One of the most robust manufacturing processes in today’s world is sheet metal fabrication. It simply refers to the process of turning flat sheets of metals into finished metal products. Typically, this process may not be referred to as a single manufacturing technique. Instead, it is a combination of forming processes.
Before you choose to make your product with a new manufacturing technique, it is essential to understand the rudiments of the technology. That is, it is best if you know what the process entails and its various components.
In this article, you will learn the different important metals used in sheet metal fabrication. More importantly, you will learn the various factors to consider when choosing a metal for your custom parts. Let’s get right to it!
Common Materials Used for Sheet Metal Fabrication
The first step when you start a sheet metal fabrication project is choosing the type of metal to use during the design stage. There is an extensive range of materials available for this process. It is vital to reiterate the importance of choosing the suitable metal for your product to ensure high quality. Your choice will depend on your knowledge of the materials and your overall expectations from them.
Here are some of the materials used in sheet metal fabrication:
This is a lightweight metal with a high level of corrosion resistance. It is one of the best materials for making sheet metal parts and enclosures. With an excellent strength-to-weight ratio, it is suitable for a broader range of applications. However, it is less stiff than steel, and manufacturers may require a thicker gauge to get to a similar strength to meet design needs.
Another notable characteristic of aluminum is that it goes along with many finishes. For example, you can choose to powder-coat your aluminum material or give it a chrome-plated finish. In fact, you can leave it as bare metal without any finish. There are two significant alloys of aluminum – 5052 and 6061 aluminum. They are both easy to machine and fabricate.
Steel materials are also among the most crucial metals used in prototype and custom manufacturing. There are various steel types used in sheet metal fabrication; they include:
- Cold Rolled Steel – This type of steel is best used for general-purpose parts and enclosures. Cold rolled steel has high stiffness properties and is cost-effective. Furthermore, it is a highly durable metal when used for indoor applications. Its durability further increases with a powder coat finish. Inherently, cold-rolled steel may not be corrosion-resistant. It may degrade faster in wetter and harsher environments and may not be ideal for outdoor applications.
- Stainless Steel – These materials are high-strength options with improved hardness and corrosion resistance. All thanks to its content of nickel and chromium. Stainless steels have high formability and favor a wide range of finishing techniques. It is best to consider stainless steel whenever any of the following are essential:
- Corrosion resistance
- Ease of fabrication
- Improved aesthetics
- Excellent formability
- High strength-to-weight ratio
- Resistance to wear
- Galvanized Steel – These are also referred to as pre-plated steel materials. They usually come with protective coatings that prevent air oxidation, and thus, corrosion. Galvanized steel materials also support ease of fabrication because they are highly ductile.
This metal is soft, ductile, and flexible, with improved thermal and electrical conductivity properties. Copper comes with protective oxide layers, which prevents them from corrosion. Whenever you want pleasing-looking metals aesthetically, copper might be one of your best options. However, care has to be taken when working with this type of metal because its softness may mean that they clinch to tools easily.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Material for Sheet Metal Fabrication
You should never just go ahead and pick materials during the design process for your prototype. Instead, you should consider some options and choose the appropriate material to ensure the optimum quality of your part.
The material you choose will determine the end product. Thus, it would be best if you made the right choices. Here are the most important factors to consider before you choose a metal:
The price of materials is always the first factor to consider. You can not choose a material that goes way over your budget. You may need to reassess the whole design if the suitable alloy will increase or overextend your budget. It is important to note that the price is not limited to only the initial material cost. It may also include the upkeep cost of the component or the replacement cost in case of damage.
Sometimes, manufacturers refer to it as tensile strength, and rightly so. You need to consider the amount of force that will be required to snap the metal. The strength and thickness of your metal are critical to enabling it to handle some degree of machining or tension during the process. For instance, stainless steel handles pressure far better than aluminum.
Many times, weight remains a vital factor to consider when choosing the right metal for custom manufacturing. Some parts may require movement from one spot to another on the field. For such components, you need to consider lightweight metals like aluminum. The additional weight of components may not be an advantage after its final build. So, you should know the properties of each metal and make informed decisions.
Can the metal withstand cutting, bending, welding, and other fabrication processes without deformation? Some metal alloys are difficult to form or machine, further complicating the sheet metal fabrication process. For instance, steel is easier to machine than stainless steel. After considering other factors, machinability should also come to your mind.
All metal alloys will rust at some point of use. However, some alloys are more resistant to rust than others. Corrosion resistance should be a high priority for you if your prototype or custom part will come into contact with moisture, acids & alkalis, or salts. Parts for outdoor use should also consider metals with corrosion-resistant properties.
There are several finishing techniques for metal components. However, not all metals can take all finishes. So, if you have a specific finish in mind, you should ensure that your metal will look perfect with that finish. If not, you may have to rethink the choice of finish or metal, keeping other factors in mind.
When designing for custom parts manufacturing, it is essential to start on the right foot. For sheet metal fabrication, the first step is choosing the most suitable metal for your needs. Considering all the factors discussed above will help you make the right decisions and come out with high-quality end products.