What Is Sheet Metal Fabrication?

Sheet metal fabrication is a subtractive manufacturing process that forms parts from thin metal sheets. Engineers often choose sheet metal parts for their high precision and durability, especially for end-use applications like chassis, enclosures, and brackets. Sheet metal fabrication is the most cost-effective choice for custom sheet metal parts and prototypes with uniform wall thickness.

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During the sheet metal fabrication process, thin sheet metal stock is placed on a flat bed where a laser cutter draws programmed part patterns. Depending on the part geometry, a sheet metal punch can form additional features. Once the parts are deburred, they move to the press brake where they are formed into the final geometries. Additional secondary operations are often used to finish the sheet metal parts.

Metal is an extremely versatile material thanks to its ability to be melted down, reformed, manipulated, high strength, high-temperature conductivity, electrical conductivity, and its alloying capabilities. Once extracted from ore, metal can be directly formed into different shapes at a foundry, including ingots, cylinders, and sheets. Of these, sheet metal is one of the more versatile forms as it is easy to transport, can be directly machined by tools, is suitable for numerous different manufacturing techniques, and is easier to handle.

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There are several different ways to shape sheet metal, but they all boil down to two broad categories: sheet metal can either be cut or formed.

As there are many different ways of cutting and forming sheet metal, many specific tooling types are needed which can drive up costs. This is why developing a good understanding of the various sheet metal fabrication processes available is essential to producing the most efficient design for a particular application is essential.

Sheet metal fabricators first convert CAD and drawing data into machine code. A laser cutting, waterjet, or plasma cutting machine will then precisely remove sheet metal material. The raw material is formed into angular bends and features using brakes, punches, and dies. If any assembly or post-processing is required, sheet metal manufacturers will weld, add inserts, or finish the part.

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Processes

-Cutting (Regular, Laser, Plasma)
-Punching
-Bending
-Welding (Arc, Resistance, Laser)
-Painting/surface treatment
-Tube bending/Tube cutting
-Assembly


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