The steel industry is one of the world’s most important industries, producing about half of all manufactured goods worldwide.
The global steel demand is growing faster than any other material due to the increasing need for infrastructure development, especially in developing countries.
From cars to trains, bridges to buildings, and ships to machinery, it is a primary manufacturing method.
But what is Steel fabrication? Let us dive into this crucial manufacturing method.
Steel Fabrication, What Is It?
Steel fabrication makes products using various techniques for many industries, such as construction, automotive, aerospace, and manufacturing.
Fabrication differs from other manufacturing processes as it can create end products or develop parts for making end products.
It involves taking raw materials, like steel, and assembling them to their required form using a variety of processes, such as:
Instead of simply assembling it, fabrication uses semi-finished or raw materials to create something from start to finish.
However, The manufacturing approaches change depending on the material and the end product.
The most common materials joined are:
- Stainless Steel
- Carbon Steel
Assembling metal components includes many processes of metal manipulation, which depend on the required result, type of metal and shape.
The Advantages of Steel Fabrication
Fabrication is a process that creates three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional plans.
Fabrication has many advantages over other manufacturing processes, such as:
- It is cheaper and quicker than most other manufacturing processes.
- The product quality is very high
- We can tailor it to the customer’s needs and quickly implement design changes.
- Manual, mechanical, or fully automated methods using CNC technologies can complete the task
Primary & Secondary Fabrication
It is important to distinguish between primary and secondary metal manufacturing methods.
The term “primary” refers to the first stage of production, where the raw material turns into semi-finished metal products such as plates, sheets, tubes, and bars.
This process involves melting the raw materials and pouring them into moulds. Large furnaces typically produce it using casting, forging, rolling, extrusion, wire drawing, and sintering methods.
Secondary manufacturing refers to the stage of production where semi-finished metal products are reshaped and assembled to make a final product.
This process often occurs in a machine shop or fab shop.
Steel Fabrication Process
The fabrication journey will use one or more of the following processes:
Cutting is a very common process in which the fabricator can manipulate the metal by cutting it into smaller sections.
It can be the first or only step required to finish the fabrication.
There are multiple ways to cut metal, such as:
- Oxy-Fuel Cutting – Oxy-fuel cutting involves heating the material to around 1000 degrees, which causes the metal to melt and turn into a liquid state. Then, oxygen is blown on top of the melted metal, which burns away the surface layer of the metal due to an exothermic reaction, leaving behind a clean cut. Oxy-fuel cutting uses various fuels such as acetylene, propane, propylene, or hydrogen.
- Laser Cutting – A laser cutter uses a powerful laser focused through a lens in the cutting head. It is narrowed down to an extremely thin, concentrated beam which can precisely cut thin or medium metals and even etch designs by heating the surface of the workpiece.
- Waterjet Cutting – Water jet cutting uses water channelled through a very narrow jewelled nozzle at a very high pressure to cut through the metal. Since they don’t generate heat, Water jet cutters are handy for cutting sheet metals with a low melting point.
- Plasma Arc Cutting – The plasma arc cutting process uses electricity to heat a small amount of oxygen and hydrogen gases to create a superheated plasma stream. This stream of ions is directed onto the surface of the material being cut, melting the metal and creating a clean edge.
Metal grinding is an essential step in the manufacturing process of many products.
It is used to remove excess material from the surface of a metal part, smooth out any burrs or rough edges, and create the desired shape.
Manual metal grinding can be achieved simply by using a file. Most of the time, it is often performed with a grinding machine.
Handheld grinders typically are used for small jobs where access is limited.
Stationary grinders are usually mounted on a bench and are used for larger projects.
Industrial grinders are similar to stationary grinders except that they are much bigger. They can handle larger pieces and grind complex materials with the help of special tools.
There are several types of grinders available today, such as –
- Belt Grinder
- Bench Grinder
- Cylinder Grinder
- Surface Grinder
- Bit Grinder
- Jig Grinder
These grinders perform various functions depending on the type of product being manufactured.
Some grinders are designed for only one specific function, whereas Others can perform multiple functions.
In addition to removing excess material, grinding is used to create the desired look on a metal part.
Grinding is often labour-intensive, therefore, an expensive part of the fabrication process.
