Metal fabrication involves the construction of metal products using various processes including cutting, bending and assembly. The history of metalworking dates back centuries, and as societies have evolved, so has the technology and expertise applied to the practice.
Processes and technology used in sheet metal work
A finished product can either be fabricated from standardised parts or manufactured from raw materials, start to finish. The different processes involved will depend on the product requirements and will dictate the company chosen to complete the work. Alpha Manufacturing provides the complete range of sheet metal services, enabling customers to fulfil all their requirements with one supplier.
So from design to delivery, here is a guide to the stages and processes that can be involved in the fabricated metal products industry, and the different technology used for each…
A crucial stage in sheet metal fabrication, the design phase involves the design team working closely with a customer to determine the specific requirements of a project and the best manufacturing approach. At this stage, a thorough process of value analysis/ value engineering takes place to fully optimise the product for manufacture. At Alpha Manufacturing, customers have the opportunity to supply design specifications before working with an in-house team using the latest computer-aided design (CAD) software.
Using CAD software, the design team will:
- Produce precise designs.
- Create 3D models for customer approval.
- Quickly make changes to a design.
- Link and export to other computer programs.
- Document the design process.
New Product Introduction (NPI) team members are included in the design process to ensure design specifications and high-quality standards are met throughout.
While not a necessary step in every project, sheet metal rapid prototyping is invaluable as a tool for testing a new design before it is put into production. Alpha Manufacturing uses state-of-the-art machinery to deliver quick turnaround times for prototypes while still ensuring accuracy.
There are a few aspects to be aware of in the programming process:
- Once a CAD design model has been formalised, it needs to be translated into a language that a computer-controlled machine can understand – this is known as computer-aided manufacturing (CAM).
- Programmers create 2D shapes based on the 3D CAD design, then nesting software is used to efficiently position those parts onto a 2D sheet of metal so that as much of the material is utilised as possible. Alpha Manufacturing uses ‘multi-part nester’ software called Radan for this part of the process.
- The programming process applies to several of the below processes including cutting, punching and turning.
- Programmers are also responsible for considering factors such as material type and machine capability as well as calculating manufacturing times per product.
While traditional cutting techniques are available, laser metal fabrication technology offers precise and versatile cutting of a range of materials including coated and stainless steel, aluminium, wood and plastics. The innovative CNC (computer numerical controlled) laser cutting machines use the CAD/CAM files optimised in the design and programming stages to guide cutting of the material.
At Alpha Manufacturing, both CO2 and fibre lasers are used:
- The Bystronic BySpeed 3015 CO2 laser machine utilises a high power 4400 W laser for rapid cutting of medium to thick materials.
- The Bystronic BySprint Fibre 4020 is a fibre laser machine offering unparalleled parts production and first-class cutting quality, particularly for thin to medium thick sheet metal.
- The TruLaser 3030 fibre laser, the most recent of our three laser cutting machines, is at the cutting-edge of fibre laser technology. It allows us to offer an unbeatable level of high-speed precision profiling.
Punching is the process of creating perforations or forms such as number stamps, ribs, louvres or countersinks in components by applying high force to a tool to ’hit’ the metal sheet in order to indent or sheer through it. Machinery called a Turret Punch uses a hydraulically-powered tool to follow the programmed design, time and time again with no loss of accuracy or quality.
Thanks to consistent significant investment in recent years, Alpha Manufacturing’s CNC punching services are some of the most advanced in the UK. The combination of the fastest machine on the market, the Trumpf TruPunch 5000s12, with the ever-reliable Pullmax 720, allows us to offer a flexible and dynamic CNC punching service depending on the specific needs of individual customers. Alternatively, the TruMatic 6000 Laser / Punch provides the technology to perform cutting and punching in one seamless process, reducing production time and increasing efficiency.
Folding, also referred to as bending, is pretty much what it sounds like – metal plates are folded in various ways to achieve the desired shape. This can be done using manual press brakes, automated panel folding machinery and/or automated robotic folders to suit any project scope.
Depending on variables such as material, size, quantity and complexity of the parts required, the team at Alpha will use one or a combination of the following machines to perform the job:
- Trubend 7000 – fully automated robotic bending cell with automatic part picking and finished part scanning. Ideal for high volume, smaller part production.
- Amada Astro 100NT – completely unmanned, automatic robotic bending system integrated with a 110-ton hydraulic press brake. Designed for high-precision part productivity through reduced cycle times.
- Salvagnini P4 Lean Panel Bender – fully automated, highly versatile and flexible panel folding machine using smart technology to maximise productivity and efficiency.
- Manual Amada Press Brakes – manually programmed and operated by CNC fold operatives. Essential for folding parts that are unsuitable for automated alternatives: for example, longer or heavier components.
Machining involves removing material from a solid piece to achieve the desired shape either by turning, drilling or milling. CNC machines like the Mazak Nexus 250 MSY, the Quick Turn Smart 200M or the Mazak VTC-300CII are employed to produce complex precision shapes at high throughput rates.
Welding is the process of applying extreme heat to separate pieces of metal to melt and fuse them together. There are various techniques, some manual and some automated, including MIG welding, TIG welding, spot welding, projection welding and robotic welding. Alpha Manufacturing’s experienced manual welders are qualified to a minimum standard of BS4872, and our robotic welding system boasts high accuracy and repeatability for customers requiring high volumes.
Powder coating involves applying electrostatic powder to a charged metal component before curing at heat to produce a durable coating and finish. Benefits of this process include material protection, colour changes and environmental conditioning. Alpha Manufacturing uses a five-stage OXSILAN® metal pre-treatment technology.
Assembly can mean anything from simple weld assemblies to complex electrical integrations (including wiring looms, PAT testing and hardware installation) or those requiring insertions (including pressing studs, nuts or other components to fasten the product together).
Alpha Manufacturing uses a variety of technology and setups to deliver a range of assembly needs such as automated production lines, tower storage systems and engineering drawing displays. CMM technology is then used as part of the quality assurance process to maintain high standards for all finished products.
Latest fabrication technology
Having the most advanced metal fabrication machinery is important to keep up to date with what customers need and what technologies can offer. But this doesn’t stop with the machinery mentioned above. Alpha Manufacturing uses a number of add-on technologies to help improve the speed and quality of product output:
- Automated Sheet Masters are added to load raw material and unload finished parts.
- Automated STOPA storage system to further improve processing time.
- 90-station automated tool stations remove the need for manual tool changes by operators, further increasing production speed.
- Automated ‘lights out’ production means that projects can continue over 24-hours with no need for shift work.
For further information about our metal fabrication processes and what Alpha Manufacturing can bring to your project, please get in touch with one of our expert team members.