A Guide to Metal Fabrication Technology

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…

Design

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:

New Product Introduction (NPI) team members are included in the design process to ensure design specifications and high-quality standards are met throughout.

Sheet Metal fabrication Design CAD Models

Prototyping

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.

Sheet Metal Fabrication Prototyping

Programming

There are a few aspects to be aware of in the programming process:

CAD/ CAM Sheet Metal Fabrication Programming

Cutting

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:

Sheet Metal Fabrication Laser Cutting

Punching

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.

Sheet Metal Fabrication CNC Punching

Folding

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:

Sheet Metal Fabrication Folding

Machining

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.

Sheet Metal CNC Machining

Welding

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.

Sheet Metal Fabrication Welding

Powder coating

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.

Powder Coating Services

Assembly

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.

Sheet Metal Fabrication Assembly

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:

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.

How Latest Machinery Investment Sets Alpha Apart

Alpha Manufacturing’s latest machinery installation was recently completed with the final sections of the STOPA automated storage system added to the existing structure.

This large-scale installation concludes an ambitious five-year investment strategy outlined back in 2015, with the aim of making Alpha the foremost precision sheet metal fabricator in the UK. The focus of this plan was on utilising high-tech machine automation to realise a “smart factory” vision. Now, close to £4 million has been invested to secure Alpha’s position as one of the most technically advanced factories in the industry. The STOPA system has been integral to this, with the first installation taking place back in 2016 alongside a state of the art Trumpf TruLaser 3030 fibre-laser machine. This laser machine and an existing Trumpf TruPunch machine were integrated into the STOPA at the time.

The STOPA system allowed Alpha to begin the process of automating stock storage, movement and transfer between machines, with all raw sheet metal stored in the towers and able to be called on at the touch of a button. This had an immediate positive affect on Alpha’s performance in terms of efficiency and capacity with a dramatic reduction in WIP movement around the shop floor combined with significantly better stock control and management.

Since then, further investment has seen installations of more state-of-the-art automated sheet metal processing machines such as the Trumpf TruBend Cell 7000, TruPunch 7000 and Salavagnini P4 Lean Panel Bender to further bolster Alpha’s levels of automation. The final stage of the five-year plan was to extend the STOPA system further, increasing its storage capacity and removing all WIP from the shop floor. It was also integrated into all areas of production including laser cutting, punching and folding.

The entire system now runs 62 meters down the centre of the Alpha factory and houses in excess of 600 tonnes of raw material and part-processed items with a total of 207 pallet spaces available. The completion of the STOPA marks the culmination of Alpha’s journey to automation which now sets them apart within the industry.

Managing Director Paul Clews explains the strategy and what it now means in terms of Alpha’s service offering:

“We’ve achieved everything we set out to do and more, investing close to £4 million in the right technology and this final investment will take us to where we aimed to be in terms of automation and efficiency. We’re not unique in buying the best machinery, a lot of companies also have high spec technology. Where we aim to differentiate ourselves is in our operations, through the highest levels of efficiency and productivity. What this system gives us is the ability to identify, locate and deliver any piece of sheet steel, punched/laser part or folded sub assembly to any given location by the touch of a button. In doing this we will dramatically reduce the amount of waste from our current processes in terms of both movement of people and transportation of parts.”

With all planned investment as part of the five-year plan now completed, Alpha will continue working to best utilise the machinery and systems in order to achieve total stock/ material handling automation. A new Sage Enterprise MRP was recently implemented, further streamlining the stock replenishment and management process.

STOPA Automated Sheet Metal Storage Machinery