The term ‘forming’ comes from the French word “forme”, which means ‘shape’. It is used to describe any operation that changes the shape of a material.
It can be done manually, mechanically, hydraulically, pneumatically, electrically, or chemically.
Forming itself includes various manufacturing technologies, such as:
Rolling is the most widely used and most economical deformation process. It consists of passing metal between two spinning rollers, which compressive forces reduce the metal thickness. Rolled products include plate, sheet, strip, coils, billets, bars and rods. Many of these shapes will be the starting blocks for wire drawing, forging and machining.
Hot rolling involves heating the metal above its recrystallisation temperatures and passing it between two rollers to flatten it. It is done to improve strength, ductility, formability and weldability.
The cold rolling process involves passing the metal between two rollers, causing the metal to become thinner and more rigid. It is usually done after the hot rolling stage when the metal is already very thin.
Forging is the steel-making process that involves heating scrap metal until it becomes liquid. While in a liquid state, carbon and other elements are added to make the metal more robust. To harden it, quenching (rapidly cooled) is applied to the molten metal. This process is repeated several times before the final product is ready.
A compressive force moves metal from an enclosed cavity through a die. This process creates a product with a specific shape and size. It’s often used to make parts out of materials that aren’t strong enough to withstand the forces involved in traditional manufacturing methods. Some examples of metals that can be extruded include aluminium, brass, lead, tin, copper and steel.
Extrusion can be performed hot or cold:
- Hot extrusion is done above the material’s recrystallisation temperature to keep the material from hardening and make pushing the material through the die easier.
- Cold extrusion – is performed at temperatures significantly below the melting temperature of the deformed alloy and generally at room temperature.
Drawing is a manufacturing process that involves pulling a metal piece through a die using a tensile force applied to the exit side. This process is similar to metal extrusion, with the difference being in the application of pressure.
Stamping is a manufacturing process used to make large quantities of identical items. It involves pressing a sheet of material between two dies. The first die is stationary, while the second is moved down onto the sheet. This causes the material to flow under pressure into the impression left by the second die.
The pressing process involves heating the material until it becomes malleable enough to be formed. Then, the part is placed on a flat surface, and a die is pressed against it. This causes the metal to flow around the shape of the die, creating the desired part.
Metal punching is a cutting process in which material is removed from a metal sheet.
The first use of punches and dies dates back to ancient times when people used stone tools to create simple shapes out of metal.
However, technology did not advance much until the Industrial Revolution.
During the 19th century, punch presses were developed to make mass production possible.
These early machines were powered by steam engines and could only operate on flat metal sheets.
By the 20th century, punch presses had become automated and could be operated by electricity.
Today, these machines are controlled by computers and can be programmed to produce intricate patterns and shapes.
The machine consists of a press head which holds a punch and dies. The punch is driven down on top of the die, which leaves uniquely designed holes in the metal.
Shearing is used for many purposes, including cutting sheet metal, trimming parts, and removing excess material.
It is achieved by combining two tools, one at the top and the other at the bottom, which causes the metal to separate when applying pressure.
Several tools and machines are available, one of the most common being a bench shear (Also known as a lever shear).
Bench shears are the most commonly used type of shear because they’re simple to operate and require little maintenance. They’re also portable and easy to store. However, they do need a solid surface to mount on.
Other types of shears include guillotine machines and hydraulic shears, typically used for heavy-duty applications where the weight of the equipment isn’t an issue.
These are larger and heavier than bench shears, making them harder to move around.
Hydraulic shears are typically used for heavy-duty applications where the weight of the equipment isn’t an issue.
Welding is a process where two or more metals are joined using heat and applying pressure using a torch.
There are several types of welding, each with its advantages and disadvantages.
The most commonly used method is stick welding, which uses a rod of filler material to fill the joint between the two pieces being welded.
Another type of welding is arc welding, where electricity passes through a wire to create a stream of molten metal.
The third type of welding is gas tungsten arc welding, which uses a mixture of gases to produce a plasma stream.
Other versatile applications used in industrial metal fabrication shops are spot and stud welding.
The term “Machining” comes from the French word “Mache”, meaning “to cut”.
It refers to any process where a tool removes material from a surface.
