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Sheet Metal Fabrication

  • Highly Durable Metal Parts
  • Precise Components with Tight Tolerances
  • Variety of Metals & Alloys with Unique Properties
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What is Sheet Metal Fabrication?

If you’re new to sheet metal fabricating, sheet metal fabrication refers to multiple subtractive manufacturing processes that utilize thin metal sheets to produce parts. To begin, a sheet metal fabricator will convert a CAD design or engineering drawing into machine code. Then, a CO2 laser cutting, water jet cutting, wire EDM, or other sheet metal cutting machine will begin to remove material to form the geometries of the desired part. After the material is cut, the material is bent or formed into the correct shape. The part then moves to post-processing or assembly, including adding inserts, welding or finishing. Sheet metal parts, including chassis, brackets, enclosures and more, are favored by a wide range of industries for their durability and high precision. Applications include industrial, aerospace, defense, automotive, consumer products and more.

Sheet Metal Fabrication Processes

We offer several sheet metal fabrication processing including cutting, etching, punching and more. Here are many of the processes and services offered:

Fiber Laser Cutting

Solid-state lasers, such as the fiber optic laser, use laser diodes transmitted through optical fibers to create the desired cuts. The laser cutting machine uses no mechanical components and makes its cuts within an enclosure. This means the operation produces less noise and decreases the personal risk of the operator. The fiber laser cutting process is highly efficient thanks to the cutter’s high-power output and high-intensity level.

Waterjet Cutting

A water jet cutting machine is used to produce flat-cut parts. The waterjet is attached to a high-pressure pump which forces water through a nozzle to create precise cuts. The balance between velocity and volume is what facilitates the cut. When an abrasive water cut is needed, the abrasive substance is mixed with the water stream. The water and some abrasive substances used during the process can be recycled and reused, which reduces costs while increasing energy efficiency.

Microcut™ Micro Water Jet Cutting

Micro jet water cutting is water jet manufacturing at a micro-level. Water jet cutting allows for the cutting of tiny, complex parts with great accuracy.

Wire EDM

Wire EDM uses heat from electrical currents to cut through metal. EDM is a no-contact spark erosion process that reduces the need for secondary finishes. During EDM machining, a metal piece is submerged into de-ionized water (dielectric). An electrically charged thin metal wire (no thicker than hair) melts through the metal using heat from the electrical sparks. The wire does not make contact with the workpiece. The voltage allows the spark from the wire to jump the gap between the wire and the workpiece, and the material begins to melt. The wire holds one side of the charge, while the conductive material holds the other side. The liquid dielectric controls the electrical sparks, cools, and flushes away the cut material.

Stamping

A blanked or coiled piece of sheet metal is loaded into a stamping press where a die (stamping tool) in the shape of the desired part is pressed down into the metal. Stamping includes punching, blanking, bending, drawing, embossing and more.

Forming

The sheet metal material is placed onto a flatbed. Next, a laser cutter begins to draw pre-programmed parts onto the material. A sheet metal punch may be used to form additional features. After deburring, the part is moved to the press brake, where they are shaped further. The part then moves to the finishing stage.

Prototype Etching

Prototype etching may involve photochemical machining, chemical milling or acid etching. Chemical etching is a subtractive sheet metal manufacturing process that selectively removes material using baths of temperature-controlled etching chemicals. Chemical etching has a short lead time and inexpensive tooling, making it ideal for prototyping.

Production Etching

Photochemical machining or chemical etching produces highly precise metal parts with great intricacies. It is fast to produce, cost-efficient, offers greater design flexibility and eliminates the need for deburring, perfect for transitioning prototypes to production.

Laser Cutting

Laser cutting is a manufacturing technique that utilizes a high-powered laser beam to cut, engrave or mark material. There are multiple types of laser cutting machines categorized by gas, liquid or solid-state. CO2 lasers are a gas state laser which use a carbon dioxide mixture to cut. Solid-state lasers, such as the fiber optic laser, use laser diodes transmitted through optical fibers to create the desired cuts.

CNC Punching

Computer numerically-controlled punching involves a punch press machine that may have one head and tool rail design or multi-tool turret design. The machine moves the sheet metal in a 2-axis direction and positions the material under the punching ram. The punching ram punches a hole or form into the sheet metal.

Hardware Installation

As part of our complete sheet metal fabricating program, we offer high-quality hardware installation services.  Whether your project requires a low or high-volume production run, we can ensure efficiency.

Welding / Spotwelding

We offer a variety of welding and spotwelding processes. Welding is used to join two metal surfaces together. Spotwelding uses copper alloy electrodes to direct the welding current to a “spot”, melting the material and effectively joining two pieces together.

Sanding / Grinding

To achieve a perfect finish, we offer sanding and grinding services. Sanding is used to remove any scratches or burrs from a part after it has been laser cut or punched. Grinding is used to remove weld or to add any desired cosmetic surfaces.

Liquid Painting

Liquid painting is a suitable alternative for projects where powder coating cannot be used. It can be formulated to have special corrosion-resistant properties while still offering a professional finish. If your project requires painted parts in custom colors, our facilities can meet your painting needs.

