Sheet metal fabrication is a metal manufacturing process that transforms thin metal sheets into a variety of parts and components for a diverse range of industries. Unlike many other metal fabrication techniques which often implement only one type of tool or functionality, sheet metal fabrication encompasses a wide variety of processes, tools, and materials. As a result, sheet metal fabrication can be used to create durable, cost-effective parts using a range of materials for both high-production and prototyping projects.
Sheet Metal Fabrication Process
Sheet metal fabrication can be divided into three core categories: cutting, forming, and joining. Within each of these categories, there are a variety of processes that can be utilized. These include:
- Cutting: The cutting process often involves tools like lathes, saws, lasers, shears, mills, grinders, waterjets, and punches. Some of the most common cutting techniques include:
- Laser cutting: This low-cost, high-efficiency cutting process uses heated lasers to quickly vaporize a variety of sheet metal materials at a rate of 20 to 70 inches per minute.
- Mechanical cutting: Unlike laser cutting, mechanical cutting involves using physical force to cut metal. Examples include shearing, punching, milling, grinding, lathing, and sawing. Each of these processes offers unique advantages and disadvantages, and certain processes like punching are best used for holes, while shearing is great for metals where the edge cut doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth.
- Waterjet cutting: With similar efficiency and precision as laser cutting, water jet cutting uses high-pressure water jets combined with abrasives to quickly cut through a variety of materials (including reflective materials). A huge advantage of waterjet cutting is that it does not leave heat lines.
- Forming: The forming process is used to shape the sheet metal after cutting. There are a variety of methods you can utilize to form sheet metal, and the type you choose is highly dependent on your overall goals, requirements, and throughput needs. For example, roll forming provides incredible part uniformity, tight tolerances, and a superior surface finish. Air bending uses a V-shaped die and a punch to bend metal into specific shapes while coining uses pressure from the die and penetrates the metal itself.
- Joining & Assembly: The final phase of the sheet metal fabrication process involves joining (e.g., rivets, joints, clinching, welding, etc.) and assembly of hardware and components.
Sheet Metal Fabrication Materials And Capabilities
The sheet metal fabrication process can utilize many different materials and capabilities to create the ideal product for nearly any application. At Northern Metal Products we offer the following fabrication capabilities:
- Laser cutting
- Bending & forming
- Tube fabrication
- Wire forming
In addition, sheet metal fabrication is compatible with some of the most common and dynamic materials available. Some common materials used in sheet metal fabrication include:
- Steel: This popular material offers variety and plenty of unique formulations to suit many projects. Steel can be cold-rolled or used to hot-dip other sheet metals. Each grade of steel offers unique advantages. Overall, it is cost-effective and highly machinable.
- Stainless steel: Stainless steel is highly weldable, formable, and ductile. Austenitic stainless steels are non-magnetic, while ferritic and martensitic stainless steels are corrosive resistant. You can also find stainless steel with a variety of aesthetic properties to suit your needs.
- Aluminum: This naturally corrosion-resistant, lightweight material offers an excellent strength-to-weight ratio and high thermal/electrical conductivity. It’s also a naturally workable material capable of being easily bent and formed to specific dimensions.
- Copper: This is another highly workable metal, and it’s also one of the most aesthetically pleasing materials to utilize in sheet metal fabrication. Copper also offers an oxide layer (patina) that protects from corrosion.
With so many capabilities and materials to choose from, sheet metal manufacturing is used across many industries for many applications. Some examples include:
- Consumer goods
- Fluid transfer
- Power sports
- POP displays
- Food & beverage
- Pre-cast concrete
Choose Northern Metal Products For Sheet Metal Fabrication
Northern Metal Products has over a half-century of experience providing sheet metal fabrication for companies across industries. From sheet metal prototyping to the production line, our state-of-the-art equipment, hyper-experienced engineers, and world-class customer support system helps us deliver value in every product we manufacture.
We can accommodate the most aggressive of lead times using the precision, reliability, and quality you expect from world-class custom sheet metal fabricators. We don’t just fabricate sheet metal; we’re a partner that helps you launch your project — from start to finish. To learn more about our sheet metal fabrication services contact us or request a quote.