Metal fabrication is an umbrella term that applies to many different types of metalworking processes. Many aspects of our society rely on metal fabrication, as this technique helps create products from fences to I-beams to industrial machinery to aerospace and automotive equipment.
Here, we’ve assembled a comprehensive overview of the metal fabrication process to help you learn more about some best practices in this field as well as how you can incorporate it into your next metalworking project.
What Is Metal Fabrication?
Manufacturers use metal fabrication to construct machines, structures, and other products from raw metal sources. The metal fabrication process can involve many processes, such as
Successful manufacturing firms combine the above steps to efficiently create a wide variety of finished products, which range from:
- Heavy equipment and machinery
- Hand railings
- Hand tools
- Cutlery and utensils
- Springs and wires
- Screws, nuts, and bolts
- Forged or stamped items
Complicated projects that source from multiple vendors are often simplified by relying on one-stop-shop metal fabricators. Centralizing and streamlining your metal fabrication operations will save you time and money, and doing so often prevents the kinds of miscommunication that lead to expensive mistakes.
Metal fabrication can work with a wide range of raw materials, such as:
- Expanded metal: Expanded metal benefits applications that require grated panels rather than solid panels. To create expanded metal, manufacturers shear metal sheets in patterns that form diamond-shaped holes along the surface. The leftover mesh-like metal can still effectively hold the workpiece together while creating a permeable end product that is lighter and more cost-efficient than solid metal sheets. Common applications for expanded metal include protective barriers for machines that require ventilation as well as fences and screen doors such as those found in gated communities.
- Sectional metal: Sectional metal manufacturers build prefabricated metal pieces that are specifically designed for standardized assembly. These types of metal generally go on to form important framing and structural components in the construction industry. Common sectional metal pieces include I-beams, Z-shapes, bars, and rods.
- Flat metal: Flat metal pieces come in a wide variety of sizes and thicknesses, but most types of flat metal conform to one of three basic categories. Leaf metal, also known as foil metal, is the thinnest type of flat metal. Sheet metal, the most common type of flat metal, is usually less than 6 mm thick. Plate metal is the thickest kind of flat metal, and generally has a thickness of greater than 0.25”.
- Welding wire: Welding wires are metal strands that are usually bunched together to form thicker metal cords. Welding wire is typically sold on spools. This material is primarily used to hold two metal workpieces together during welding operations.
- Fittings and castings: Fittings and castings are small, standard-built metal components used to fasten or hold larger pieces of equipment together.
What Is the Sheet Metal Fabrication Process?
Sheet metal fabrication is a specialized manufacturing process that converts metal sheets into workable components for desired end products or into the end products themselves. The sheet metal fabrication process involves four main phases:
- Creating rough drawings for blueprint drafts
- Finalizing the blueprints by means of in-depth analysis and calculations
- Fabricating the workpiece according to the drawings
- Finishing the fabricated product for commercial viability
Manufacturers can employ a wide variety of fabricating operations during the third and fourth phases of the metalworking process. Sheet metal fabrication operations include the following processes:
- Assembly: Assembly operations weld, bind, or use adhesives to join metals together and bend them in the form of a crimped seam. One of the most common ways to perform metal assembly operations is riveting, which joins parts using metal pieces called rivets. Manufacturers also sometimes use spot welding, which welds overlapping metal pieces at strategic points to securely join them together.
- Bending: The bending process involves machining, folding, or stamping to shape metals into the desired end shapes. Manufacturers use a number of different tools to create U-bends, V-bends, or customized bends according to customer specifications.
- Edge conditioning: Edge conditioning refers to any finishing process that produces uniform, smoothed-out edges. For example, many industries use skiving operations to a machine and produce smooth edges by implementing burr removal processes.
- Forming: Forming operations mold or form sheet metal into the client’s desired shape. Similar to bending operations, metal forming processes include machining, folding, or stamping actions.
- Punching: To perform metal punching, manufacturers place a sheet metal workpiece under a die and use drills to punch holes through the workpiece. Punching operations tend to fall into one of two categories. The more common process punches holes through a workpiece to fasten latches or other parts onto the sheet metal at a later time. Other times, manufacturers used a specialized punching process called blanking to remove prescribed areas from larger metal sheets to form smaller bit parts.
- Rolling: Rolling, or roll forming, is a continuous bending operation in which metal sheets or other metal configurations pass through forming rolls that shape the metal according to client specifications.
- Shearing: Shearing operations make large or long cuts to workpieces by horizontally feeding them through a cutting machine. In another type of shearing, machining tools perform vertical cuts along with the sheet. Although manufacturers frequently use shearing to complete edge-trimming operations, this process can be performed anywhere along with the metal sheet.
- Welding: Welding is by far the most commonly used sheet metal fabrication process.
