Unarguably sheet metals are crucial to engineering manufacturing. From aircraft and cars to electronics and medical implants, the use of metal, particularly sheet metal, has come a long way and anyone with an idea of the processes involved in working sheet metal would agree that it’s impossible to worksheet metal without utilizing sheet metal tools.
But before we delve into the tools involved, let’s take some time to sharpen our understanding of sheet metals in general.
What are Sheet Metals
Sheet metals are thin, flat pieces of metal that are formed using several industrial metalworking processes. These processes allow metal workers to bend and shape either hot or cold metals into a variety of shapes.
To fully understand and appreciate sheet metals, we must know the standard measurements, the types of sheet metal materials, the sheet metal tools involved in the processes, the several industrial manufacturing and forming methods available.
Sheet Metal Measurement
The type of sheet metal used depends heavily on how thick it is and the major difference between sheet metals like plates, sheets, and foils is in their thickness. Sheet metal thickness is basically measured in three ways:
Foil, or tinfoil, is usually made with aluminum and its thickness is usually up to 0.2mm while on the other hand, sheet metal has a thickness that ranges from 0.5mm to 6mm. Metal plates are usually thicker than 6mm.
Sheet Metal Materials
Sheet metals can be industrially manufactured from different types of metals and some of them are:
Steel is the most commonly used material when it comes to manufacturing sheet metals. Steel sheets can be separated into stainless steel and galvanized steel.
Galvanized steels can further be divided into two distinct types; the electro-galvanized sheet metal, and the hot-dipped metallic-coated sheet metal. The former involves the electroplating of cold rolled annealed steel with pure zinc, while the latter involves dipping cold rolled hard steel plates into pure zinc.
Stainless steel has great resistance to atmospheric acid, salts, alkali, etc. this resistance is made possible by the presence of at least 13% of Chrome and other additional elements like Nickel and Molybdenum. Because stainless steel can contain several alloys in varying proportions there are numerous grades for stainless steel. Click here to learn more about stainless steel grades.
Besides steel, aluminum is the most common material used in the manufacture of sheet metal, and aluminum is favored because it’s flexible, cheaper and has improved mechanical properties when compared to other metals. Despite being lighter, aluminum shares almost the same strength as steel and performs excellently well in lower temperatures.
Aluminum, being naturally soft, requires manufacturers to increase its strength by adding certain elements like silicon, copper, iron, or magnesium. Sheet metals made from aluminum can resist corrosion, are heat treatable, weigh less, and are easy to manufacture.
Aluminum sheet metals have found major applications in the transportation and aerospace industry, in building and construction, in food packaging, electrical units, and many more. Some widely used grades of aluminum sheet metal include Grades; 1100-H14, 3003-H14, 5052-H32, and 6061-T6.
Brass is another element that is highly used as sheet metal. It is really strong and lightweight, has excellent resistance to corrosion, and can be easily formed into various shapes.
Although not frequently used, magnesium has a low density and really comes in handy when stiffness is required.
Sheet metals made of bronze are stronger than those made of copper and are particularly used in turbines.
Copper, as sheet metal is malleable, ductile, conducts electricity, and resists corrosion.
Sheet Metal Forming Processes
Industrial manufacturing of sheet metals involves three major processes: forming, cutting, and joining. Let’s take a look at what these processes entail because every sheet metal tool revolves around one or more of these processes.
Sheet metal forming is the process of reshaping the geometry of a metal sheet into desired shapes without removing any material. In sheet metal forming, the change in geometry is achieved by applying forces until the material deforms allowing the engineer to bend the sheet metal into various complex shapes.
The sheet metal forming process includes;
Sheet metal stamping is a cold-forming process where the sheet metal’s shape is altered by pressing single or progressive dies into it. This technique usually involves pressing the sheet metal between two dies and it involves other operations like punching, blanking, embossing, coining, and flanging.
Feel free to learn more about stamping here.
Sheet metal bending is usually performed on a machine called the press brake and involves applying force on a sheet metal until it bends at an angle and the desired shape is achieved. Most people usually assume that since bending usually causes the sheet metal to deform at an angle, it might be difficult to bend a material more than a few times but several bending operations can be performed on one piece of metal until the final shape is gotten.
With roll forming, large sheets of metal are passed between two rolls, or a series of rollers and these rollers reshape the metal so it can be easily bent into a coil. Large quantities of sheet metal can be produced easily since the process of roll forming is highly repetitive.
To learn more processes involved in sheet metal forming click here.
There are two types of cutting processes in sheet metal: shear cutting and shear-less cutting. Shear cutting involves the separation of sheet metal by applying force on a particular area that shears it off from the sheet metal. We can also say cutting occurs when the shearing force is greater than the ultimate shear strength of the sheet metal. This force is usually applied by the punch and die.
Some processes in shear cutting are:
Just like we’ve mentioned earlier, this shearing process is used to cut metal sheets parallel to another edge. Shearing comes plays an important role in cutting sheet metal into smaller sizes in preparation for other sheet metal processes.
Like all cutting operations, blanking involves cutting a small piece of metal from a larger piece of metal. But what makes blanking different is the fact that the sheet metal removed is the desired part of the sheet metal. Blanking allows technicians to cut off parts from a larger metal plate/sheet, although these blanked parts would still need proper finishing.
Punching is used to make cutouts, holes, or several shapes from a metal sheet, and unlike blanking, the piece of metal removed from the sheet metal isn’t desired. Now, the edges of the punched features would have a few burrs because they were sheared so the edge of the holes left by the punch would have to be smoothened.
