What Is Metal Fabrication?

a CNC plasma burner cutting shapes out of metal sheet

Metal fabrication refers to the art of shaping thin metal sheets and thick metal plates into desired products. Generally speaking, there are two types of metal fabrication: subtractive and non-subtractive. The former involves cutting shapes out of a material, whereas non-subtractive refers to when the entire metal sheet is formed according to a design or blueprint.

How Metal Is Fabricated

Custom metal fabricators have various tools they use to shape metal. While using a handheld torch is the traditional method of fabrication, there are modern tools, such as CNC cutting tables, that are much more effective. CNC stands for “computer numerical control” and refers to automated technology that these state-of-the-art cutting machines are equipped with. CNC cutting tables also feature a plasma torch, oxy-fuel torch, or a waterjet cutting head. Here are some differences between the three types of cutting heads:

  • Plasma – A plasma torch generates extreme heat to cut through metal plate measuring two to three inches in thickness.
  • Oxy-fuel – Utilizing pure oxygen (and therefore only effective at fabricating ferrous, or iron-containing, materials), oxy-fuel torches are used to fabricate metal sheets measuring less than two inches thick.
  • Waterjet – Because this type of metal fabrication equipment uses highly pressurized water and not a flammable fuel source, it leaves no slag behind and can process thicker plates than both plasma and oxy-fuel cutting machines.

Other Metal Fabrication Processes

Oftentimes, cutting is merely the first step in the metal fabrication process, and other processes are required to create the end-product. Other custom metal fabrication processes include:

  • Punching – Holes or other shapes are punched out of the metal sheet.
  • Stamping – The metal sheet is stamped into a specific shape.
  • Milling – Excess metal is removed from the workpiece.
  • Drilling – Round holes are drilled into the metal.
  • Turning – The workpiece is rotated during processing, rather than remaining stationary.
  • Grinding – A high-speed abrasive wheel removes slag and other unwanted pieces of metal from the material.

Finishing the Workpiece

After the metal sheet or plate has been shaped according to the required design or blueprint, it may be finished in one of several ways. Finishing processes include:

  • Powder coating – An electric charge is used to fuse dry powder to the metal surface, providing a protective layer that is stronger than paints and other finishes.
  • Direct-to-substrate printing – Similar to how an inkjet printer works when printing paper, the direct-to-substrate printing (DTSP) process adds imagery and words to sheet metal and is therefore a key process in creating custom signs.
  • Assemblies – Often, a custom fabricated metal material will be assembled into a larger product. One example is block construction for shipbuilding, wherein metal pieces are fabricated and added into a larger assembly, which in turn is attached to the ship being constructed.

An Industry-Leading Manufacturer of CNC Plasma Cutters & Other Metal Fabrication Equipment

Machitech is a leading innovator of custom metal fabrication solutions. Our heavy-duty CNC plasma cutting tables and other automated fabrication equipment are customizable to meet specific production needs and include free and unlimited lifetime support. To learn more, contact Machitech today.