Countless raw materials pass through the average CNC machine shop every day, but the best materials can help decrease cycle times and increase productivity. That’s especially true inside large manufacturing facilities that fabricate metal parts for major industries. Aerospace, automotive, and medical sectors rely heavily on efficient metalworking, so it’s important to understand which metals are typically used in fabrication.
What is metal fabrication?
Metal fabrication is a complex process by which parts and components are formed, cut, finished, and/or assembled out of raw materials. The techniques used can vary widely depending on which metals are selected, but methods generally include welding, grinding, milling, honing, lathing, and broaching. Meanwhile, CNC machinists must grasp the fundamental properties of each material to provide accurate and consistent machining results regardless of the chosen operation.
Which materials are used the most in metal fabrication?
Over the years, certain raw materials have taken a back seat in favor of more standardized stuff. In fact, the manufacturing industry continually updates its expected norms to create higher quality parts and better components at a much more efficient pace. So, the following types of raw materials are most commonly chosen:
- Stainless Steel
NOTE: Many metalworking CNC machine shops employ a variety of alloys as well, most often when they’re fabricating a custom order or making a prototype.
These popular manufacturing materials are put through a range of different processes to create the desired shape or function. Plus, well-equipped machining facilities also have the following items on tap most of the time:
- Plate metal
When casting raw materials, the machinist will force molten metal into a preformed mold before allowing it to cool and harden. This high degree of customization makes metal casting a convenient and affordable choice for many clients, especially those who require components with extremely complex geometries. To accurate fabricate casted parts, certain non-metal materials are commonly used alongside the main ingredient, including:
- Expanded metal
- Flat metal
What is expanded metal?
Like the name suggests, this is a type of stock metal sheeting that’s used to create a specific product. The material gets sheered in a press, creating a diamond-shaped hole that’s encircled by interlinked metal strands. This sheering process safely stretches (AKA expands) the material’s size, providing a grate-like aesthetic that’s ideal for many applications. Think screen doors, fencing, creative architectural designs, etc.
Expanded metal is also used to help shield machinery from corrosion and/or contact with extreme temperatures. And because of its useful versatility, EM comes in a variety of thicknesses, grating sizes, and lengths to further adhere to intricate project specifications and industry regulations. For more information on which materials are best for your project, be sure to consult with your design and engineering teams during the development process.
What is flat metal?
This type of raw material is used in metal fabrication more and more every year. It’s first pressed or rolled into thin, flat pieces before being used in various applications. However, the thickness can range from several centimeters to less than a millimeter depending on the project. Meanwhile, the thickness is measured in gauges and the material itself is often chunked into three distinct categories:
1. Foil or Leaf – This is the world’s thinnest type of flat metal thus far and is most commonly used when making decorative products or delicate electrical components.
2. Sheet Metal – This is the most popular form of flat metal which a medium thickness of about 6mm, give or take as per the application.
3. Plate Metal – This flat metal raw material is much thicker than the other two, falling somewhere around .25 inches or more.
Each material will react to machining processes uniquely, so there’s a lot of knowledge involved in predicting metal fabrication outcomes. Aside from creating basic prototypes to discover potential problems, it’s also important to choose the right materials from the beginning.
Benefits of using the right materials for metal fabrication
Basic raw materials are essential for accurate metal fabrication, but not all materials behave the same way during the machining process. Thus, the standardization of raw materials in CNC manufacturing is crucial because having uniformity in size and shape is a necessary factor when creating useful products. For most, using the right materials drastically increases productivity while simultaneously driving down the cost of manufacturing metal. And that’s just one of the benefits, by the way.
The adequate material acquisition means higher quality outcomes in general, and it also helps to ensure structural integrity on all fabricated parts. The fact that many raw material suppliers are now required by the ASTM to use standardized supplies is a major boon for the metal fabrication industry.
Such measures help create compatibility across a much wider spectrum of clients and economic sectors.
Moreover, selecting the best raw materials for metalworking means spending less money on fixing mistakes and/or redesigning parts. Certain production processes aren’t ideal for certain materials and vice versa, so a trained machinist is necessary to pinpoint potential problems and help troubleshoot the existing ones. In fact, that’s why so many project managers use rapid prototyping to weed out any issues before mass production.
Metal fabrication made simple
Understanding material properties to generate better machining outcomes can be confusing, time-consuming, and expensive. So, let the pros handle the hard stuff. Pioneer Cuts professionals recognize and appreciate the finer details of metal fabrication and mass production, meaning they’re ready to suggest and predict manufacturing results through their innate knowledge of metal machining.
Get started on your metal fabrication projects today, even if you’re still unsure which materials to use and/or avoid. Submit your design information right away to get a free quote in 6 hours or less, and start making metal fabrication simpler than ever before.