Powder Coating

Powder coating involves finishing a sheet metal part using a paint applied as a powder, then cured, resulting in a high-quality finish. We offer matte, smooth, textured and a variety of other finishes.

Screen Printing

A sheet metal part can be screen printed. Does your project require a custom graphic? We can add the design of your choice to your custom part in a variety of finishes and colors.

Assembly & Kitting

We offer assembly and kitting in-house. Whether your part requires installing hardware using automated or manual processes, our experts will ensure your part is to your exact specifications to deliver a fully finished product.

Common Sheet Metal Materials

We can help you match the right sheet metal material for your specific project. Some common materials for sheet metal fabrication include:

  • Aluminum: Lightweight, great for lower temperatures, strong, corrosion-resistant, good heat conductivity, non-toxic
  • Stainless Steel: Good strength and hardness ratio, durable, corrosion-resistant, very machinable
  • Hot Rolled Steel: Good mechanical performance, good flexibility, lower cost
  • Cold Rolled Steel: Good hardness and strength, good for tight tolerances, smooth surface and finish, high formability
  • Brass: Lightweight, corrosion-resistant
  • Copper: Corrosion-resistant, electrically conductive, ductile, and malleable
  • Bronze: Low melting point and stronger than copper
  • Magnesium: Low density, excellent stiffness

Sheet Metal Fabrication Parts

component part
busbar part
bent component
belt clip part
laser cut bracket
laser cut gutter clip

Designing Sheet Metal Parts: Best Practices

Gusset

  • Strengthens bends locally
  • Must be formed with custom tooling
  • Minimal tooling cost

Design Tips:

  • Whenever possible, maintain minimum spacing of 2-2.5x raw material thickness from edge of cutout to bend radius tangency.
  • Lesser spacing requires secondary operations after bending and adds to manufacturing costs.
  • Form angle and form radii should be made as large as possible.
  • Offset should be minimized.

Rib

  • Stiffens flat sections
  • May require secondary trimming
  • Moderate tooling cost

Design Tips:

  • Close proximity form features can cause secondary operations after forming and adds to manufacturing cost.
  • Form features in close proximity to each other increase forming strain which may cause “oil canning” or other deformation, fracturing or material separation.

Emboss

  • Adds strength
  • May be used for clearance
  • May be used as a standoff feature

Design Tips:

  • Form radii as large as possible to decrease forming strain. Separation may occur if form radii are too small.
  • Raw material type and thickness impact feasibility.
  • Create form angles larger than 90 degrees if possible.
  • Minimize offset dimension.
  • Form angle, offset dimension and overall shape of emboss are all factors that impact manufacturability.

Coin

  • Process by which metal currency is minted.
  • Surface material is pressed.
  • Requires moderately priced tooling.

Design Tips:

  • Tooling cost depends on the size of coin features. Smaller features require more expensive tooling and forming processes.
  • Significant material displacement may cause deformation of surrounding areas.
  • Secondary operations may be required to trim displaced metal.
  • Design for minimal material displacement.

Cut/Bend Relief

Design Tips:

  • To ensure cost-effective production, design cut and bend reliefs with a minimum of 2.5x material thickness.
  • For prototype and short-run quantities, the minimum cut relief can be a laser or water jet cut kerf (0.010” – 0.040”).
  • Lanced (sheared) features with zero cut relief are possible but require high-cost tooling.

Materials

Aluminum Alloys

Alloy Temper Ductility Strength Corrosion Resistance Heat Treatable Comments
6061 T6 Low Mid Good No Minimum bend radii of 3x raw material thickness.
6061 T0 High Low Good Yes Higher-cost heat treating due to warping and need for secondary straightening.
5052 H32 High Mid Good No Most commonly used aluminum alloy and temper.
5052 H34 Mid High Good No Small radii bends in line with grain may fracture.
3003 H14 High Low Good No Good for deep drawn parts.

Stainless Steel

Alloy Temper Ductility Strength Corrosion Resistance Heat Treatable Comments
301
302
304
*Range **High High Excellent No Small radii bends in line with grain may fracture in full hard temper. Full hard temper is cost effective for springs as there is no need for heat treating or plating.
316
316L
Annealed High High Excellent No Used heavily in the medical industry.
410 Annealed High Mid Mid Yes Excellent for springs. Stays stable in heat treating and has a bright finish.
17-4 PH Annealed Low Excellent Mid Yes Small radii bends in line with grain may fracture.
17-7 PH
Cond. A
Annealed Mid High Mid Yes Excellent for springs intended for repeated cycles. Remains stable during heat treating.
17-7 PH
Cond. C
Mill Hardened Low High Mid Yes Small radii bends in line with grain may fracture. Highest hardness and strength achievable in alloy 17-7 PH.