It is often done on a machine tool, a device that uses mechanical power to cut, grind, polish, or otherwise modify materials.
The most common machines include lathes, milling machines, drill presses, and saws.
Machining can be done manually, but Much of today’s machining is carried out by computers that control movement and operation. This is known as computer numerical control (CNC).
You can read more about CNC Machining in our article “CNC Machining Explained.”
Jigs And Fixtures
Jigs and fixtures allow manufacturers to fabricate identical parts quickly and efficiently accurately.
They are often used in manufacturing industries where there is a need for high-volume production of similar items.
Using jigs and fixtures provides a range of additional benefits to the manufacturing process, including:
- Increased production levels
- Provides interchangeability
- Requires less skilled labour
- Assures high accuracy
- Reduce production costs
A Jig is a device that holds, supports and locates the workpiece, which guides the cutting tool for precise operation.
In the early days of machining, a jig was simply a wooden block on which a part could be mounted. This allowed the operator to quickly locate and position the part for cutting.
Later, metal jigs were developed to hold parts in place while being cut. These metal jigs were made of cast iron or wrought iron and were shaped like a T, U, V, or X.
A jig’s primary goal is to provide repeatability, accuracy, and interchangeability.
A fixture is a workpiece holding device used to support and position a workpiece during manufacturing.
They are usually made of metal or plastic and may include holes or slots to allow attachment points on the workpiece. A fixture is unique because each is built to hold a particular shape.
Some fixtures are designed to hold a single workpiece, while others can hold multiple pieces simultaneously.
Fixtures often include a clamping mechanism to secure the workpiece, allowing the operator to perform operations without removing it from the fixture. For example, Fixtures are often used to hold parts while being cut, drilled or welded.
Common Materials Used in Steel Fabrication
In steel fabrication, the term “material” refers to the metal used.
The three main categories of metal fabrication materials include 1) structural metals, 2) speciality metals, and 3) composite materials.
Structural Metals: These are the primary metals used in manufacturing. They are strong, durable, and resistant to corrosion. Examples include steel, stainless steel, aluminium, copper, titanium, and brass.
Speciality Metals: These metals are not typically used in manufacturing because they don’t meet the strength requirements for specific applications. Examples include nickel, cobalt, chromium, molybdenum, tungsten, and tantalum.
Composite Materials: These are made of two or more materials bonded together. Examples include carbon fibre composites, glass fibre composites, and ceramic matrix composites.
Each metal has its benefits and drawbacks. Some metals are easier to cut than others. Others are harder to bend or weld. And some are better at resisting corrosion.
But the quality of any metal is entirely relative. There are factors to consider, such as the material’s cost, quality, and availability. How do you want your finished product to function, and what finish do you want to achieve
Choosing the Right Material for Your Project
To get started, here are some questions to ask yourself when selecting a metal fabrication material:
- Which metal will give me the best strength or weight ratio?
- Will I need to use a lot of it?
- Is it expensive?
- Is it easy to work with?
- Does my fabrication shop offer it?
Once you’ve answered those questions, you’ll have a clearer idea of what kind of metal you should choose.
Here are some examples of common metals used in metal fabrication:
Steel is an alloy that combines iron ore, limestone, coal, and other elements. It is the most utilised metal in fabrication and has many applications in manufacturing, transportation, construction, and defence. Steel is strong and durable, but it’s not very flexible.
Stainless steel is an iron alloy that contains nickel, molybdenum, manganese, copper, chromium and carbon. It is highly durable, but it can be more expensive and challenging to manipulate than other materials. Stainless steel is resistant to rust and corrosion, which makes it an ideal material for use in various applications such as kitchen utensils, cutlery, medical equipment, food processing, and construction.
Carbon steel is the most used material for metal fabrication as it is easy to weld and cut. This type of steel has a higher carbon content, which gives it a lower melting point, yet it is harder than mild steel.
Copper is a soft, ductile, malleable, and hardenable metal, but it’s prone to oxidation. It is an excellent electrical conductor and is heat-resistant. It is used in many industries, especially electronics, because of its low cost and high conductivity.
Titanium is a chemical element named after the planet Titan. It’s the third most abundant metal on Earth, behind iron and oxygen. It’s also very rare, so it’s not found naturally on Earth. However, scientists have managed to create it artificially. They do this by bombarding titanium atoms with neutrons, which causes them to split apart. The resulting atoms are mixed and heated until they fuse again. This process creates a new titanium form, much stronger than the original.
