Sheet metal is an extremely versatile medium that has been used in the production of goods 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 of the most important facts about sheet metal and how fabricating it can enhance your product design.
What is sheet metal?
Sheet metal can be defined as any type of metal that is 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 thick.
What is sheet metal used for?
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 that could be used almost everywhere. It became so popular that manufacturers saw a boom until World War II when metal materials became so scarce that the industry began to collapse. In modern times, sheet metal is commonly used in vehicle & plane bodies, electronics enclosures, and prefabricated houses.
What are the benefits of fabricating 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. There is little to no waste during most fabrication, unlike machining processes where 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 choice 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.
What are the most common fabrication techniques?
There are dozens of ways to fabricate sheet metal depending on the application. Here we will go over the most common fabrication techniques used in manufacturing.
- 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 can be stamped multiple times to form 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 to form medical devices, kitchen sinks, and automotive fuel tanks.
- A laser is used to heat and burn the metal to cut or engrave it.
- Typically 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 the canning, while hemming is used throughout the automotive industry.
About Synectic Product Development: Synectic Product Development is an ISO 13485 compliant, full-scale product development company. Vertically integrated within the Mack Group, our capabilities allow us to take your design from concept all the way to production. With over 40 years of experience in product 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.