Metal Fabrication Processes and Equipment for
Metal sheets are used as a starting basis for a very large variety of metal products and can be purchased in a variety of gauges or thicknesses. When the thickness of the sheet is 3/16' or greater, it is then referred to 'plate'. Sheets are fabricated into thousands of different types of items such as industrial machinery, augers, conveyors, electronic enclosures, brackets, machine components, appliances, food processing equipment, just to name a few.
The first process of sheet metal fabrication is often to either shear, laser cut, or punch shapes into it. The equipment used to perform these steps is a metal shear, a laser, and a turret punch. Sometimes all three of these operations may be used while the metal is still in a flat shape. Once the basic flat shape is achieved, the metal goes to the press brake machines to make the bends. This process is called forming. Dies in a variety of shapes are used in the press brake to make one bend or a series of bends to form the metal as specified on the prints. At this point, some projects may be complete and can then be shipped to its end use, but often it goes to the welding tables next.
Welding is a true art in itself. It is the job of the welder to take a pile of cut and formed shapes, read the prints, then weld the metal pieces together for the final product. There is a plethora of welding techniques that can be used and it is important for the welder to use the appropriate procedure in order to get a good penetrating weld that will not fail. Welders must know how to deal with the expansion and shrinking of metal as it is heated during the welding process, then cools. Many metal fabrications, especially machine parts, have narrow tolerances that must be met. Fixtures are widely used by welders to help them quickly put the pieces together and hold them in the right place while they are welding them together.
Metal tubing and barstock is another common item purchased by metal fabricators. Railings and machine frames are two very common places that metal tubing and bar is used. Tubing is made in square, round, or rectangular shapes with a common wall thickness of about 1/8', referred to by the industry as 10 or 11 gauge, or schedule 40 pipe. The reason metal tubing is commonly used is because it provides a lot strength with less metal than solid bar. Large tubing, 2-4 inches in diameter is used to fabricate railings that are installed along highway bridges where a very strong railing is needed should a vehicle crash into it. Using tubing as opposed to solid bar translates to less weight and lower cost, both desirable to the end user of metal fabrications. However, there are still many cases where solid bar is preferred. One case would be the shaft of a screw conveyor. There is extreme pressure applied by a motor to turn the auger and solid metal is necessary for successful operation of the screw conveyor. Many railings are also made of bar stock or made of a combination of bar and tubing. Bar is used on applications where the railing doesn't have to be super heavy duty and thinner bars are half to 1 inch bar is widely used for railings in both residential and commercial purposes. Metal railings when made out of galvanized, painted, or stainless steel fabrication can be expected to last a lifetime with little to no maintenance.
Strength, low to no lasting. That's the beauty of metal. That's why so many products are made with metal. Metal fabricators have the machinery and knowledge of how to take base metals that are melted and manufactured by steel factories, and turn them in to very useful products that can last a lifetime.
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