The term ‘metal fabrication’ might seem like a technical one on the surface, but it is something everyone deals with on a daily basis.
Everything we do, whether it is going to work, eating, or doing any recreational activity, we are looking at and touching objects that are a result of metal fabrication processes.
This article will further our study into metal fabrication science, including the types of metal fabrication and the processes that make the industry.
Without further ado, let us dive into the topic right away:
What is meant by Metal Fabrication?
Metal fabrication is the processing of metals to create various metal objects. The process of metal fabrication can happen in one step or can even take tens of steps, depending on what is required.
From your MacBook to your car to your furniture, most of the things you interact with have gone through the metal fabrication process in one way or the other. There is a plethora of metal fabrication processes and machinery that can turn metal into any imaginable object of any scale and desired shape.
Why is Metal Fabrication important?
If you were to say the modern world would not exist without custom metal fabrication, you wouldn’t be wrong in any way. From agriculture to transport, from construction to recreation, every single industry is based on the metal fabrication process.
The importance of metal fabrication is self-evident when you take a look around you. Every single metal object you see is a result of metal fabrication.
There is hardly any industry that doesn’t use metal fabrication or tools and machinery created by metal fabrication.
History of Metal Fabrication
Metal fabrication isn’t a new science, its history is as ancient as civilization itself.
Do you remember reading about terms like Copper Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age in ancient history books? These ages are referred to as such because millennia ago humans were using those particular metals for tools and other objects.
In fact, metal objects and weapons have been found by archaeologists that date back to over 10,000 years ago.
While metal fabrication jobs in ancient history revolved around cutting or bending metals to basic shapes, the evolution of engineering techniques has led to modern metals turning into marvelous structures.
What are the different types of Metal Fabrication?
There are three types of metal fabrication, each referring to a different scale and function of the fabrication process:
1. Industrial Metal Fabrication
Industrial metal fabrication is used to create parts of tools and equipment. The tools and equipment, in turn, create other consumer goods in industries. For example, turning steel into a steel bandsaw is industrial metal fabrication. The bandsaw will, in turn, be used by other industries.
2. Structural Metal Fabrication
Structural metal fabrication is the process of creating metal structures such as building frames. Steel is the most common type of metal used in this process, so much that it is also referred to as structural steel.
3. Commercial Metal Fabrication
Commercial metal fabrication involves the process of fabricating metal for consumer goods such as automobiles. Commercial metal fabrication commonly utilizes the tools and machines created by industrial metal fabrication.
What are the main types of metal fabrication processes?
There are many things that can be done to metals, so there are many different types of metal fabrication processes. Some of the common metal fabrication processes include:
Cutting and Notching:
Cutting is one of the simplest metal fabrication processes. It involves dividing a piece of metal into smaller pieces of the required length. Notching is similar but instead of dividing the metal, we take out a portion of metal from the edges of the metal piece to create cutouts.
Bending is commonly applied to metal tubes, pipes, and bars. However, certain applications call for bending sheet metal as well. Nowdays, different types of tube bending techniques are widely used in automotive, architectural, industrial and aviation and airspace industries.
Assembling is the joining of different metal pieces together to form the combined final piece. There are many different ways of assembling such as using adhesives, welding, riveting, thread fastening, etc.
Casting involves giving metal a desired shape by melting it at a high temperature and pouring it into an empty mold. When the metal fills the cavity, the metal is left to cool off so it takes the shape of the cavity.
Drawing is the process of using tensile force on metal to stretch it. The process is accomplished by passing metal between two dies, while the dies hammer on the metal. It is done on cold metal since the dimensions of hot metal can vary considerably on cooling.
Folding is a simple process where a metal sheet is bent at a certain point. The most common way of achieving this is by keeping the metal on a stationary hollow die at the bottom, while a pointed tool on the top punches on the metal.
Forging is one of the oldest metal fabrication job. In forging, metal is heated to a high temperature (but not melting point). When metal is glowing hot, force is applied on the metal to change its shape as required, since hot metal is easier to reshape.
Extrusion is similar to metal drawing. In extrusion, the metal is forced to pass through two dies to create a final piece of smaller cross-sectional area. This technique is used to create metal pipes and bars.
Machining is the process where excess metal is removed from a piece, generally by using a wedge-shaped cutting tool. It is generally used as a secondary metal fabrication process, for creating finishing.
In metal punching, holes are created in a metal sheet by using a high shearing force. The holes can vary in shapes and sizes as required, by adjusting the size of the punch (the object used to create the shearing force).
Shearing is the process of cutting metal along a straight line by two blades placed in the top and bottom of the metal piece. One of the blades is stationary (called the die), and the other blade moves through the metal (called punch). The process is applied to flat metal sheets in general.
