Sheet metal fabricators deploy various techniques and items of machinery to bend and shape metal into the components it supplies to numerous other industries, including the automotive, aircraft manufacturing and white goods industries, to name just a few.
There is a whole range of equipment used, from simple hand-held tools, such as the tin snip, for manually cutting thin metal, to the computer controlled hydraulic press brakes, which punch out components for the aerospace industry. Industry requires all kinds of hollow forms and complicated sections crafted from sheet metal, and there is a well-oiled metal fabrication industry geared towards supplying these needs.
The first step in transforming plain sheet metal into a finished article is cutting, or shearing.
For light work there are hand-operated, scissor-like shears. For heavier gauge metals, there are powerful bench shears.
Shaping, including bending, folding, grooving, beading and crimping, is the next stage. This requires a variety of presses and other tools and machinery.
Bending and folding are used to create angles and sections in metal components. Embossing applies a design to strengthen and embellish the partly-finished component. Seaming is the process of joining sheet metal components to each other. This is often employed for metal roofing. Flanging will add a lip, or rim, enabling parts, for instance pipes, to be joined together.
There are technical terms to describe different aspects of sheet metal fabrication, including 'Flow Forming', 'Spinning', 'Deep Drawing' and 'Marforming'.
Deep Drawing employs punches which apply pressure to force metal down onto dies to produce certain shapes and forms. Marforming is a subset of Deep Drawing, and uses a combination of rubber pad forming techniques with solid die techniques. It can be used to produce components with sloping or vertical walls. This is one of many techniques which metal fabricators use to supply all the aluminum, brass, copper and thin steel components that are required to keep the machinery of industry ticking over.
Most branches of industry have been transformed by the revolution in computer technology, and metal sheet fabrication is no exception. Many of the techniques discussed above depend heavily on computer control systems in their day-to-day operation. Computers come into their own when you consider that much sheet metal manufacturing has to meet extremely stringent precision requirements, which are difficult to achieve using purely mechanical systems.
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