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Sheet Metal Welding and Fabrication

While metal welding and fabrication tend to be used interchangeably, there are some differences between the two verbs. Fabrication is a more general term that refers to turning a piece of metal into a project, whereas welding can exist as a component within that overall project. 

There are several stages of fabrication that manifest themselves through various methods. Fabrication consists of layout, design, formation, and putting the finishing touches on a metal product. Part of the reason why metal welding and fabrication are used interchangeably is that some welders can carry out fabrication projects, and some fabricators can weld. 

Let’s examine the finer details within welding and fabrication. 

Differences Between Metal Welding and Fabrication 

Metal welding and fabrication require different types of tools. 

Experts recommend that sheet metal fabricators own the list of tools below:

  • 4 ½ inch or 6-inch angle grinder 
  • Cleco fasteners 
  • Angle grinder discs
  • Throatless shear
  • Wire cutters
  • Auto-darkening helmet
  • Angle finders
  • Cutting glasses
  • Drill Bits
  • Sturdy backpack

Welding tends to require these more specific instruments:

  • Abrasives
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Benders
  • Soapstone 
  • Electrode holders

—and more.

Sheet Metal Welding and Fabrication Procedures 

Both sheet metal welding and fabrication tools require cleaning and disinfecting. Germs, oil, and grease are common culprits that present the need for cleaning. Wire brushes combined with organic solvents is a reliable way to keep tools clean. Keeping a clean facility through sweeping and mopping is equally as important. 

Whether you practice sheet metal welding or fabrication, it’s essential to take proper safety precautions. The way workers dress during welding and fabrication has a significant impact on how safe they’ll be. 

Protective clothing and equipment can consist of: 

  • Flame-resistant pants and jackets
  • Aprons
  • Heavy boots 
  • Thick gloves
  • Googles 
  • Hearing protection
  • Masks 

Metal welders and fabricators must take measures to safely store their tools when they’re done working to avoid equipment damages or potential hazards. 

Earlier, we mentioned that sheet metal fabrication is an extensive process that can include many different methods. We’re going to list some of the sheet metal fabrication methods to paint a clearer picture of the practice. 

Sheet Metal Fabrication Techniques

First up is assembling. Part of what makes metal assembling worth noting upfront is its connection with welding. The assembly process is achieved through welding, binding via adhesives, and bending to achieve specific seams. 

After the metal is bent during fabrication, blanking comes next. Blanking involves designating a portion of the overall metal piece to be cut into shape while the rest of the metal material is discarded. Metal cutting during fabrication is achieved through the use of manual tools, automatic tools, or torching. Computer numerical computer (CNC) helps workers control processes such as torching with higher amounts of accuracy. 

Die-cutting is a different form of cutting that involves using an upper and lower blade being forced past each other to create lines on the metal stock. Note how die cutting doesn’t use different cutting strategies such as burning or melting. 

Sheet Metal Fabrication Methods Part II

When sheet metal is thin, fabricators often use self-clinching tools to fasten the metal and create torque resistance. Tools commonly used during fastening include hooks, cable tie mounts, access hardware, nuts, spacers, and studs. 

Finishing is the next fabrication method we’re going to cover, but keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily indicate the end of the fabrication process. Often a sheet metal’s surface needs to be altered for appearance, resistance, higher surface friction control, etc. 

That’s where finishing comes in.

Galvanizing uses a protective zinc coating that prevents rusting. 

Glazing provides a wear-protective layer and an aesthetically pleasing shine. When manufacturers need to shape specific metals like steel, stainless steel, aluminum, brass, and copper, they use hydroforming to use unique die molding and high-pressure fluid. 

Have you ever seen those specific shapes within a piece of metal and wondered how they got there? Metal fabricators use metal punching to achieve those particular shapes. 

The last methods of sheet metal fabrication are: 

  • Shrinking
  • Spinning
  • Stamping 
  • Stretching 
  • Tucking 
  • Tungsten inert gas welding 

We listed these fabrication methods to reflect that several methods exist within fabrication. Instead of going over all of the standard welding practices, we will cover a welding method used by Dane Manufacturing. 

Arc Welding

Arc welding involves the use of an electric arc to melt and combine metals. Temperatures from electric arcs can reach up to 6500 degrees Fahrenheit. The two types of arc welding are non-consumable and consumable electrode methods. 

Non-Consumable Electrode Methods 

Tungsten Inert Gas Welding (TIG) is commonly used in the field of sheet metal welding. A non-consumable tungsten electrode is utilized to create the electric arc in TIG, while inert shielding gas helps protect both the weld and molten pool from contamination. 

Plasma arc welding (PAW) is the other non-consumable electrode method. Electric arcs in PAW are used to ionize gas within the torch and create plasma. The plasma is then sent through a borehole in the device’s anode to travel toward the base plate. Anodes serve as the terminal that houses the current’s flow. When the plasma travels through the anode, it’s separated from the shielding gas. 

Consumable Electrode Methods

There are six consumable electrode methods, but one, in particular, is most commonly linked to sheet metal welding:

Metal inert gas welding (MIG). 

MIG uses inert metal gas to shield the base metals from contamination. Consumable electrode materials become part of the weld during MIG. Spools of wire are an example of consumable materials that feed electricity for welding while electrodes supply the electricity. 

TIG or MIG Welding? 

We’ve highlighted TIG and MIG as two of the most common forms of metal welding. 

Is one better than the other? 

When welding thin sheets of metal, TIG is preferred due to its adjustable power levels. If you’re looking to crank up your production speed, MIG is the way to go since the electrode is fed through the system automatically. 

If you’re looking to outsource your welding needs, Dane Manufacturing has you covered through our use of modern robotic and arc welding technology.