Cutting There are a number of ways that sheet metal can be cut into smaller pieces – shearing involves a cutting machine using shear stress to cut down a large piece of material into smaller ones; electrical discharge machining (EDM) involves conductive materials being melted with a spark from a charged electrode; abrasive cutting involves the use of grinders or saws to cut through material; and laser cutting involves the use of a laser for achieving precise cuts in sheet metal.
Forming After the metal has been cut, it will be formed into what shape is desired for the component it is needed for. There are several techniques of forming that can be used – rolling involves flat pieces of metal being shaped over and over with a roll stand; bending and forming involves the material being manipulated by hand; stamping involves the use of tools to stamp designs into the sheet metal; punching involves holes being put into the surface; and welding involves one piece of material being joined to another using heat.
Finishing Once the metal has been formed, it will be passed through a finishing process to ensure it is ready for use. This will involve the metal being sharpened or polished with an abrasive to remove or eliminate rough spots and edges. This process may also involve the metal being quickly cleaned or rinsed to ensure that it is completely clean when it is delivered to the factory for its intended purpose.
Metal fabrication is the creation of metal structures by cutting, bending and assembling processes. It is a value-added process involving the creation of machines, parts, and structures from various raw materials.
Typically, a fabrication shop bids on a job, usually based on engineering drawings, and if awarded the contract, builds the product. Large fab shops employ a multitude of value-added processes, including welding, cutting, forming and machining.
Metal fabrication usually starts with drawings with precise dimensions and specifications. Fabrication shops are employed by contractors, OEMs and VARs. Typical projects include loose parts, structural frames for buildings and heavy equipment, and stairs and hand railings.
As with other manufacturing processes, both human labor and automation are commonly used. A fabricated product may be called a fabrication, and shops specializing in this type of work are called fab shops. The end products of other common types of metalworking, such as machining, metal stamping, forging, and casting, may be similar in shape and function, but those processes are not classified as fabrication.