Metal fabrication is a small part of the metal manufacturing industry. There are many different types of manufacturing processes, including:
- Roll Forming
- Heat Treating
- Structural Fabrication
- Metal Fabrication
As you can imagine, the wide variety involved in metal manufacturing can be overwhelming. Metal fabrication, by itself, has many subcategories and niches that would be impossible to comprehensively list. Some different categories of metal fabrication you might encounter are heavy industrial plate metal, light industrial sheet metal, heavy structural steel, and light structural steel fabrication.
Heavy Industrial Plate Metal Fabrication
This type of fabrication might include enormous plate steel, sometimes 1”-4” thick (even heavier) and fabrication processes like plasma cutting, rolling, welding, heat treating, and finishing. Finished products that involve heavy industrial plate metal fabrication might include mining equipment, pressure vessels, and tanks.
Light Industrial Sheet Metal Fabrication
This type could include smaller weighted metal-like materials ranging from 1/32” – 1/2” and fabrication processes like Laser Cutting, Brake Forming, Welding, Anodizing, and Painting. The products produced using this type of fabrication might be Computer Enclosures, Cases, and OEM Parts.
Heavy Structural Steel Fabrication
These fabrication processes are done with sawing cutting, plasma cutting, drilling, welding, sandblasting, and painting. This process deals with structural iron and beams that weigh several hundred pounds or more per foot. You can see the results of heavy structural steel fabrication, check out skyscrapers, large bridges and tunnel supports.
Light Structural Steel Fabrication
This can include structural tube, angle and beams that weigh less than a hundred pounds per foot. Fabrication processes would typically be similar to heavy structural steel processes, but the products created would be Small Buildings, Small Bridges, Platforms, and Supports.
Metal Fabrication Versus Machining
Metal fabrication is a term that typically refers to manufacturing that includes cutting, forming, rolling, sawing and welding metal. However, it is not to be confused with machining. There is a bit of crossover with the two, but machining usually includes more detailed work such as milling, lathing, routing, and polishing and is typically a part of the manufacturing industry.
In addition, fabrication usually works with manufacturing tolerances at .010” – .030” whereas machining works with tolerances all the way down to .005” (and even smaller in many cases).
Advancements in Metal Fabrication
Metal fabrication, like all manufacturing industries, has transformed over the years as technology has become more advanced. This began with the Computer Numerically Controlled, CNC, machines. These types of machines, combined with Computer Aided Drafting, CAD, revolutionized the metal fabrication industry.
Prior to the invention of CNC and CAD, hand layouts and calculator math were the tools used by craftsmen to layout and calculate fabricated parts. Machines had manual gauges that would be fine-tuned by hand as the technician moved stops, dialed back gauges and tweaked settings.
However, those days are long gone and programs are now generated automatically from CAD drawings and sent, via computer and code, directly to the various machines. Lasers can cut metal like butter, brake forming machines can tell you which order to sequence your bends and robotic welders can weld endless amounts of wire throughout the night. Metal fabrication is still an enormous part of everyday life and most of us see it, or use it, without even knowing as much. Light rail transit cars, automobiles, snowblowers, electrical panels, guardrails, signs, etc. Metal fabrication is everywhere!