Sheet metal fabrication is a useful method for creating strong, functional parts such as panels, brackets, and enclosures. Unlike some other manufacturing methods, sheet metal fabrication involves various processes that manipulate the metal in different ways.
These processes include cutting, shaping, and joining pieces of sheet metal. This guide explores the key sheet metal fabrication processes, functions, and common applications.
What is sheet metal?
Sheet metal refers to thin, flat metal sheets formed through industrial processing such as rolling. It can be cut, bent, welded, and formed into different shapes and sizes. It is widely used in various industrial and construction applications.
What is Sheet Metal Fabrication？
Sheet metal fabrication is the process of turning flat metal sheets into metal products, by cutting, punching, bending, welding and assembling. it is a valuable metal prototyping and production method, commonly used in industries like automotive, aerospace, construction, electronics, and manufacturing to produce items such as enclosures, panels, brackets, and other metal components.
6 Types of Sheet Metal?
Various metals and metal alloys can be transformed into flat sheets for use in sheet metal fabrication. The selection of materials depends on the specific needs of the application, and key factors in choosing materials include:
- Formability: How easily the material can be shaped and molded.
- Weldability: The material’s ability to be effectively joined through welding.
- Corrosion Resistance: The material’s resistance to rust and degradation.
- Strength: The material’s durability and load-bearing capacity.
- Weight: The density of the material, affects the overall weight of the fabricated part.
- Cost: The affordability and availability of the material.
Stainless steel comes in standard and spring-like varieties.
- Standard Stainless Steel: Includes non-magnetic types like the 300 series. Grade 316 offers exceptional corrosion resistance and maintains strength at high temperatures. Grade 304 is widely used, with good formability and weldability.
- Magnetic Stainless Steel: Belongs to the 400 series. Grade 410 is heat-treatable but offers less corrosion resistance. Grade 430 is cost-effective and used in applications where corrosion resistance is less critical.
Aluminum alloy is available in various grades to suit different applications.
- Grade 1100: Offers low strength, good chemical and weather resistance, weldability, and ductility.
- Grade 3003: Provides better strength, formability, corrosion resistance, and affordability.
- Grade 5052: Offers increased strength while remaining formable, weldable, and corrosion-resistant.
- Grade 6061: Suitable for structural applications, corrosion-resistant, and strong but not easily formable.
Cold Rolled Steel (CRS)
Cold rolling is used to refine hot-rolled steel, resulting in a smoother finish and tighter tolerances. CRS is available in 1008 and 1018 alloys.
This material can be hot-dip galvanized or galvannealed (galvanized and then annealed).
For applications requiring a “red” metal appearance, options include electrolytically tough pitch (ETP) copper (C110 or C101) or, less commonly, cartridge brass.
9 Types of Sheet Metal Fabrication Processes
Sheet metal Laser cutting is an advanced technique that employs highly amplified laser light to make precise cuts in sheet metal. It excels in creating intricate and small parts with pinpoint accuracy. Laser cutting is highly efficient, minimizes damage to the material, and is an excellent choice for projects demanding precision.
Plasma cutting is similar to laser cutting but uses high-heat plasma to cut through sheet metal. It is a cost-effective alternative to laser cutting but leaves a layer of slag on the cut edges of the material, which must be removed after the cutting process.
Waterjet cutting involves the use of an ultra-high-pressure jet of water to cut through sheet metal. This versatile method can fabricate parts from a wide range of materials and shapes. Waterjet cutting is especially suitable for large-scale commercial applications and is environmentally friendly, as it doesn’t produce heat or harmful debris.
Stamping is one of the most common processes in sheet metal fabrication. It utilizes a press to push a tool or die through the sheet metal, creating the desired shape, much like a cookie cutter. Nearly all sheet metal hardware parts undergo stamping in some form, often in combination with other fabrication methods to produce the final product.
Punching is a sheet metal fabrication process primarily used to create holes or perforations in the material. A powerful press is employed to “punch” out holes, allowing the final product to be fastened to other components. In contrast to stamping, where the removed piece becomes the product, with punching, the remaining material around the hole forms the final component.
Sheet metal Bending, a specific type of forming, imparts basic angles or curves to sheet metal. It transforms linear pieces into dynamic shapes, such as ‘U’ or ‘V’ forms, depending on the application. Bending is a cost-effective method, especially suitable for producing straightforward designs, requiring minimal tooling.
Rolling is a variation of forming that passes sheet metal through a series of rollers to gradually change its shape through multiple steps. This approach, often referred to as progressive tooling, is costlier to develop than traditional forming dies but substantially reduces the cost per unit in high-volume manufacturing. It is highly automated, frequently employing large rolls of sheet metal coils and occasionally incorporating other processes like stamping within the same tooling line.
Sheet metal Welding is a mechanical joining process that combines two or more sections of metal by applying pressure and heat. Common welding types include tungsten inert gas (TIG), metal inert gas (MIG), and stick welding. TIG welders utilize a fixed tungsten electrode rod that creates an arc for welding by consuming a separate handheld filler rod. MIG welding employs a machine-fed solid wire electrode as the filler material. Stick welding uses a flux-coated electrode “stick,” eliminating the need for bottled shielding gas.
