Sheet Metal Fabrication Explained

Want to make the most of sheet metal fabrication? This guide will help you.

Whether you want to scale production or require high consistency, sheet metal fabrication is your answer.

While there are upfront costs due to the need for tooling, this investment quickly pays off in larger quantities. This guide provides a complete look at sheet metal fabrication, its advantages and disadvantages, cost considerations, key design factors, and more.

How Does Sheet Metal Fabrication Work?

At its core, sheet metal fabrication involves cutting, bending, and assembling it into the desired shape. Depending on the design’s complexity and production volume, various techniques can be employed, from laser cutting and welding to CNC punching and stamping.

Once the metal sheets are cut and formed into the required shapes, they are assembled and welded to create the final product.

Start Your Manufacturing Project with MakerVerse

MakerVerse is your platform for sourcing industrial parts, providing instant access to a vetted supply chain and a full range of manufacturing technologies. With AI-powered quoting, order management, and fulfillment, MakerVerse helps with everything from initial prototypes to full-scale production.

Get Quote

Pros and Cons of Sheet Metal Fabrication

Sheet metal fabrication brings many benefits, making it a go-to choice for many applications.

Scalability and Precision: It allows for mass production of parts with complex geometries while maintaining high accuracy. This precision is vital in industries where components must fit together perfectly.

Versatility: The process can accommodate various metals, finishes, and designs, making it a flexible choice for multiple applications.

Cost-effectiveness: Sheet metal fabrication becomes increasingly cost-effective as production volume increases due to reduced per-unit costs.

Despite these advantages, it’s also essential to note some of the potential disadvantages associated with sheet metal fabrication:

Initial Costs: The initial tooling and setup costs can be significant, especially for custom designs.

Design Limitations: While the process can handle complex designs, some geometries might be challenging or impossible to achieve due to the limitations of bending and forming techniques.

Lead Time: Depending on the complexity of the design, the lead time can be longer than other processes, such as 3D printing.

Sheet Metal Fabrication Applications

Sheet metal fabrication has extensive applications across various sectors, including:

Automotive: The fabrication of components like engine parts, body panels, and chassis. Its high precision and consistency are critical for maintaining safety standards in this industry.

Consumer Electronics: In this sector, sheet metal fabrication creates components inside computers, smartphones, and home appliances, where consistency and precision are paramount.

Aerospace: From manufacturing aircraft bodies to interior components, sheet metal fabrication’s accuracy and consistency make it perfect for this high-precision industry. 

Medical Equipment: Sheet metal fabrication is critical in creating various medical devices and equipment, from surgical instruments to hospital beds and MRI machines.

Construction: From building cladding to HVAC systems, sheet metal fabrication provides the strength and durability required in this industry.

Furniture: Metal furniture is often created through sheet metal fabrication. This includes items like chairs, tables, and cabinets.

Home Appliances: Many appliances like ovens, refrigerators, and dishwashers rely on sheet metal fabrication for their structure and various components.

Cost Considerations in Sheet Metal Fabrication

The cost of sheet metal fabrication depends on several factors.

Material Cost: The cost of sheet metal can vary significantly based on the type of metal.

Tooling Cost: This cost can vary depending on the complexity of the design.

Overall Cost: The total cost for a small batch of custom parts could be a few thousand euros, mainly due to the high initial tooling costs. However, for large-volume production, the per-unit cost could drop significantly.

Costs vary based on additional factors, including manufacturing location, specific design requirements, and market conditions. For an accurate quote, visit the MakerVerse platform.

Design Considerations for Sheet Metal Fabrication

Avoid Sharp Corners

Sharp corners in your design can lead to stress concentration, which can cause cracks during bending or in use. It’s generally best to use rounded corners where possible.

Consistent Bends

Keep bends consistent throughout your design to maintain uniformity across parts. This will aid in maintaining accurate and repeatable forming processes.

Grain Direction

The grain direction of the metal can impact the strength and appearance of the finished part, especially if the part is exposed to repeated stress. Consider this in your design, especially for cosmetic parts or those under substantial stress.

Punch Tooling

Sheet metal fabrication often involves punching operations. If you need a unique hole shape, consider the availability and cost of custom punch tooling. If possible, design your part to use standard punch shapes to minimize cost and lead time.

Embossments and Other Features

Design features such as embossments or ribs can add strength and functionality to sheet metal parts but also complicate the fabrication process. Ensure these features are designed with manufacturability in mind.

Edge Distortion

Edge distortion can occur during punching or cutting operations. Remember this if your design requires precise dimensions at the edges of the part.

Finishing Processes

Think about the desired finish of your part. Will it be painted, powder coated, or left as raw metal? This can impact the design, especially if the part has intricate features or tight tolerances that could be affected by the thickness of a finish.

What finish is best for your project? This guide has the answers.

Comparing CNC Machining and Sheet Metal Fabrication

Choosing between CNC machining and sheet metal fabrication depends on various factors, including production volume, part complexity, budget, and lead time.

CNC machining shines when high precision and complex geometries are needed. This subtractive manufacturing process produces parts with intricate details, superior finishes, and tight tolerances. CNC machining can handle various materials, including metals and plastics.

While CNC machining provides excellent accuracy and flexibility, it can be costlier and slower for large-volume production than sheet metal fabrication.

Sheet metal fabrication, on the other hand, is highly beneficial for large-volume production of parts, especially those requiring superior strength and durability. The process is ideal for creating large, robust parts like car panels, enclosures, and brackets. It offers excellent repeatability and high-quality finishes, with improved costs and time efficiency at large volumes.

However, sheet metal fabrication may not be as flexible as CNC machining regarding intricate and complex designs.

Remember that both methods have their strengths, and the decision should be based on the specific needs of your project.

Getting Started with Sheet Metal Fabrication

Sheet metal fabrication offers speed, precision, and versatility, making it a popular choice in many industries. Whatever you’re designing, understanding sheet metal fabrication can help bring your design to life most effectively and economically.

Ready to start? With MakerVerse, it’s simple. Just upload your design, and our experts will work with you through the process to ensure the industrial-grade quality of your parts. Discover the possibilities of sheet metal fabrication with MakerVerse today.