Nickel is a lustrous, silvery-white metal that exhibits high levels of corrosion resistance due to its ability to form a protective oxide layer on its surface. Despite its durability, nickel is a relatively soft metal and can be challenging to cut or shape.
Zinc, a bluish-white metal, is widely known for being an inexpensive and easily weldable material. However, it is also characterized by its low strength and high susceptibility to corrosion, which makes it less durable and reliable than other metals.
Tungsten, also known as wolfram, is a steel-gray metal that boasts exceptional strength and resilience. It is highly resistant to corrosion, has the highest melting point of all metals, and is often used in applications that require extreme durability, such as in the production of filaments for incandescent light bulbs, electrical contacts, and rocket engine nozzles.
Iron is a versatile and essential metal that occurs naturally in the earth. It is a vital component of the planet’s crust, making up approximately 8% of its composition. In fact, iron is the fourth most abundant element in the earth’s crust, following oxygen, silicon, and aluminum. Its unique properties make it a crucial material in many industries, including construction, transportation, and manufacturing. Without this remarkable metal, our world would be a very different place.
Aluminium is a lightweight element that is versatile and durable but doesn’t hold up well to heat or chemicals. It also has excellent thermal conductivity, which is whyThe most common use of aluminium today is in beverage cans. About 90% of all aluminium produced goes into making cans. Other services include building materials, appliances, cars, and even aeroplanes.
This remarkable copper alloy possesses exceptional strength, surpassing that of steel, despite its relatively lower melting point. Due to its remarkable properties, it is extensively used in the manufacturing of coins, armor, cookware, and weapons, providing superior durability and sturdiness.
Magnesium is a lightweight, soft, malleable, and ductile metallic element. Despite its brittle nature, it is widely used in various industries. Being abundant in nature, it is the third most abundant element on Earth after oxygen and silicon. Due to its high melting point, magnesium is a popular choice in the aerospace industry. It is also commonly used in various machinery like automobiles, trains, and boats.
Brass is an alloy of about 75% zinc and 25% copper. It is rugged and durable, but it tends to warp when heated. The two metals combine to make a hard, shiny metal that resists corrosion. Brass is used to cast musical instruments like trumpets, trombones, tubas, horns, and bells. It also makes pipes, valves, door knobs, and other mechanical parts.
As you can see, selecting a material can be a complex task. It involves choosing a suitable material for the job, knowing how to use it properly, and understanding how it will perform under real-world conditions.
Experienced engineers can help you select the best materials for your project as they know which materials are available, how to choose between them, and how to apply them correctly.
What Are The Basic Raw Materials In Steel Fabrication?
Here are a few basic raw materials that are necessary for many metal fabrication projects:
Flat Metal Raw Materials
Flat metal is a type of raw material used in manufacturing. It comes in many forms, including sheets, plates, coils, and strips. Sheet metal is often used for making architectural components. In contrast, flat plate metal makes car, truck, and plane parts.
This type of metal is pressed into flat pieces, and the thickness can vary.
Depending on the thickness, they are divided into:
- Foil or leaf metal: the thinnest type of flat metal
- Sheet metal: thickness is less than 6mm
- Plate metal: thickness greater than 0.25in
Sectional metals are steel and are used in engineering and construction projects.
Some of the types include:
- I-beam: It is a cross-sectional beam that looks like the shape of the letter “I.”
- Z-shape: A metal beam in the form of the letter “Z.”
- Hollow structural section (HSS): Hollow piping that is available in square, circular, rectangular and elliptical shapes
- Rod: Rod is metal that is circular or square
- Bar: A flat piece of rectangular cross-sectioned metal
The term’ welding wire’ refers to any type o used in welding.
These include tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding wire, used when welding steel; MIG welding wire, commonly used for aluminium; and flux core welding wire, typically used for stainless steel.
It may refer to a single, or multiple strands of wire twisted together.
The welding wire generally comprises copper, aluminium, steel, stainless steel, brass, nickel, titanium, tungsten, molybdenum, graphite, silver, gold, platinum, and palladium.
