Metal fabrication plays an important role in myriad businesses, from construction and equipment manufacturing to creating parts and end products for commercial applications. Using a variety of fabrication methods, the metal fabrication process involves cutting, shaping, machining, welding, molding, or assembling raw or semi-finished metal materials into the end products.
Each fabrication method has its benefits and drawbacks, the best option will really depend on your specific need. The most important part of this process will be finding and engaging a reliable metal fabrication partner.
Fabricating Custom Metal Parts
Oftentimes, producers of these and other metal products will outsource the work to metal fabricators that specialize in one or more types of fabrication. The fabrication facilities bid on contracts based on the services they can provide, hoping to get the project and complete the build.
When vetting suppliers for these projects, price is not the only consideration. It’s important for companies to choose the best fabricator for the job.
The ideal metal fabrication company will bring a mix of technical capabilities, cost-effectiveness, high-quality production, communication, and professional tools and systems to the table. It’s also important to choose a partner that adheres to deadlines.
Before considering the nontechnical factors, it’s critical to understand the various metal fabrication processes and the strengths of and best applications for each.
The Magic of Metal Fabrication: 11 Processes
As the buyer or engineer of a company requiring fabrication services, what type of metal fabricator would you choose? Start with the requirements and purpose of each end product along with its tolerances and specifications. Once you’ve determined your material needs for the product in question, one or more of the following processes will complete the fabricated part. Below are examples of metal parts manufacturing processes that can be used.
The casting process involves the use of a mold or die. The fabricator pours molten metal into the mold or die and allows it to cool and harden. The metal then takes the shape of the die, allowing for the easy mass production of uniform parts. Mass production projects employ casting because the process can make identical forms continuously.
There are a number of casting methods that The Federal Group USA offers.
As you might guess, die casting involves the use of a die rather than a mold. Liquid metal is poured into the die and pressure on the liquid metal helps to form the shape of the parts. Among other uses, this process works very well in high-speed applications.
Molds come in both permanent and semi-permanent options. The strongest casting takes place during permanent mold processing, yet the form can be removed more easily from a semi-permanent cast, making it a better choice in many applications.
When a fabricator presses a pattern into a very fine sand to form casting, it’s called die casting. Molten metal is poured into the mold. The sand casting process is good for when you need intricate designs or want to apply a less expensive method of casting. It’s also good for large metal fabrication, but it takes more time to complete than the other casting methods.
Cutting metal into smaller parts is a form of fabrication. It’s often the first step in a longer process. Cutting can be achieved with lasers, power scissors, plasma arcs, water jets, and computer numerical control (CNC) cutters.
While dies are used in molding, they can also be used in the cutting process. For example, die-cutting involves the slicing of metal.
With rotary die-cutting, the material is fed through a press and cut by a spinning cylinder. Thicker materials benefit from flatbed die cutting, which involves stamping the metal with a die to cut specific shapes.
When metal is required to stretch into a thinner shape, tensile force pulls the metal through a die that’s tapered to the appropriate size, completing the drawing process. Sheet metal pieces that will be formed into hollow cylinders or box-shaped get their shape through a process called deep drawing.
Extrusion molding forces a metal slug or cylinder through or around a die, reducing or increasing the original piece diameter to the cross-section of the die. Extrusion includes hot and cold processes and can result in long continuous pieces or a series of shorter pieces.
Folding or Bending
Through the folding process, metal is bent or creased at an angle using pressure from a punch and die. Another bending method uses hammering rather than punch or die. Some fabricators operate bending machines called folders. Bending is primarily used with sheet metal.
Cold forging employs compressive force to shape a metal piece at room temperature. The force comes from a hammer or die. When the metal is heated to the range between above room temperature to below recrystallization temperature and forged, the process is called warm forging. Hot forging calls for the metal to be heated to the recrystallization temperature and then forged.
Machinists can shape metal and alloys by drilling, turning, and milling the material. The best option for you will depend on the material in question and the specific product requirements.
Drilling involves creating a hole with a rotary cutting tool. A lathe rotates metal in the turning process. As the material turns, a cutting tool removes metal to create a cylindrical shape.
The turning can be done manually or with a CNC machine. This also runs true for milling where the metal piece is fed into a rotating cutting tool, moved across the tool, or both are moved together to remove, or mill, material into a designated shape. Milling has several types including angular milling, climb milling, face milling, form milling, and plain milling.
Punching can create either a metal workpiece with holes in it used for fastening or the blanks that are punched from the metal on a press. Turret punches create the holes. Punch presses come in the manual and CNC varieties.
