The process that takes sheet metal from its rawest form to a finished product is one with many steps and can vary greatly depending on what the finished product is. Knowing how sheet metal eventually becomes a fabricated item is useful regardless. It can give fabricators the foresight they need to plan better processes, as well as give suppliers insight into the needs of their customers.
Let’s break down the sheet metal fabrication process into its simplest parts—uniform steps that every process includes.
1. Working with blueprints
Every fabrication starts with a plan. Blueprints must be finalized before any fabrication can begin and the blueprints themselves must be accurate and specific to ensure the accuracy and repeatability of fabricated items. Blueprints should include rough drawings of the final product, specifications about measurements and dynamics, and detailed instructions for complex steps (if needed).
Once blueprints have been finalized, fabrication can begin. But this step is far from an inclusive one! In fact, depending on the nature of the item being created, there are different levels of fabrication that may be required and various methodologies for customization that can be deployed:
- Cutting and shearing
- Bending and forming
- Joining and welding
Again, blueprints will dictate the demands of the fabrication process. Something simple like HVAC ductwork may only require basic bending and joining, whereas a complex item may require multiple forms of fabrication. In any case, everything must be done to the exact specifications of the blueprint.
Again, this step is overarching and may be more or less complex depending on the item being fabricated. Finishing generally means undergoing processes that make an item commercially viable—such as an acid wash bath, heat treatment, coatings, painting and more. Finishing can also include establishing the properties of the product being fabricated, including making it inert to certain elements or dampening its conductivity through specialized treatments.
4. Quality control
Despite being “finished,” most fabricated products actually require one more step: Quality control. This ensures all fabrication specifications have been met and that all appropriate finishing processes are accomplished thoroughly. If anything is sub-par, overlooked or incorrect, there’s an opportunity to fix it or scrap it.
Why is the process important?
The process for sheet metal fabrication may seem generalized and straightforward, but it’s of the utmost importance to suppliers and fabricators alike.
Suppliers who understand the nature of their customers’ fabrication operations are better able to meet their needs upfront—such as through value-add services or inventorying. By anticipating the needs of fabricators through an understanding of their fabrication process, suppliers can better equip themselves to stay ahead of demands.
Likewise, fabricators who understand their process thoroughly will be able to better streamline their operations, cutting down on everything from turn times to material waste. Breaking down the fabrication process also allows individual steps to be evaluated for improvement, leading to an overall better product.
It may be a simple concept, but the fabrication process is an important step-by-step undertaking. Recognizing it means understanding operations at a granular level, which means smoother transactions when it comes to sheet metal supply and demand.