Metal fabrication is the process of taking stock metal pieces and turning them into production items. Anything made from metal has gone through a metal fabrication method. There are actually a lot of different ways to make something out of metal. In this guide, we’ll describe some of the more common options.
Machining starts with a big piece of metal and uses cutting tools to shave away the unneeded pieces.
If the metal is held still while a spinning tool moves around, it’s considered milling. If the part spins while the tool is stationary, it’s called turning.
These machines can also include computers which crunch numbers and direct the cutting tools. That’s called a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine.
A machinist will typically program the different cuts, change out the tools, and run the machine. With a good design and talented machinist, a wide variety of impressive pieces can be fabricated.
Drilling can be done on a CNC machine, or you can use a hand tool or standing drill. This method is used specifically for drilling holes into objects.
If you’re familiar with using a handheld drill, then you already know about drilling. There’s a bit that gets inserted into a circular head. The head spins very quickly, and the bit is moved to come in contact with the metal.
The bit is designed to remove material from the metal. After drilling, you’re left with a hole the same diameter as the bit you used,
Cutting is another general term that covers a variety of different operations. As the name suggests, it’s the process of slicing metal into smaller pieces. You can use power tools, torches, bandsaws, laser cutters, waterjet machines, or plasma cutters.
This is typically the first step of fabrication. The metal comes into the shop in large pieces. To make it easier to manage for a single project, the machinist will cut it down into a smaller piece. Typically, the cut piece is just barely larger than the piece after all metal fabrication is done on it.
Fastening and fasteners are two common phrases in a machine shop. Fastening a part together entails using screws, bolts, or rivets to combine two or more pieces.
In this case, the bolts or screws would be called the fasteners.
This method is used to create assemblies. You use fastening when you put together Ikea furniture and use screws to keep everything tight.
Punching is done on sheet metal. Sheet metal is a family of thin metal that comes in flat pieces. A punch uses a blade that’s arranged in a certain shape, and a hydraulic press. The press pushes the blade into the sheet metal which is positioned under it. Like a cookie cutter, the punch cuts away the metal in the shape of the blade. You’re left with two pieces.
This is often used when multiple parts need to be cut to a rough size before bending, cutting, or machining.
Stamping uses the same idea, but it doesn’t go all the way through the metal. For that reason, it can also be used on standard metal that isn’t sheet metal.
You would use a stamping machine to emboss or raise a section of material. Machinists will commonly stamp parts with identifying numbers upon request, so the customer knows certain information about the part.
Welding is a way to permanently join two or more metal parts. You can think of it like industrial-grade crazy glue. The welder will use a wire of metal and melt it between the two metal pieces. The rod will melt then cool, fusing these pieces together.
For thinner stock metal or sheet metal, bending is also an option. A piece is put into a machine that will then bend the metal about itself. Different bends can be made to achieve different tasks. For example, a single piece of metal can be bent into an L-shaped piece. That piece can then be used to support a corner, add rigidity to a part, or to fasten perpendicular parts together.
For thin enough metal, you can use shears. A machinist will use shears, which look like scissors, to cut pieces freehand. It allows for more complicated cuts at the expense of precision and accuracy.
Shearing is commonly used to rough-cut a piece to a smaller size before going through additional fabrication steps.
These are a few of the most common metal fabrication methods. If you have a part that you need to be made, you don’t necessarily need to know which fabrication methods will be used. Instead, you can defer to the expert machinist who will be making your part. For a team of machining experts, you can turn to Rapid Axis. Reach out to us today to see how we can help.