Sheet metal is a versatile medium used in product manufacturing for centuries. With an almost unlimited list of usable metals and an almost equal list of fabrication techniques, sheet metal has become an invaluable staple in manufacturing. Here are some facts about sheet metal and how fabricating it can enhance your product design.
What is sheet metal?
Sheet metal is any metal formed into thin malleable sheets. The sheets range in material from brass to titanium and come in a wide range of predefined thicknesses, referred to as a gauge. Typically, most sheets are less than ¼ inch thick but can range in thickness from fractions of a millimeter to several inches.
Uses for sheet metal
Since its thickness and material composition is so versatile, manufactured sheet metal has been used in the United States since the late 1800s to fabricate countless objects found in everyday life. Historically, it was used in shingle roofing, but as production techniques improved, sheet metal soon offered a cheap and durable material. It became so popular that manufacturers saw a boom until World War II when metal materials became so scarce that the industry faced collapse. Today you can find it used in vehicle and plane bodies, electronics enclosures, and prefabricated houses.
Benefits of sheet metal
The number one benefit of sheet metal fabrication is its cost-to-strength relationship. It provides all the strength of a machined enclosure or part, at a fraction of the cost. Fabrication produces little to no waste, unlike machining processes where the material is milled from an initial block. Car manufacturers rely on it to provide weight reduction while not compromising integrity. The range of gauge and material choices allows for greater versatility during product design. Additionally, it is much faster to scale mass production due to the flexibility of fabrication options. Since it is thin and has a lightweight form factor, any additional stock needed for manufacturing can be stored and transported easily.
Sheet metal fabrication techniques
There are dozens of ways to fabricate sheet metal based on the application. These include:
- Sheet metal is positioned within a bending machine and bent to the desired shape.
- The most common bending machine is called a press brake. The brake utilizes a die and hydraulic press to imprint the bend onto the metal.
- Typically, used to form electronics enclosures.
- A sheet metal blank is placed into a stamping press where it is formed into the desired shape using a tool and die.
- It is the most versatile fabrication technique because parts are stamped multiple times forming complex shapes.
- Stamping techniques include flanging, embossing, punching, blanking, and coining.
- Utilized in countless applications, but most commonly in automotive body parts and metal brackets.
- Sheet metal is pressed into a die or stretched onto a form using a punch to radially form a unique-shaped part.
- Only used when stamping is not possible because the depth of the drawn part needs to exceed its diameter.
- Typically used for making medical devices, kitchen sinks, and automotive fuel tanks.
- A laser cuts or engraves metal by heating and burning it.
- Used to cut out parts that require extremely precise cuts, down to 0.025mm.
- The process is accurately repeatable and cost-effective with applications ranging from medical to aerospace to hobby enthusiasts.
Hemming and seaming
- In hemming, the edge of the sheet metal is bent back onto itself to reinforce the edge.
- Seaming involves the edges of two pieces of sheet metal joined together to form a joint.
- Seaming can commonly be seen in canning, while the automotive industry uses hemming.
Sheet metal is a great manufacturing technique to incorporate into your design. If you are unsure how to get started or would like some expert advice on using sheet metal in manufacturing, contact us and we would be happy to help.
Unsure if sheet metal is right for your project?
About Synectic Product Development: Synectic Product Development is an ISO 13485 certified, full-scale product development company. Vertically integrated within the Mack Group, our capabilities allow us to take your design from concept to production. With over 40 years of experience in design, development, and manufacturing, we strive for ingenuity, cost-effectiveness, and aesthetics in our designs. Learn more about our contract manufacturing services and see how we can help your next project.