In stamping, a metal sheet is placed between two dies which hammer on the sheet with a high force. The shapes of the die mold the sheet into the required shape. Metal stamping is a combination of multiple fabrication processes such as punching and bending.
Welding involves joining two pieces of metal together by fusing the metal at the joint. The fusion usually occurs by creating a high-temperature melt joint by electricity. There are many types of metal welding processes out there.
What technologies and machinery are used in the metal fabrication industry?
As mentioned earlier, the custom metal fabrication industry has been evolving since ancient times. What took the work of a blacksmith and a hammer is now done by complex machinery using technologies that employ the latest scientific achievements.
Here are some of the most common technologies and machinery used by metal fabricators:
- Lathe: Lathe is one of the most common metal fabrication machinery found in almost every workshop. It is used for shaping a metal object symmetrically around an axis. They come in a lot of different sizes, from small ones that make watches to large ones that can shape crankshafts.
- Tube and Pipe Benders: From furniture frames to vehicle roll cages and structures, everything employs using metal tubes and pipes. To make these pipes usable, they first need to be bent at the right angle. The job is mostly done by tube and pipe benders such as the machines that RogueFab produces. These benders come in different types, from handheld manual tube benders to hydraulic ones that can apply a lot of pressure with little effort.
- Drilling Machines: Everyone is familiar with drilling machines. These machines are used to create small holes in the metal piece. For metal fabricators, drilling machines are also called drilling presses. In a drilling press, the metal workpiece is held stationary while the drill bit moves around it.
- Milling Machines: Milling machines work similarly to drilling machines. These machines are used to remove material from the workpiece by making use of rotary cutters that move around the workpiece. They can drill, bore, and cut the metal as required.
- Hobbing Machines: Hobbing machines are a better version of milling machines. In hobbing machines, both the cutters, as well as the metal workpiece, can move. This makes them ideal for creating advanced and complex shapes in 3D.
- CNC Technology: CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control. CNC technology connects any machinery to computer software so the machine can run automatically and perform accurate and consistent operations.
- Grinders: Grinders are used to create finishing touches on the workpiece. It can smoother rough surfaces by using a rotating abrasive spinner against the workpiece. There are many types of grinders out there, such as belt grinders, bench grinders, surface grinders, jig grinders, etc.
- Honing Machines: Honing machines are also used to add finishing for precise machining. These machines have rotating tips that enlarge the size of holes to create a precise diameter.
What are the different steps in a typical metal fabrication project?
Creating a metal object through raw metal by using fabrication is not a one step process. There are multiple steps involved, and each step can have multiple components in itself. Generally, the metal fabrication process works in the following three steps:
Step 1. Designing:
A few decades ago, designing in metal projects was done on paper with diagrams. This is still followed today but only for the most basic requirements. Most metal fabricators start with a design created on a computer using a dedicated software called CAD (computer-aided design) software.
This software can create a 3-d model of the design that is required. Based on the 3-D model, the professional doing the fabrication can get an idea of the expected requirements, such as the dimensions and functions of the finished project.
There is no interaction with the raw materials in this step, everything happens on a computer (or pencil and paper if following the traditional approach).
Step 2. Fabricating:
Fabricating involves working on the raw materials and using the various processes described above for customized fabricated metal products.
For complex shapes and designs, the project is broken down into smaller parts and these parts are fabricated separately. Each part may require multiple fabrication processes in itself.
Step 3. Finishing and Assembling:
The small parts that come out of Step 2 still require some finishing touches to remove any imperfections (such as using grinding to clear the rough surfaces). If there is any requirement for polishing or coating, it is done at this point.
After that, the metal parts are joined together by screws or welds to create the final product. This puts most metal fabrication project to completion.
What are the common raw materials in Metal Fabrication?
Theoretically, any metal qualifies as a raw material for metal fabrication. However, certain metals and shapes are used more than the others due to their properties and cost. Here are some common raw materials used in metal fabrication:
Steel is one of the most common metals used in metal fabrication processes. An interesting thing to note is that steel is not technically a metal, it is an alloy made of iron (a metal) and carbon. However, it has a lot of improved properties than iron itself so it is used more than iron in metal fabrication projects.
By altering the composition of carbon, the properties of steel can be altered. This is why there are a lot of different types of steel in the market.
Aluminum is the most abundant metal on the earth’s surface, making it one of the cheapest raw materials for metal fabrication projects. Its high weight makes it ideal for applications that require lightweight but strong material.
Magnesium has a low density but a high tensile strength. This is why it is used for the manufacturing of aircraft. Nowadays, it is also used to create high quality laptop bodies.
Flat Sheet metal is both an end product as well as a raw material in fabrication manufacturing process. Sheet metal is metal shaped into thick, flat shapes. Sheet metal can be put to any imaginable use by processes such as cutting, bending, etc.