When materials are small or have different shapes, shearing tools placed above the metal, for cutting, and below the metal, for pressure, fracture the metal for shearing off.
Sometimes, an application calls for raised letters, shapes, or images in metal. Stamping uses a turret like a punching press, except the turret doesn’t go all the way through the metal. It raises the metal to create the shape in the design. Stamping processes can be mechanical or hydraulic.
Applications often call for two or more metal pieces to be joined. Welding accomplishes this task by combining heat and pressure. Welders use several techniques, including:
Stick, or Shielded Metal Arc, Welding (SMAW)
The welder uses an electrode stick to create an electric current. When in contact with metal, a high-temperature electric arc is formed, producing a weld.
Metal Inert Gas (MIG) Welding
The objective of shield welding is faster, more continuous welding with fewer fumes produced. It’s achieved by supplying gas along with a continuous solid wire electrode, forming a gas shield that protects the metal from environmental factors that can interrupt and slow the welding process.
Tungsten Inert Gas Welding (TIG)
For more complex projects and heavy metals, TIG Welding is recommended. The method uses a tungsten electrode rod to create a short arc. TIG welding is not a process for a beginner, as it requires an advanced skill set.
Flux Cord Arc Welding (FCAW)
In FCAW, a wire electrode contains a core that produces gas to shield the metal without a secondary gas source. FCAW isn’t good for use on thin metals. A benefit of the method is portability.
Rivets are a type of permanent metal fastener that are used in a variety of applications. Rivets are placed in punched or drilled hole and the pin breaks away while the rivet ”, is expanded to about 1.5 times the normal diameter. This is what holds the rivet permanently in place.
Beyond the Technical: Key Considerations for a Metal Fabrication Partner
When you review your options for hiring a metal fabricator, you should consider the product requirements, material needs, and intended applications.
- Can the fabricator complete the tasks?
- Does the vendor have the correct equipment and well trained, experienced personnel?
- If they gave the capability to handle your project size and complexity within the time frame designated?
- Does the fabricator offer desired services such as prototyping, following design-for-manufacturing principles, finishing, and design review?
- What other services can the potential partner provide so that you can use them for more than one service, rather than qualifying various vendors for the project?
Once you’ve answered these questions, move on to further considerations for choosing a vendor.
When searching for a metal fabrication partner, you want to make the right choice the first time and to develop a great relationship that helps both your fabricator and your company to succeed together. Once you’ve sorted out whether the fabrication facility can meet your needs from a technical standpoint, consider the following factors to understand the entire picture.
A qualified metal fabricator should have ample experience in the production of products similar to yours. Find out what industries they’ve supplied and the types of clients they’ve worked with.
If you’re in food and beverage and they’ve only worked in the construction field, it may not be a good match. Ask for a few customer contacts as references for their work.
You want to find a fabricator that has worked in your industry or a similar one with years of experience and an excellent track record with their customers.
Investigate fabrication facilities to find out how they approach quality performance. To be considered, vendors must be able to show their quality standards and the ability to meet yours. Do they hold any certifications that demonstrate quality processes and meet your criteria? How do they measure and track quality performance? What is their process for corrective action? Do they understand what it will take to meet your quality standards?
You can gain insight into what customer service to expect when you observe how a potential vendor responds to your requests. Are they promising the moon or being realistic? Do they welcome questions or resent them?
Are they on time with responses and proposals, and do those responses and proposals meet your criteria? You can also learn a lot by talking to employees and talking to references for the company. Also, find out if they have a customer service philosophy or program and if they have measurements for customer service effectiveness.
Partnering for Mutual Success
As with any major vendor selection process, choosing a metal fabrication facility to be your partner in success requires a lot of investigation and consideration.
To assist you in the information gathering stage, create a guide or checklist to stay on track. Check off the requirements that are successfully met. If you’d like, you can download our Supplier Site Audit to get you started.
Prioritize the most important factors to you and your company and get the best price you can from all qualifying vendors. With all the information gathered and assessed, it’s time to decide and to join forces with a quality metal fabrication partner who can meet your structural, commercial, or equipment manufacturing demands.
Working With The Federal Group USA
If you’re looking for a reliable metal fabrication partner and contract manufacturer, look no further than The Federal Group USA. We offer a broad range of metal fabrication services and have worked with clients in a wide variety of industries.
Having been in business for more than forty years, our team has the experience and the expertise to deliver the highest quality metal products available. Contact us today to request your free, no-obligation quote.