*Annealed, 1/2, 1/4, 3/4, and full hard possible
** Ductility decreases in harder tempers and mill hardened materials

Low Carbon and Spring Steel

Alloy Temper Ductility Strength Corrosion Resistance Heat Treatable Comments
1008
1010
Soft, 1/2, 1/4 Full Hard High Mid *Poor **Yes When rolled at or near room temperature, excellent ductility and strength is produced and is more uniform than hot rolled steel.
1008
1010
Annealed High Mid *Poor **Yes Rolled at a temperature greater than the recrystallization point, which produces surface scale. Good ductility, but weaker and less uniform than cold rolled steel.
HSLA Annealed Mid High *Poor **Yes Requires 25-30% more power to form than cold rolled steel or hot rolled steel.
1050

1074
1075
1095

Annealed Excellent ***High *Poor Yes 1095 has the highest carbon content of the materials listed. Higher carbon content yields higher strength with less ductility after heat treating.
1095 Blue Tempered Low High Mid No Good for flat springs or leaf springs with large radii.

*Poor without plating or surface treatment
** Limited to carburizing
*** High strength after heat treatment

Copper Alloys

Alloy Temper Ductility Strength Corrosion Resistance Heat Treatable Comments
C10 Copper Wide Range High Mid Good No Highly conductive. High cost.
C172 Beryllium Copper Wide Range Excellent Excellent Fair Yes Excellent for electrical spring contacts. Highly conductive, excellent electroplating adhesion coefficient and remains very stable during heat treating. Moderate cost.
C260 Brass Wide Range *Ranges High Good No Small radii bends in line with grain may fracture in full hard and spring tempers.
C510 Phosphor Bronze Wide Range *Ranges High Fair No Small radii bends in line with grain may fracture in full hard and spring tempers.

*Ranges according to temper

Raw Materials Selection

Heat Treatable Alloys

When stiffness and spring characteristics are required, the design engineer should consider the following: For parts with small radius forms, high carbon spring steel or another heat treatable metal with good ductility may need to be used. The part may require heat-treating after forming to achieve necessary stiffness or spring performance characteristics, which adds to manufacturing cost. Note that broad flat sections in high carbon spring steel parts tend to warp during heat treating. Where potential warping may be a factor, it is wise to consider alternate materials that may have a marginally higher cost but stay more stable during heat treating.

  • 410 Stainless Steel
  • 17-7 PH Stainless Steel, condition A (annealed)
  • C172 Beryllium copper
  • Low Carbon Cold Rolled Steel – carburizing hardens the surface while reducing spring characteristics

Mill Hardened Alloys

For flat parts or parts with large radius form features, a mill-hardened alloy may be selected based on hardness or spring performance characteristics to eliminate the need for heat treating.

Consider the following:

  • 6061 Aluminum in T4 or T6 temper
  • 300 series Stainless Steel in 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 or full hard temper
  • 1095 blue temper spring steel
  • C110 Copper and C260 Brass in H04 (hard), H06 (extra hard), H08 (spring temper) and H10 (extra spring temper)
  • C510 Phosphor Bronze in H06 (extra hard), H08 (spring temper) and H10 (extra spring temper) Note that raw material grain impacts forming characteristics in all materials, but more so in mill-hardened alloys.

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Why Choose Fathom?

We make your parts to your specifications, we won’t put you in a box of manufacturing constraints, and we’re definitely not a broker who will send out your parts to other companies. We’re driven to provide a DIFFERENTIATED customer experience with speed, urgency & agility.

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7 of the top 10 Fortune 500 aerospace and defense companies choose Fathom

8 of the top 10 Fortune 500 industrial companies choose Fathom

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Manufacturing Locations Across National Time Zones
Manufacturing Locations Across National Time Zones
The Fathom Advanced Manufacturing Platform
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HEADQUARTERS

1050 Walnut Ridge Drive
Hartland, WI 53029
ISO 9001:2015
AS9100:2016
ITAR

ARIZONA

444 W. 21st St. Ste. 101
Tempe, AZ 85282
ISO 9001:2015
NIST800-171 Compliant
ITAR

COLORADO

7770 Washington St.
Denver, CO 80229
ISO 9001:2015
ITAR

MINNESOTA

13758 Johnson Street NE
Ham Lake, MN 55304

TEXAS

1801 Rowe Lane
Pflugerville, TX 78660
ISO 9001:2015
AS9100:2016

1513 Sam Bass Rd
Round Rock, TX 78681
ISO 9001:2015
ISO 13485:2016

CALIFORNIA

620 3rd Street
Oakland, CA 94607
ISO 9001:2015 Design Certified
NIST 800-171 Compliant
ITAR

FLORIDA

14000 N.W. 58th Court
Miami Lakes, FL 33014
ISO 9001:2015 Design Certified
ISO 13485:2016


 

NEW YORK

1920 Slaterville Rd
Ithaca, NY 14850
ITAR

401 W. Shore Blvd.
Newark, NY 14513
AS9100:2016
ISO 9001:2015
ITAR

ILLINOIS

1207 Adams Drive
McHenry, IL 60051

1401 Brummel Ave
Elk Grove, IL 60007
ISO 9001:2015 Design Certified