Very thin metal sheets are called leaf or foil, and anything thicker than 0.25 in is called plate metal. The thickness of Sheet metal lies between plate metal and foil.
Welding wire isn’t directly a part of the metal workpiece, but it is used to create weld joints that fuse two parts of the workpiece together. The type and size of the wire varies based on the welding method that is used.
Industries that use the products of metal fabricators
We have said time and again that metal fabrication is used in almost every industry. Now that does not come without proof, here are some of the industries that extensively rely on metal fabrication:
- The aerospace industry is all about creating metal wonders that can take mankind and its equipment into space. It incorporates metal fabrication on a very large scale.
- Spacecraft bodies are made by fabrication of low density and high strength materials like magnesium and their alloys.
- All agricultural equipment, from handheld tools to tractors to machines, is designed using metal fabrication.
- Nowadays, it is common to deploy roll cages on agricultural-related vehicles. These roll cages are designed by using RogueFab tube benders.
- Alternative energy sources like windmills are designed using metal fabrication. Fabrication processes are used to shape blades of windmills that can harness the power of the wind to create electricity.
- The automotive industry is almost entirely based on metal fabrication. From vehicle frames to small engine components, everything is designed using metal fabrication processes.
- Race cars are created using fabrication techniques that take into account aerodynamic shapes and lightweight materials.
- Roll cages on racing cars that protect them from collision and rollovers are installed in workshops using tube and pipe benders.
- For temporary construction structures to large skyscrapers, the skeleton of buildings is formed with metal fabrication, generally using structural steel.
- Steel is corrosion-resistant, durable, and has high tensile strength. This makes it one of the most ideal materials for creating construction frames.
- Metal fabrication is used for manufacturing the parts and bodies of consumer products like electronics, watches, jewelry, appliances, furniture, and more.
- For consumer products, metal fabrication places a lot more focus on creating high finishing than other industries.
Military and Defence:
- Metal fabrication is used in every sector of military and defense, from creating small weapons to large tanks and even jets and missiles.
How to choose a metal fabrication company based on your needs?
Certain hobbyists take care of small metal fabrication projects by themselves. However, for most of the projects, you need to contact a metal fabrication company since they have all the proper tools, machines, and professionals that even the smallest jobs often require.
In order to choose a metal fabrication company, you should keep the following points in mind:
Different metal fabrication companies have different areas they specialize in. Some are good with automotive metal fabrication, while others are great with constructional metal fabrication. Choose the fabrication company that has expertise in the area you require.
Metal fabrication is best done by experienced professionals. Therefore, before you hire a fabrication company, check out the past experience they have in projects that are similar to yours.
Some metal fabrication companies do the job, and some do the job well. You can ensure that the metal fabricators will do a high-quality job by reviewing the quality control process of the company.
You don’t want to be left hanging for hours on a call, waiting for your metal fabricator to answer and listen to your requirements. The fabricator you choose should have good customer service, which takes into account your requirements as well as your complaints.
What does the future hold for the metal fabrication industry?
Metal fabrication is an industry that has lasted for tens of millennia, and it is going to last just as long in the future as well.
Trends are shifting from using basic metals to alloys that are designed to develop particular characteristics and properties. Another thing that the industry is focussing on is using recycling methods for metal products, so there is the least stress on the environment.
Does the fabrication industry affect the environment?
Metals in themselves are recyclable and can be used over and over. They do not create garbage like plastics and polymers.
However, the processing of metals sometimes can lead to the creation of harmful gases like carbon monoxide. Some processes like the production of steel require a heavy input of non-renewable resources like coal.
However, modern metal fabrication techniques are making use of methods that are getting more and more environment-friendly.
Metal fabrication is the spine of the modern world, no matter which industry we consider. Even if you think about an IT company that works in large offices, the components used for the computers, the frames used for the building, everything is shaped using metal fabrication.
With this article, you will have all the knowledge you need about the metal fabrication industry. If you have a fabrication project at hand, you can even choose the perfect metal fabricator using the pointers we mentioned.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are the answers to some common doubts about metal fabrication:
Is metal fabrication considered manufacturing?
There is a basic difference between the fabrication and manufacturing process. Fabrication turns raw materials into parts of different shapes and sizes. Manufacturing then assembles those parts into the required goods and equipment.
Is there a difference between metal fabrication and manufacturing?
Yes, there is a big difference between the two. Manufacturing deals with the assembling of finished metal parts while metal fabrication deals with the creation of those metal parts from raw materials.
What is the difference between welding and metal fabrication?
Welding is just a process of joining two metal pieces together. However, fabrication is a much larger science that involves a lot of different processes for shaping and processing metals. Welding is a part of fabrication itself.
How much do metal fabricators earn?
The earnings of metal fabricators can vary based on specialization, experience, and the type of project. In the US, the average hourly earnings for a metal fabricator is about $20 per hour.