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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
Over the next two weeks, 80 cubic meters (160 tonnes) of concrete will be poured ready for the machine construction to begin in January, with an expected completion date of 30th March
The extension will see a further 10 bays added to the existing 6, increasing storage capacity from 67 pallet spaces to 207. Once complete, the entire system will run 62 meters down the centre of the factory and will be able to house in excess of 600 tonnes of raw material and WIP. Dedicated automated picking carts, strategically located in line with the overall logistics vision for the factory, will allow operators to call on any stored materials and have it delivered to them at the touch of a button. The system will also be integrated into all punch and laser/ punch combination machines, allowing raw sheet metal and part processed items to be delivered via input/ output carts. Once that process is complete, parts will be automatically put back into storage ready for the next process, without any manual handling.
This latest outlay concludes Alpha’s strategic 5-year investment plan, set out in 2015 and is the final step on the journey towards factory automation. The original STOPA system was installed back in 2016 and dramatically improved efficiency through better stock handling and easier inventory management, whilst reducing manual handling and movement of WIP around the shop floor. Since then, 4 automated Kardex shuttle vertical storage systems have also been installed around the factory to further reduce the amount of WIP on the shop floor. The new extension to the STOPA will completely eradicate this with all raw material and parts stored in an automated system. Unlike the original STOPA, which could only store flat sheet metal, the new installation is also capable of storing folded parts.
Managing Director Paul Clews, who has overseen the investment plan since 2015, is delighted with the progress made:
“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 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.”
Once completed in early 2020, Alphas key objective is to achieve total stock/material handling automation. Coupled with the recent introduction of our new group MRP system Sage Enterprise, Alpha aims is to also automate the replenishment of various types of stock, removing the requirement for the manual ordering process on certain lines of stock.