Sheet metal providers provide the material the sheet metal fabricators use to produce the products. Because sheet metal itself is rarely the final product, sheet metal fabricators have a very important role for many industries. Aluminum sheet metal and stainless steel sheet metal are two of the most widely used materials. Some fabricators use computer numeric control or CNC machining which uses a software program to control the movements of the tools and equipment. This results in precise designs while reducing the cost of materials and labor.
Specifications such as part size, required strength, number of parts needed and additional materials are important details for sheet metal fabricators. Virtually every industry relies on sheet metal fabricators to produce the metal parts they need including electronic enclosures, computers, aircraft, HVAC, consumer appliances, exhaust systems, tanks and more. Fabricators are necessary for food processing and storage, communications, automotive, medical, electronic, aerospace, construction and other applications.
Sheet metal is made from slabs and rods of alloys that have been melted and pressed into rectangular shapes. As with most metal working processes, either high temperatures or high pressures are necessary to change the characteristics or form of the metal. Raw material is melted together to remove impurities and to form a homogenous mass. The molten metal is then cooled and reheated through annealing, a process where the metal is slowly cooled or quenching, where the metal is cooled very quickly.
Tempered metals are subjected to extreme heat to increase their strength. Sheet metal fabricators work with different procedures and tools than fabricators who work with machined parts. Sheet metal designs are cut from thin flat metal and assembled into larger parts whereas machined parts are made from rods or thick pieces of metal. Once the metal is ready, the slabs are compressed between rollers until thin. Fabricators then apply mechanical deformation forces to change the form and shape of the flat sheet.
It may be perforated and punched full of small holes or repeatedly bent. Stamping, drilling, blanking and shearing are cutting processes that physically alter the shape of the sheet metal by removing selected material. Trimming also occurs during this step. Finishing finalizes the product through such processes as sanding or deburring to remove rough bits called burrs, the metallic equivalent of sawdust. Painting and visual designs may be added by specialized fabricators and the final part is assembled or prepared for shipping.