Sheet Metal Fabrication 101, a Basic Knowledge Guide

Jul 24, 2020

Sheet Metal Fabrication 101, a Basic Knowledge Guide

Summary: Get to know the basics of sheet metal fabrication with this concise knowledge guide, from cutting to welding.

Before choosing to work with a new manufacturing process, it is important to understand the fundamentals of the technology. What is it, how it works, and what its advantages are. This article will cover the basics of sheet metal fabrication, shedding light onto a metal production technique with numerous applications across many industries.

What is sheet metal fabrication?

When working with a professional rapid prototyping and production service such as RapidDirect, customers have the benefit of not needing to know the intricacies of metal production methods. That’s exactly what we’re there for: we have the expertise so you don’t have to. Still, it is helpful for customers to have an understanding of the production processes out there, so they can find the right solution.

Sheet metal fabrication is a broadly used metal forming process that transforms sheets of metal (in varying thicknesses) into parts using different types of equipment. In fact, it is helpful to think of sheet metal fabrication not as a single manufacturing process, but as a collection of forming techniques, which are often used in combination to produce a part. The techniques employed in sheet metal fabrication, which we’ll dive into below, include cutting, bending, punching, stamping and welding.

Sheet metal fabrication is suitable for a range of metal materials. At RapidDirect, for instance, we produce sheet metal components made from Aluminum, Steel, Stainless Steel, Copper and Brass. The manufacturing process is so common, that you are unlikely to go about your day without encountering a sheet metal fabricated product, whether it’s a home appliance or smaller parts like brackets or enclosures.

Sheet metal fabrication methods

To understand how parts are formed using sheet metal fabrication, it is imperative to know the different types of techniques used to transform flat sheets of metal into three dimensional, functional components. Below are the most common sheet metal fabrication methods.

  • Cutting

Cutting is typically the first step in the sheet metal fabrication process. As the name clearly indicates, it consists of cutting the metal sheet. In other words, manufacturers start with a rectangular metal sheet and, based on the customer’s part design, the material is cut to size. Cutting can be done using various methods. For instance, metal sheets can be cut using shear, which uses shear forces to cut through the metal.

At RapidDirect, we leverage laser cutting, with is a shear-less process, better suited to industrial applications. Laser cutting enables a high degree of precision (+/- 0.1 mm) and is time efficient. We also offer plasma cutting and waterjet cutting, which also offer high precision cutting.

  • Stamping

Stamping is a cold-forming method that transforms flat metal blanks into various shapes. The process uses a tool and die, which when impacted change the form of the metal through the use of shear pressure. Stamping can be understood as a broader term within sheet metal fabrication and encompasses punching, bending, as well as embossing and flanging, which entails swiping the sheet of metal in such a way to form flanges.

  • Bending

Bending is another critical step in sheet metal fabrication and, as the name implies, it consists of bending the metal sheets. Bending is achieved using press brakes, rolling machines and other equipment, which create standard shapes such as U-bends or V-bends. Despite how simple bending may seem to the untrained eye, it is a rather complex process that requires a highly skilled manufacturer. This is largely due to the occurrence of “spring back,” which is the term for when metal inevitably tries to regain its original flat structure after being bent. To overcome this challenge, operators must over bend the part so that its spring back angle is the desired angle. You can learn more about the spring back challenge here.

  • Punching

Punching is a technique used to created holes in a metal sheet. The method relies on a punch and die (often made from a hard metal), which use shear force to perforate holes into the metal sheet. The scrap material created from the hole is then collected by the die. Punching can also be used to create an indentation in the metal sheet. At RapidDirect, our CNC punching capability can create holes up to 50 mm in diameter.

  • Welding

Welding is one of the final stages in sheet metal fabrication, which is used to join metal pieces together into a single part. Welding can be achieved using a range of methods, including stick welding, MIG and TIG. Through varied in their approach, all three have the function of joining metal together by melting the edge of the part and adding filler. This creates a metallurgical bond between the pieces, strongly fusing them together.

Welding is only necessary, of course, if a product is made up of two or more separate components. Once parts are joined they can be finished using a variety of post-processing methods, such as powder coating, anodizing and bead blasting. You can learn more about RapidDirect’s sheet metal fabrication finishing processes here.

RapidDirect’s offering

Now that you know the basic elements of sheet metal fabrication, let a professional service take care of the rest! With RapidDirect, you can reap the benefits of sheet metal fabrication as well as our automated and highly streamlined production service. With our service, you can expect a sheet metal fabrication quote within 12 hours, and lead times as quick as three days.

Our rapid prototyping offering also includes a strong and reliable manufacturing capability (led by our expert team with 20+ years of experience) and technical and quality assurance, including SGS and RoHS material certifications, in-process quality reports and First Article Inspection.

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