication process. The assembly process can be completed using a variety of techniques, such as adhesive bonding, welding, and mechanical fastening. Adhesive bonding is ideal for lightweight structures or in situations where welding is not practical.

What Are the Common Types of Sheet Metal Fabrication Techniques?

There are many types of sheet metal fabrication processes in manufacturing. Many times, manufacturers use more than one to get maximum benefits. The most common processes include:

Cutting

Cutting is one of the oldest metal manufacturing processes. It is usually the first step used alone or in combination with other techniques. Cutting involves the use of tools and equipment to divide the workpiece into smaller pieces. These tools must be able to overcome the material shear strength to cut through. 

It is important to note that cutting may not always involve shearing and sawing. It also involves the use of laser cutting, and plasma cutting processes to remove material from a workpiece. This occurs with the aid of concentrated laser beam and plasma gas respectively. 

Rolling 

Rolling uses two rollers rotating in opposite directions to give more detailed parts. The rollers use frictional and compressional forces to reduce the thickness of the workpiece. The result is a wider and longer part with even thickness. 

One can carry out rolling in a hot or cold medium. Hot rolling occurs above the metal’s recrystallization temperature. This process is fast and useful when manufacturing car wheels and rims. On the other hand, cold rolling occurs below the recrystallization temperature. It may not reduce thickness as much as the hot rolling process. However, it preserves the material’s mechanical properties. 

Stamping 

Stamping uses dies and stamp presses to shape metal coils and sheets. It uses both cutting and forming operations at room temperature to achieve maximum results. Stamping encompasses various techniques including piercing, blanking, drawing, coining, and embossing. 

Piercing and blanking are simpler and are usually carried out as the first step in sheet metal fabrication. Drawing, embossing, and coining are more complex and can create intricate shapes and designs that do not require further processing. 

Hemming 

The hemming process involves bending metal sheets over itself. It is first bent by 90°C before going to 135°C and finally 180°C . Hemming is mostly used for thinner high-gauge metal sheets to improve their durability and strength. The main objective of hemming is to produce thicker and stronger parts that won’t break down under high impact or pressure. 

There are two types of hemming; die and roller. Die hemming uses a die and a tool to fold the flange over the whole length. This process is not flexible and is more time-consuming. Hence, it is restricted to low low-volume production of simple metal sheets. The roller hemming process is automated and ideal for mass production. 

Curling

Curling uses a die to roll the edges of a metal sheet into a hollow ring. It eliminates sharp edges and makes the part safer to handle. Additionally, it is a cost-effective means to increase the strength and toughness of a material. 

Furthermore, the curls can either be off-center or on-center. In off-center rolls, the curl lies directly on the metal sheet. On the other hand, on center rolls have the curls lying beside the metal sheet. 

Welding

The welding process joins two or more metal parts together using heat, pressure, or a combination of both. Usually, a filler material is added to give a strong weldment as it cools and solidifies. 

The most common welding techniques used for metal parts fabrication include Metal inert gas welding, tungsten inert gas welding, and metal active gas welding. They are carried out in different ways and have unique advantages and applications. 

Riveting 

Just as with welding, the primary objective of riveting is to join sheet metal parts together. However, it is semi-permanent and may not involve the application of heat. To carry out this process, you drill a hole and insert the rivet. The final installation is done by squashing the tail and deforming it. 

This process is compatible with both ferrous and nonferrous metals. Additionally, it can be used for dissimilar metal joining. However, riveting is expensive and it increases the overall weight of the parts. 

Advantages Of Sheet Metal Manufacturing

Sheet metal fabrication includes a variety of techniques that offer many benefits. The final parts have uniform wall thickness with remarkable mechanical properties. The following are some of the major advantages of sheet metal manufacturing 

Accuracy and Efficiency

The accuracy and efficiency of sheet metal manufacturing are top-notch. It is suitable for producing both prototypes and end-use parts. 

Furthermore, it is critical to understand that most sheet metal techniques are automated. The use of CAD software and CNC machining eliminates human errors. As a result, the final products usually have few or no deformations.

Versatility 

The sheet metal fabrication process uses an array of techniques and tools. This makes it easy to choose the most suitable method for your project. 

Furthermore, metal parts fabrication does not limit the materials one can use. There are a thousand and more compatible metals. However, the application of the final part will influence the material you use. 

