Sheet Metal Fabrication: An Art
Every operation is performed according to drawings prepared by engineers and draftsmen based on customer designs and specifications.
Modern equipment uses computer numerical control (CNC). CNC allows the machine operator to input dimensions for a part into a computer that controls the stops and tools in the machine the operator is using. CNC reduces scrap, prevents mistakes, and makes production faster and more efficient. Many modern CNC machines are designed to allow several operations to be performed by one machine. CNC machines can shear, punch, cut, burn, and weld most metals.
Extremely intricate and detailed designs are possible using CNC. CNC burning operations can produce intricacy of patterns that look like lace.
The operations involved in manufacturing are basically the same and follow the same sequence regardless of the metal that is being fabricated.
The operations involved are:
Shearing - cutting the metal to a specific length and width. The back stop is set by the CNC control to a specific length for each dimension. This operation is the most physically taxing of all operations and may require added equipment like magnets to allow the operator to move the piece.
Punching and Cutting - using punches, dies, and burning to place holes of specific dimensions at specified locations of the flat sheet. Many CNC devices have the capacity for as many as twenty-four different punches to be loaded in one operational setup. This allows the operator to produce more parts in less time. Some parts are so small that they have to be punched by hand on an iron working punch. For multiple punches on the same part a punch press in used.
Braking - bending the flat metal part at specific places to form a shape defined by the design. The CNC equipment moves the stops to the correct dimension and instructs the operator to use the correct die and punch bar.
Welding - joining metal parts together through electric welding by wire, stick, and other methods.
Painting - cleaning, priming and painting the part. This operation involves cleaning the metal with solvent, pre-coating the metal in a chemical bath that prepares the metal for painting, spraying the paint on the part, and curing the piece in a forced air oven.
Assembly - putting all the parts together per the design drawing.
Sheet metal fabrication is a complex set of operations that produces a part of everything people use in their daily lives. Automobiles, homes, aircraft, kitchen equipment, sport vehicles, and toys are just a few of the products that use this method of manufacture. This business is an art form and can produce designs of tremendous beauty and complexity.
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