Metal fabrication is an incredibly complex and diverse process that encompasses the creation of numerous everyday items, such as tools, electronic appliances, cars, and phones. Metal fabrication is essential in the production of essential products that we use on a daily basis. The overall fabrication process can also include a vast array of variations and techniques that are tailored to specific goals. This broad range of techniques and methods all contribute to the production of quality metal products that are essential for our daily lives.
Types of Metals Used in Metal Fabrication
In order to understand the basics of metal fabrication, it is essential to understand the different metals that are used in the process. Metals can be divided into two broad categories: hard metals and soft metals. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and each is useful for specific applications.
Applications of Hard Metals in Metal Fabrication
Hard metals, such as stainless steel, chrome, steel, Inconel, and titanium are often created during the smelting process by adding small amounts of other elements to the alloy. For example, adding molybdenum and chromium creates a 4140 steel alloy that is suitable for aircraft and similar use cases. Carbon and manganese, on the other hand, are used to create tough 1018 steel. Although both alloy types are easy to weld, they are susceptible to rusting if there is no additional finishing on the metal.
300-series stainless steel is a tough material that is difficult when it comes to machining but is an excellent resource for food equipment, medical instruments, pressure vessels, and other industrial applications. It also cannot be hardened the way carbon steel does. 17-4 PH, on the other hand, is an incredibly tough material that adds copper, chromium, and nickel to the alloy, creating a material that is technically stainless steel but has the machineability of a superalloy. This material is used extensively in the nuclear and aerospace industries, as well as other industries that require high corrosion resistance and extremely high material strength.
Materials such as Inconel and cobalt chrome are only suitable for the most extreme conditions due to their excellent capabilities with a high range of operable temperatures. Inconel uses over 50 percent nickel in its alloy and is frequently used for jet engine combustion chambers, gas turbine blades, and nuclear reactors. Cobalt chrome, on the other hand, uses cobalt in the alloy, creating a material with high wear resistance that is also biocompatible with humans. This last feature is why cobalt chrome is often used for knee/hip replacements, dental implants, arterial stents, among others.
Finally, titanium is twice as strong as mild steel while being half of its weight. It is created via aluminum and vanadium, generating a corrosion-resistant and strong material that is also biocompatible, making it suitable for bone screws, plates, pins, among others. Titanium is incredibly appealing to high-performance vehicle manufacturers and the aerospace industry, as a whole, due to its impressive strength-to-weight ratio.
Applications of Soft Metals in Metal Fabrication
Soft metals, on the other hand, are far less rigid than hard metals, but nonetheless, are incredibly useful in specific applications. Some of the more common soft metals are brass, aluminum, copper, and magnesium.Soft metal aluminum is extremely malleable and soft, which means it is mostly unusable for mechanical purposes. However, it can be used to create an alloy when combined with zinc, copper, magnesium, or silicon, and then made stronger via heat treatment. One of the most common alloys of magnesium is its combination with zinc and aluminum, creating a machineable metal that has excellent damping capabilities and is also easy to mold. It is also more expensive than most aluminum variations.
Brass has high resistance to both corrosion and weather effects, which makes it one of the most versatile materials on this list. Copper, on the other hand, is one of the most electrically-conductive materials in history and is used in various applications, such as glass-to-metal seals, semiconductor manufacturing, and even as an antimicrobial surface. Copper is also an ingredient in several hundred different metal alloys, creating nickel-copper, tellurium copper, aluminum, gunmetal, bronze, steel alloys, and many more.
Processes and Raw Materials Used in Metal Fabrication
As a process, metal fabrication is all about creating and assembling different metal components using various techniques, including manual labor and automation. Facilities that specialize in one specific field of metal fabrication are often referred to as fabrication shops, and the products of said facilities are also commonly known as fabrication products. Although some types of metalworking, such as forging, casting, and metal stamping, are not considered fabrication, they can be similar in shape.
The raw materials for metal fabrication can vary and can include sectional metal, welding wire, plate metal, castings, flat metal, fittings, and more. Typically, fabrication shops employ multiple experts in various fields, including blacksmiths, welders, boilermakers, and ironworkers, among many others.
Categories of Metal Fabrication: Structural, Commercial, and Industrial
There are three main categories of metal fabrication: Structural, Commercial, and Industrial. Each category has its variety of processes used in the process of metal fabrication, or it can be a single process altogether. For instance, structural metal fabrication provides metal components for use in various large-scale fabrication efforts, such as buildings, shops, and skyscrapers. Commercial metal fabrication, on the other hand, produces commercial products designed to be used by consumers directly, such as appliances and cars.
Finally, industrial metal fabrication specializes in creating products that are part of other pieces of equipment, such as ironworking machines and bandsaws, among others.
Metal fabrication consists of many different processes that may or may not be involved in the project, depending on what needs to be done, the material type, and some other dependencies.
Common metal fabrication process types include cutting, bonding, tooling, folding, extrusion, punching, stamping, casting, drawing, forging, machining, shearing, welding, and more.
- Cutting is one of the most common processes in metal fabrication. The oldest example of a cutting process is the use of a chisel or saw to cut through metal. Modern cutting processes involve the use of various cutting tools and techniques, such as plasma cutting, laser cutting, and waterjet cutting, depending on the material being cut.
- Bonding is the process of joining two pieces of metal together using various methods, including welding, brazing, and soldering.
- Tooling is the process of creating custom tools to be used in other processes, such as casting, punching, and stamping.
- Folding involves the use of a brake press to bend metal into various angles and shapes.
- Extrusion is the process of forcing metal through a die to create a specific shape or form.
- Punching involves the use of a punch and die to create holes in metal. Stamping is the process of using a stamping press to shape and cut metal into specific forms.
- Casting is the process of pouring molten metal into a mold to create a specific shape or form.
- Drawing involves pulling metal through a die to create a specific shape or form.
- Forging involves shaping metal by heating it and then hammering it into shape.
- Machining involves using a machine to remove metal from a workpiece to create a specific shape or form.
- Shearing is the process of cutting metal using a shear or scissors.
- Welding involves the use of heat and pressure to melt and fuse two pieces of metal together.
In conclusion, metal fabrication is an intricate and diverse process that includes the creation of numerous items that we use in our everyday lives. Metal fabrication encompasses the use of different metals and a wide range of techniques and methods that are tailored to specific goals. The broad range of techniques and methods used in metal fabrication contribute to the production of quality metal products that are essential for our daily lives.
Understanding metal fabrication and the different metals and processes involved is an essential component in the production of quality metal products.