High Capacity Production at Low Cost

With sheet metal fabrication, one can achieve a production capacity that is equal to the market demands. Though the initial cost may be high and the time of setting up may be long, it gets better when production begins. The more the parts produced, the more money one saves. 

Manufacturing of Lightweight Components

Sheet metal fabrication produces lightweight yet durable parts. The excellent light-weight-to-strength ratio makes them useful in automotive and aerospace part manufacturing. Ultimately, it reduces manufacturing costs and improves fuel efficiency. 

Custom-Built Designs 

Sheet metal fabrication can be used to come up with innovative designs to build customized and unique parts. It is flexible and easily transforms metal sheets into personalized and aesthetically pleasing parts. The metal sheet fabricator can come up with innovative ideas and produce functional customized products. 

Common Materials Used for Sheet Metal Fabrication 

There are numerous sheet metal materials. You don’t just pick one and work with it. Rather, you must consult with professionals before making any final decisions to achieve the best results. This section will go over some of the most highly recommended materials in the sheet metal industry

Stainless Steel

A popular sheet metal manufacturing material is stainless steel. It has various grades that are easy to work with and manipulate. Additionally, they remain intact after hot or cold working and are ideal for hygienic applications. 

Brass

Brass is an alloy containing a unique proportion of copper and zinc. It is flexible, has a high strength, and does not deform when you bend or roll it. Brass is malleable and has good finishing properties. It saves cost because the final part may not require any surface finish technique. 

Carbon Steel

Both high and low-carbon steel are excellent choices. The carbon content improves physical and formability properties. Note that low carbon steel is more pliable. The more the carbon content, the more difficult it is to work with. 

Aluminum

Aluminum is invaluable in the sheet metal industry. Its lightweight does not limit its use in any way. Aluminum is soft, easy to cut, and is amenable to many finishing options. Its excellent corrosion resistance properties make it suitable for outdoor applications. 

Copper

Though not as popular as steel or aluminum, copper also has its uses in metal fabrication. It is ductile, simple to work on, and malleable. Its sterilization property also distinguishes it. Copper attacks microorganisms that come in contact with it.

Surface Finishes for Sheet Metal Fabrication 

Most times, sheet metal fabricated parts require further polishing and post-processing to achieve the desired surface finish. There are many options available that serve both decorative and functional purposes. Here are the common surface finishes for sheet metal fabrication:

Electroplating

Electroplating involves depositing a metal layer onto the surface of the metal sheet using an external current. This process ensures surface uniformity and minimizes friction. Additionally, electroplated parts are corrosion and wear-resistant. 

Bead Blasting 

Bead blasting uses a spherical medium or other abrasive jet to dimple the surface of a metal sheet. By spraying at a high speed, the material creates an impact that leaves a matte texture and a more uniform finish. Note that the blasting medium one uses will determine what the surface will look like. 

Polishing

Polishing is an aggressive process that uses a cloth wheel to “buff” or rub the metal surface to make it appear shiny. It removes rust, prevents corrosion, and further oxidation. 

Powder Coating

This is directly spraying a charged metal component with dry powdered paint. Then, cure under UV light or in an oven to melt and adhere the powder to the metal. This process leaves a glossy or semi-glossy texture that is resistant to wear.

Anodizing

Anodizing is an electrolytic passivation process that converts the surface of the fabricated part into a thin but durable anodic oxide. This extra thickening makes the part nonreactive and corrosion-resistant. It also has aesthetic functions as it leaves a smooth and matte finish. 

Design Tips For Sheet Metal Fabricating

Here are some essential design guides to help you get the most out of the sheet metal fabrication process

Hole Size and Position

The size and the position of the hole play a key role in sheet metal design. The diameter of the hole should be approximately the thickness of the part. 

Furthermore, ensure that the holes are not not close to each other. Multiply the material thickness by six to get the required distance. Additionally, make sure that the holes are not located close to the part’s edge to prevent tool damage 

Wall Thickness

The thickness of the wall is also a crucial consideration. Ensure that the wall thickness is uniform to avoid interference. Wall thickness usually ranges from 0.9mm to 20mm. However, the thickness specifications for different sheet metal fabrication techniques may differ. 

For example, a metal that is between 0.5 and 10 mm thick is suitable for laser cutting. On the other hand, metal sheets with a thickness of 0.5 mm to 6 mm can be bent using sheet metal bending.