Manufacturers use many types of welding methods to join metal parts at desired junctures. For instance, tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding creates welds using tungsten electrodes, and metal inert gas (MIG) welding uses a filler metal wire to maintain the electric arc for the weld.
Welding wire used to keep two pieces joined together during the welding process can come from a number of different metal sources and can operate in a wide variety of thicknesses.
Metals Used for Sheet Metal Fabrication
Manufacturers source sheet metal fabrication workpieces from a wide range of raw and processed metals. Some of the most common metals used for fabrication include:
- Aluminized metal
- Carbon steel
- Cold-rolled steel
- Galvanized steel
- High-strength steel
- Hot-rolled steel
- Stainless steel
Custom Metal Fabrication by Premier Products of Racine, Inc.
Established in 1999, Premier Products of Racine, Inc., is a full-service custom roll-forming company with a reputation for providing high-quality products at reasonable prices. Operating from our 210,000+ square feet of manufacturing space in southeastern Wisconsin, we provide a comprehensive range of metal fabrication services, including:
- Custom roll forming
- Press braking
- Custom packaging
We ensure that all our fabrication processes strictly adhere to ANSI, ASTM, DOT, and Mil-Spec standards. Our facility is equipped to handle both small and large order volumes. Whether you need a single prototype piece or a high-volume production run, we’re well equipped to find a solution that will fit your requirements.
Our expert engineers bring years of experience in design-for-manufacture techniques, and we work with all common CAD file formats. Moreover, our precise Ready Bend tooling capabilities enable us to manufacture parts to extremely tight tolerances.
At Premier Products of Racine, Inc., we take pride in our quick turnaround times, fair pricing, and high customer satisfaction.
If you’d like to learn more about how our sheet metal fabrication services can benefit your company, reach out to us here for a free quote.
The Process Behind Roll Formed Steel
Roll-formed steel is a manufacturing process used to shape metal, including steel. During the roll-forming process, a series of rollers shapes and flattens steel stock.
This process works on many kinds of metals, including aluminum and copper, but it’s especially useful for shaping steel into complex configurations. Due to the costs associated with creating the tools for roll forming, this type of steel is most economically produced in larger volumes.
The Difference Between Hot and Cold-Formed Steel Sections
Most types of steel come in either hot-rolled or cold-formed varieties. These terms refer to the temperature at which metalworkers form the steel. Whereas all steel must go through hot-rolling processes to achieve the desired grades, cold forming occurs after the steel completes hot rolling. Hot-rolled and cold-formed steel go on to have different applications after they finish processing. Below, we describe some of the finer points of each process.
During hot rolling, workers heat untreated steel to above 1,700°F, which is its recrystallization temperature. Steel becomes very malleable at these temperature levels, and this pliability enables the roll forming process.
Because hot-rolled steel involves shorter processing times than cold-formed steel, it’s cheaper to produce. This technique can also produce larger sizes of steel.
However, hot-rolled steel shrinks as it cools, which means that it solidifies into less precise shapes and sizes. Hot-rolled steel also typically has rougher surfaces than cold-rolled steel. For these reasons, it’s more suitable for non–consumer-facing applications, such as I-beams and railroad tracks.
Workers perform cold forming after the completion of the hot-rolling process. Once the steel cools to room temperature, workers anneal or temper the steel depending on its intended application.
- Annealing softens steel for cold forming, and it also improves its machinability
- Tempering reduces brittleness and improves the steel’s structural stability
Cold-formed steel then undergoes further rolling to shape or thin out the steel. The additional steps involved in cold forming add to the overall production expenses and time.
Unlike hot-rolled steel, cold-formed steel can achieve thicknesses of <0.25”. One of the biggest advantages of cold-formed steel is that it can achieve more precise measurements and tolerances than hot-rolled steel. Because of these capabilities, cold-formed steel works well in applications like metal framing.
Cold-formed steel also has a smoother surface finish than hot-rolled steel, which makes it a more aesthetic choice for consumer-facing applications. Therefore, cold-formed steel comprises many household products, most notably cookware.
The Steel Roll Forming Process
During roll forming, the steel passes through a series of paired rollers. These rollers work in tandem to shape and flatten the steel for further processing. The rollers also create their own momentum, pushing the steel on to the next set of rollers.
The roll-forming process allows metalworkers to create uniform and customizable steel parts. This process also allows workers to precisely modify steel pieces with features such as holes, slots, or embossments. Steel roll forming can also produce large quantities of long products.
Custom Roll-Formed Steel Services at Premier Products of Racine
At Premier Products of Racine, we use roll forming to produce all run types, from prototypes to high volumes. We provide custom roll-forming services to industries including:
- Appliance manufacturing, including grille vanes
- Office and institutional furniture assembly
- Liquid hauling tankers, including structural beams
- Solar technology
Contact us to learn more about our custom roll-forming services.