Metal has been hammered into sheets and used for a variety of purposes since ancient times. Water-powered rolling mills became common for use in creating sheet metal in the late 1600s, using rotating cylinders to press lead, copper, iron and zinc pieces into sheets. Sheet metal became popular in North America in the 1870s and was used for shingle roofing, stamped ceilings and exterior facades. In the 1890s, inexpensive, durable, easy-to-install, fireproof sheet metal became increasingly popular. Today, products made through sheet metal fabrication are a part of daily life.
Many industries utilize sheet metal fabrication; aerospace, construction, automotive, HVAC, consumer goods, robotics, agricultural, electronics and energy sectors. The sheet metal fabrication process is responsible for an incredible amount of products; brackets, cable connectors, roof flashing, rain gutters, ductwork for furnaces, MRI scanners, surgical implants, pins and plates to fix broken bones, dental instruments and more. What are the benefits and limitations of this fabrication method?
Benefits of sheet metal fabrication:
There are numerous benefits and advantages of using sheet metal fabrication techniques.
- Strength and durability: Sheet metal parts are resistant to pressure, corrosion, heat, moisture, sun and wear and tear, making them a superior choice for many projects. Adding bends only increases the metal’s strength.
- Malleability: Using the right equipment, sheet metal can be bent into the shape of your preference, retaining its strength and structural integrity. It can be compressed or stretched without breaking and/or cracking. This malleability enables sheet metal to be effectively and efficiently used in custom, complex and/or highly specialized applications.
- Replaceability: Sheet metal parts are replaceable, making it possible for individual components to be removed and changed. This saves time and money and allows for modifications and upgrades.
- Easily modified: Sheet metal allows for easy expansion on structures as it is easy to modify.
- Sustainability: When sheet metal parts are no longer needed, they can be recycled and turned into other parts, multiple times, without a degradation in quality. Scrap metal sheets can be reused again, and transformed into new, high-grade products.
- Cost-effective: The strength and durability of sheet metal make it a cost-effective option. Also, production costs are low for simple designs.
- Lightweight: Metal sheets are lightweight and easy to machine, making them portable and suitable for many applications.
- Aesthetics: Seamless finishes and the option for painting, sand-blasting, polishing, grinding and/or brushing make metal sheets a great option in terms of aesthetics. Sheet metal has a modern feel, lustre and shine.
- High-precision parts are created through stamping, bending, cutting, blanking, shearing and laser cutting with computerized machines capable of forming sheet metal without deterioration in quality. High-precision parts are needed in construction, automotive, aviation, healthcare, food and beverage and consumer goods.
- Custom-built designs: Sheet metal fabrication enables creative freedom with custom-built parts and components. Workable prototypes are made to prove design concepts, allowing for innovation in design and use.
- High-capacity production: If you need sheet metal products in bulk, partnering with a sheet metal fabrication manufacturer is a good choice. High-capacity production of metal parts enables faster distribution into a wider market in a shorter time span. Bulk production is low-cost and efficient, improving the process and optimizing the rate of production.
- Perfect for prototyping: Sheet metal fabrication allows for easy customization. If the first design/prototype doesn’t work, the part can be easily adjusted, making the creation process flexible and affordable.
- Variety of techniques and materials: A variety of techniques can be used, making it possible to create complex parts. A wide range of compatible materials can be used for a diverse number of applications.
- Speed of manufacture: Lack of tooling and high levels of automation means that sheet metal parts can be produced quickly, enabling large quantities in a short time.
- Accuracy: With the right equipment and/or software, extreme accuracy with low levels of variability is possible.
Limitations of sheet metal fabrication:
There are a few issues to be aware of when choosing the sheet metal fabrication process.
- Capability limits per technique: Each sheet metal fabrication technique has limits that make combining processes necessary. This can create longer processing times.
- High initial capital for tooling and equipment: If the process you choose requires custom tooling and equipment, it may be pricey and require volume production to create profit.
- High labour cost for some types: If the process you need requires manual labour, costs may rise. Automation can cut this cost but is only feasible when high production quantities are made.
- Cost for Complex Designs: Complex designs can be costly if significant secondary operations and/or labour-intensive processes are required.
- Bending operation designs are intricate: Bending is convenient and effective but can require complex calculations and/or a trial-and-error cycle.
- Thickness limitations: Tight bends are usually performed on thinner sheet metal, meaning that complex parts may be limited to lightweight materials only suitable for low-load or no-load applications.
- Need for Consistent Thickness: Since a part is often made from a single piece of material, the thickness of separate pieces cannot be changed.
- Aesthetic appearance: The sheet metal production process sometimes yields boxy products with a rudimentary appearance.
- Slower production process: Depending on the number of secondary processes required and the complexity of the part, sheet metal can require lengthier production timelines.
Sheet metal is a versatile and widely used construction material with applications in many industries from mining, construction, farming, catering, hospitality, shipping, manufacturing, aviation, medical and transport. You can also find it in domestic applications; as a metal surround on a kitchen bench top, in a home appliance or as a unique punched metal screen used as an interior design feature. Advances in equipment used for cutting and forming continue to lead to new uses as complex shapes can be made accurately, quickly and cost-effectively.
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