About Sheet Metal and Sheet Metal Fabrication – A Quick Primer

If you’re not familiar with metal manufacture and design, you may be interested in this quick introduction to the industry. Here, we outline some of the common terms and processes that underpin the work we do every day at AIS Sheet Metal Ltd.

Firstly, what is sheet metal? In simple terms, it’s metal that has been processed industrially to form sheets of varying thicknesses. The thickness of the sheet depends very much on the use it’s intended for. The very thinnest, finest sheet metal is referred to as leaf or foil, while any sheet metal that is more than 6mm in depth is called plate.

Almost any metal can be formed into sheet metal through industrial processing. The most commonly used metals in manufacturing are steel and stainless steel, but aluminium, brass, copper, nickel, titanium and tin are also worked. Gold, silver and platinum sheets can be produced too, largely for decoration purposes.

The Many Uses of Sheet Metal

So what is sheet metal used for? In reality, the answers to that question are infinite! Some of the major uses include the manufacture of car, van and lorry bodies, use in the aviation industry for aeroplane fuselages and in the construction industry for buildings. In construction, sheet metal is used for everything from heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to roofs, guttering and sidings.

But beyond that, sheet metal forms, or is used in, a huge array of parts of items in the home and elsewhere that we use and see every day, from washing machines and computers to tin cans and toasters. So it’s invaluable in the food and home appliance industries too.

How Sheet Metal Can Be Formed for Use

The versatility of sheet metal cannot be underestimated. In essence, sheet metal fabrication can form, shape and join metal together to build a part from scratch or to repair an existing part. There are a huge variety of techniques used in the industry; here, we’ll concentrate on the basics.

Metal can be shaped by bending, cutting, shrinking or stretching it. Bending is done, for instance, with a metal brake which clamps the metal sheet in place and then bends the required section up to the angle you need. Alternatively, it can be done by hand, using a hammer to bend the metal over a specific shape or edge.

Sheet metal can be cut with hand or power shears – the latter is quicker and takes less effort. But with these methods, it’s not easy to cut round tight corners or form precision shapes, so for this you need throatless shears, a manual tool, or plasma cutters, which can do the job fast and impressively accurately. An angle grinder is a hand-held tool that cuts metal with a spinning disc or wheel.

Shrinking metal again can be done by hand, but in an industrial environment, a shrinker will achieve a more precise finish. Heat shrinkers, as the name suggests, apply heat to metal with a torch, and the area shrinks as the metal cools.

Stretching is done by hand, or using mechanically operated tools such as a stretcher or an English wheel. As well as being able to create compound curves, an English wheel can also smooth out any imperfections on the metal’s surface.

For more details on how sheet metal can be worked to produce parts for your use, contact the team at AIS Sheet Metal Ltd today.