Assembly marks the final step in the metal fabrication process, allowing the creation of complex metal structures and components. Various methods, including mechanical fastening, welding, and adhesive bonding, can be employed for assembly. Mechanical fastening employs bolts, screws, or other fasteners to secure metal parts.
Welding creates a permanent bond between components, ensuring strength and durability. Adhesive bonding is suitable for both temporary and permanent assemblies and is often used for creating lightweight structures or in cases where welding is not feasible. Assembly requires precision to ensure all parts are correctly and securely joined to prevent any issues with the final product.
8 Steps to Create Sheet Metal Parts
Step 1, Design: According to the required design specifications, work with our teams to optimize manufacturability with CAD software. skilled designers ensure high-quality outcomes.
Step 2, Programming: Designs are converted into machine-readable instructions, arranging parts on a metal sheet for efficient material use.
Step 3, Cutting: Laser cutting, a precise method, follows programmed designs to accurately cut the material.
Step 4, Punching: CNC punching machines create specific perforations or shapes using specialized tools.
Step 5, Bending: Depending on the complexity, manual press brakes, automated machines, or robotics bend the sheet metal.
Step 6, Welding: Various techniques like MIG, TIG, spot, projection, or robotic welding join metal sections.
Step 7, Assembly: Assembling ranges from simple welds to complex integrations, including wiring and hardware. Some assemblies involve inserting components.
Step 8, Powder Coating: Electrostatic powder is applied to charged metal, and then heated for a durable finish. use an automated process with Oxsilan pre-treatment for enhanced durability and appearance.
9 Advantages of sheet Metal Fabrication
Sheet metal, especially steel, is incredibly strong and can endure heavy loads and tough environments. It’s perfect for use in automotive, construction, and industrial equipment.
Sheet metal is easily shaped into various forms without losing its strength. It’s commonly used in construction for its flexibility in design.
Sheet metal can handle high pressure and is resistant to corrosion, making it suitable for all kinds of environments, even when exposed to sun, water, and moisture.
Despite its strength, sheet metal parts are relatively lightweight compared to solid metal blocks or castings. This makes them valuable in industries like aerospace and automotive, where weight reduction enhances efficiency and performance.
Sheet metal fabrication offers great design flexibility. Designers can cut, bend, and shape sheet metal into intricate forms, creating customized and aesthetically pleasing components.
Sheet metal materials like steel and aluminum are usually more affordable than solid blocks or castings. Advanced fabrication processes, like laser cutting and CNC bending, reduce labor costs and increase production rates.
Accuracy and Precision
Sheet metal fabrication now uses computer-aided design (CAD) software and computer numerical control (CNC) machines, ensuring precise cutting, bending, and forming. This accuracy is crucial for industries requiring exact fit and function.
Short Lead Times
Full-service contract manufacturers that handle fabrication, finishing, and assembly can significantly reduce lead times.
Recyclable and Sustainable
Sheet metal parts, especially those made from materials like steel or aluminum, are highly recyclable. They can be reused to make new components, promoting environmental sustainability.
Applications of Sheet Metal Fabrication
- Automobile Body Panels: Including doors, hoods, fenders, and trunk lids.
- Aircraft Components: Such as wings, fuselages, and engine housings.
- Metal Roofing and Siding: Used in residential and commercial buildings.
- Kitchen Appliances: Like stainless steel stoves, ovens, and refrigerators.
- Cabinets and Shelving: For storage in homes and businesses.
- Electrical Enclosures: Protecting electrical components and equipment.
- Medical Equipment Housings: For various healthcare devices.
Design Tips For Sheet Metal Fabricating
Ensure that all parts of your design have a consistent thickness. Sheet metal parts are typically made from a single metal sheet, and the thickness can vary from 0.9 mm to 20 mm, depending on the fabrication technique. For example, laser cutting works well with 0.5 mm to 10 mm thickness, while sheet metal bending is suitable for 0.5 mm to 6 mm thickness.
Consider Hole and Slot Size
When incorporating holes and slots into your design, make sure their diameters are at least as large as the material’s thickness. Provide adequate spacing between holes, and avoid placing them too close to the material’s edges.
Understand Bend Allowance and Deduction
Bend allowance refers to the extra material length required to create a flat pattern, while bend deduction refers to the material that needs to be removed to achieve a balanced design. These factors are crucial for accurate sheet metal fabrication.
Maintain Consistent Bend Radii
Keep the internal bend radius of sheet metal equal to its thickness. This practice prevents defects and distortions in the final products, ensuring that your sheet metal design remains oriented correctly and cost-effectively.
Sheet metal fabrication is a great choice for making parts with many benefits like efficiency, accuracy, and lightweight components. To succeed in your project, it’s important to understand the methods, applications, and design tips.
For top-quality sheet metal fabrication, partner with KSULA. We offer high-quality services with advanced technology and skilled technicians. Being ISO-certified, we guarantee excellent prototypes and final products. Plus, we provide 100%-part inspection support. Contact us today for a quick quote and design feedback.