A lot of work and a lot of different steps and processes go into sheet metal fabrication. Sheet metal is a versatile material that can be used and adapted to make countless creations. As such, there are countless methods and steps that go into sheet metal fabrication.
Here are some of the broader, most basic steps that go into sheet metal fabrication from start to finish:
The first step is cutting. Sheet metal often comes on big rolls or in big sheets. Either way, it needs to be cut down to a more workable size before details can be put into the material.
The method used to cut the material down from its larger size is called shearing. In this method, straight cutting blades are used to cut the sheet metal in the desired place.
Punching and blanking are two methods that allow for slightly more precise cuts to be made. Punching cuts holes into a piece of material, and blanking cuts usable pieces out of a larger piece of material.
For much finer details, there are other methods used to cut through the material such as laser beams, water jets, and plasma.
2. Bending and forming
The next step would be bending and forming the metal as per the needs of the project.
There are different bends that can be made in sheet metal. Common bends are u-shape bends and v-shape bends.
Different methods are used to create these bends, as well as any other custom bends required for the project. For instance, bottom bending or bottoming is used to create v-bends.
Before permanently joining all the pieces together, the pieces are lined up to ensure everything fits properly. This stage is called fit-up.
Once all pieces are in place, and being held there by clamps, temporary welds are used to keep everything in place before the actual joining process begins.
Making sure that all pieces line up is important, as it makes the welding or joining process much simpler and quicker.
Once all the pieces are created and bent or formed to the necessary shape, some pieces will need to be fused together to form the parts needed for the final product. There are a few methods for joining pieces in sheet metal fabrication.
Welding and brazing are two of these joining methods. Although the methods are different, they both use heat in order to join the two pieces together.
Riveting and using adhesives are two other joining methods. Riveting uses a rivet, a straight metal piece, that goes through both pieces in order to attach them to each other. Adhesives use glues or other adhesive materials to stick the parts together.
Although not as common as welding, riveting and other adhesives still have their place in sheet metal fabrication. Sometimes these methods are better, because if a piece of the item is destroyed or damaged, it is much easier to replace just that piece if it was riveted or glued than if it had been welded.
And finally, the last step of sheet metal production is finishing.
In this step, coatings and paints are applied to the item. This stage may just mean making the item look nice, but more often than not, those pretty, glossy finishes actually have a purpose. Depending on the environment the item will be in, it may require special finishing in order to protect it. That is a major purpose for many finishes. They can protect against scratching and damage like that, and some can even protect against damage to the item caused by corrosion.