Hand Tools Used In Steel Fabrication
Metalworking requires several types of tools and equipment. Let’s go over the most commonly used:
A bandsaw is a powered saw that consists of a motorised spindle which drives a circular saw blade. The blade is mounted on a wheeled carriage which slides along a track. The blade is usually hardened steel and may be straight or curved.
The hacksaw is a handheld cutting tool with a sharp-toothed blade to cut through metals. The hack saw features a C-shaped frame attached to a pistol-grip handle. In the early 1900s, wood was the primary material of choice. Today, hacksaws use high-quality materials like stainless steel, carbon steel, aluminium, titanium, and brass.
The most common types of hammers are the claw hammer, the ball-peen hammer, the sledgehammer, and the mallet. Claw hammers are generally steel and have a curved claw on the end of the handle. Ball-peen hammers have a flat face and a rounded head. They are usually made of cast iron or steel. Sledgehammers are typically wood-made and have a long handle and a large head. Mallets are often made of wood and have tapered ends.
Bench shears are hand tools with two blades attached to a handle. They are used to cut sheet metal, wood, plastic, leather, cardboard, and more. Bench shears are often used when cutting out parts from larger pieces of material. The main drawback is that they cannot achieve delicate cuts.
Power shears are used to cut sheet metal. The blades are made of hardened steel and are attached to a motor which rotates them. This rotation causes the blades to move back and forth across the sheet metal. The cutting action is achieved when the blade’s edge contacts the metal.
Tin snips are versatile and handy tools that are specifically designed for cutting sheet metal with precision. They are compact, handheld devices that feature two parallel blades hinged together and held in place by a sturdy handle. The blades are composed of high-quality carbon steel, which ensures that they are durable and long-lasting. With their sharp and precise cutting action, tin snips are the perfect tool for any job that requires cutting sheet metal.
A chisel is a versatile tool that can be used for a variety of tasks such as trimming, shaping, or carving metal. It consists of a blade with a sharpened edge that is typically made of high-carbon steel or tungsten carbide. The blade is attached to a handle that can be made of wood, plastic, or metal. To use a chisel, it is often struck with a hammer or mallet to create precise cuts and shapes. The force of the hammer can be adjusted to control the depth and intensity of the cut. Chisels are commonly used by metalworkers, woodworkers, sculptors, and other craftsmen who require precise and intricate cuts.
Grinders are power tools that utilize circular-shaped discs to effectively reduce the size of various materials, including metal, wood, and concrete. However, they are not limited to just grinding and can also be utilized for polishing and smoothing metal surfaces to a smooth, shiny finish. This makes them an essential tool for metalworkers and DIY enthusiasts alike.
Wire cutters are tools used to cut wire. They consist of two parts: a pair of handles connected by a pivot point and a jaw which holds the wire when closed. The jaw opens up to allow the wire to pass through.
What is meant by steel fabrication
Steel fabrication is the process of cutting, shaping, and assembling steel materials to create various products and structures. It involves cutting, shaping, welding, machining, assembly, and surface treatment to produce custom steel components for different industries and applications.
What is steel fabrication used for?
Steel fabrication is used for various applications, including construction, manufacturing, infrastructure, transportation, etc. It is employed to create structural components, machinery, architectural elements, industrial equipment, and consumer products, among other things. Steel’s strength and versatility make it an essential material for various industries and projects.
What type of steel is used in the fabrication
The type of steel used in fabrication can vary depending on the specific application and requirements of the project. Some common types of steel used in fabrication include:
- Alloy Steel
- Tool Steel
- Mild Steel
- High-Strength Low-Alloy Steel (HSLA)
What are the three three types of metal fabrication?
Metal fabrication encompasses various processes for shaping and assembling metal materials. While there are numerous specific techniques and methods, the three primary types of metal fabrication are:
Steel Fabrication At Varlowe Industrial Services
Varlowe Industrial Services Limited specialises in bespoke stainless steel fabrication.
We can provide a complete fabrication service working to coded specifications. We have the expertise to work with all grades of steel, ferrous and non-ferrous.
Varlowe has the resources to manage your project at every process stage. Please visit our Steel Fabrication page for more information.
You can also call us on 01902 861042 to discuss your project with a staff member.