Tabs and Notches

When designing tabs and notches in sheet metal manufacturing, there are a few things to note. For tabs, the length should be at least 3.2mm long or two times the material thickness. However, the length must not be more than 5 times its breadth. 

For notches, the length must be at least the metal’s thickness. Just as with tabs, the length of notches you use must not be more than 5 times its breadth. 

Bend Radius

For bend radii, use at least 1t. Maintain the bend radii at a value equal to metal thickness. Ensure this value is even and consistent throughout the part. This keeps final products free from distortions and flaws. 

Bend Allowance and Deduction

To create a flat pattern, it is important to add an extra length of material to the part’s actual measurement. This is known as the bend allowance. 

To achieve a balanced design, remove a specific amount of material from the flanges’ length. This process is called bend deduction. 

Sheet Metal Fabrication Applications

Sheet metal applications
Sheet metal applications

Numerous industries use sheet metal fabrication for functional components, decorative elements, and structural applications. This technique finds wide-ranging applications in industries such as:

Automotive Industry

Sheet metal manufacturing has revolutionized the automotive industry in many ways. It aids in car construction, customization, and restoration. Sheet metal manufacturing is the ideal technique when fabricating door handle mounts, tail lift doors, car bodies, and frames. It is also used when personalizing car parts and making unique features to meet a customer’s needs. 

Commercial Products

Sheet metal fabrication is an excellent choice when manufacturing food processing equipment such as mixers and ovens. Note that stainless steel is the most ideal for a range of products in the food and beverage industry. This food-grade material can withstand extreme temperatures, is easy to clean, and meets strict hygienic requirements 

Retail Sector

Sheet metal fabrication also has applications when creating visually appealing merchandise and product displays. They include point-of-sale stands, portable displays, retail display cubes, and bar displays. These products must be aesthetically pleasing and strong enough to carry the maximum load possible. 

Aerospace Industry 

Sheet metal manufacturing is a value-added initiative in the aerospace industry. Metal sheets make up a good amount of aerospace parts such as panels, wings, enclosures, and exterior components. This manufacturing process can create complex parts with varying sizes that meet the tight tolerances of the aerospace industry. 

Medical Industry 

The medical industry uses sheet metal fabrication extensively. The most common application is in the manufacturing of surgical tools. They are lightweight and do not corrode when in prolonged contact with body fluids and tissues. It is also used when fabricating electronic devices, physical therapy equipment, and customized hospital beds. 

Construction

Manufacturers employ sheet metal fabrication in the construction and security parts. These include guard rails, security doors, security grills, and custom security enclosures. Additionally, this technique has applications in the fabrication of structural steel beams and ladders. These components must be carefully manufactured to ensure the safety of the operators. 

Do You Need High-quality Sheet Metal Fabricated Parts?

Fabricating sheet metal is both an art and a science. Every project requires a skilled sheet metal fabricator due to its wide range of nuances and techniques. You are familiar with the fundamentals of sheet metal design, so leave the rest to an expert!

With Zintilon as your contract manufacturer, you will benefit from both our automated and high-quality custom sheet metal fabrication services. Anticipate lead times as short as three days and a quote from us in as little as 12 hours. Our services are not limited to sheet metal fabrication, we are bringing ideas to life using other metal manufacturing processes including CNC machining, 3D printing, and die casting. Reach out today and request a quote to experience the Zintilon effect. 

Conclusion

Sheet metal fabrication is a great way to manufacture parts. It has several advantages, including accuracy and efficiency, the ability to fabricate lightweight components, and compatibility with various materials and methods. Understanding the different techniques, tools, and design advice associated with this procedure is therefore crucial to accomplishing your project.

FAQs

What is folding in sheet metal manufacturing?

The folding operation creates multiple bends along a straight axis. The primary objective is to create a 3 dimensional part with a complex shape. 

What is the maximum thickness that can be fabricated?

Sheet metal typically comes in thicknesses of 0.5 mm to 6 mm. The metal sheets’ thinness makes them incredibly simple to fabricate while still offering sufficient strength for the intended uses.

What is the cost of sheet metal fabrication? 

Several variables determine sheet metal fabrication costs. These include the cost of setting up and procuring the materials. Other variables that affect costs are the location of the manufacturing facility, particular design specifications, and the state of the market.

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