Now that we know what shear cutting is and some of the processes involved, lets see some processes involved in shear-less cutting:
Plasma cutting is often used in fabrication workshops, industrial construction amongst others and involves the process of cutting electrically conductive sheet metals with a channel of electrically superheated and ionized gas. It’s also worth noting that plasma cutting grew out of plasma welding.
Cutting sheet metals with lasers are probably the most effective method of cutting sheet metal and it involves the use of a high powered laser beam. The beam melts a specified path on the sheet metal and a continuous cut is achieved by moving either the workpiece or the laser beam.
Waterjet cutting uses pressurized water packed with abrasives like aluminum oxides and garnets to cut through sheet metal. The waterjets cut thick metal as well as other materials like stone, ceramics, and untampered glass with an incredible force up to 60,000 psi. Most workshops prefer waterjet cutting to laser cutting because it doesn’t generate heat that interferes with the metal, therefore, allowing the metal to remain flat throughout the cutting process.
Sheet metal joining involves putting two pieces of sheet metal together, either temporarily or permanently, with or without the application of heat. The methods involved in joining sheet metals together are; brazing, bolting, welding, riveting, or by using adhesives.
Let’s take a look at some sheet metal joining processes:
Riveting involves joining two sheet metals together with the use of rivets. Heat isn’t applied and the physical structure of the metal doesn’t change. This factor plays an important role in the construction of airplanes and automobiles parts where welding isn’t an option.
Just like the name implies, sheet metals are joined with the use of screws, nuts, and bolts. Sheet metal parts are bolted together if they require constant or periodic maintenance. Bolted joints are often made up of bolts, washers, and nuts.
This is perhaps the most common joining process available, and that is due to the fact that welding has a wide range of applications in the industry. Welding involves fusing two metal parts together permanently by electrically applying heat such that the workpieces melt and join together.
Learn more about sheet metal joining processes here.
Sheet Metal Tools Every Fabricator Needs
The process of fabricating sheet metals can’t be complete without special sets of sheet metal tools, and these tools range across sheet metal processes like forming, cutting, and joining.
There are lots of sheet metal tools required in the fabrication processes, and although we can’t list them all here, these are some popular tools that are important to metalworkers.
Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machines are now one of the most popular sheet metal tools necessary for fabrication. CNC machines are computers programmed to carry out a designated task in the manufacturing process. These machines perform their tasks accurately; reduce the cost of labor while increasing the speed of manufacturing and the necessity for computer-aided designs (CAD).
To perform their duties, CNC machines need to be fed design information in the form of CAD files, and when it comes to CAD design, we trust SolidFace. SolidFace is a CAD software that allows its user to create brilliant engineering designs in a quick and effective manner. To learn more about SolidFace click here.
Angle/disc grinders are handheld power tools that are used by metalworkers for grinding, polishing, sanding, cutting, and sharpening materials. The motor, either electrical, petrol, or compressed air powered, drives a mounted abrasive disc.
Cleco fasteners are temporary fasteners that hold multiple sheets of metal together before they’re permanently joined. These type of fasteners plays an important role in the assembly of airplanes.
Throat-less shears are sheet metal tools that are used by fabricators in making either straight or curved cuts. The tool is highly flexible and allows the metal to be moved freely around the blade so a greater variety of shapes can be cut with its shears.
Power shears are sheet metal tools designed to cut very large pieces of metal. They can be used to make a straight line cut or curved cuts. Power shears can be pneumatic or electric powered.
This hydraulically powered sheet metal tool is used to notch the corners of various types of metals.
Since its introduction in the ‘40s planishing hammers became a popular sheet metal tool within metal fabricators. This tool allowed the surfaces of sheet metals to be flattened, smoothened, and straightened.
Flange and Punch Tool
This sheet metal tool is used to create holes around the edges of the sheet metal.
Shrinker and Stretcher
The shrinker and stretcher is a neat sheet metal tool that allows sheet metal to be stretched or shrunk to achieve a finer finish.
These tools go a long way when it comes to simplifying the sheet metal fabrication process. Rolling machines, hydraulic breaks, and oxy-acetylene torches also play a crucial role in sheet metal forming. Breaks allow fabricators to bend sheet metals at a chosen angle; rolling machines are used to achieve a more finished shape by rolling the fabricated steel into the likeness of tissue paper while oxy-acetylene torches can be used by highly skilled welders to slowly apply heat to sheet metals in order to straighten its warped surface.
SolidFace as a Sheet Metal Tool
SolidFace is a great sheet metal tool for designing sheet metal parts.
SolidFace is a complete CAD software that allows users to design sheet metal parts quickly and cost-effectively. Lessening the design process, and time to market. With SolidFace you can:
- Create great sheet metal designs and assembly in either 2D or 3D.
- Easily converts imported CAD models directly to sheet metal models.
- Design around a group of assembly parts.
After designing your 3D samples in SolidFace, you can easily flatten them, making your sheet metal design ready for CNC manufacturing.
SolidFace is designed for users who don’t really know much about modeling sheet metal parts. It comes with all the required sheet metal tools you’d need, sheet metal templates, and a user-friendly interface. SolidFace makes the process easier for its users to create basic flange features, learn how to work with flat patterns as well as working with additional sheet metal techniques, converting designs to sheet metal, and performing additional sheet metal functions.
Uses of Sheet Metal
Now that we’ve gone through what sheet metals are, the methods involved in sheet metal manufacturing, and the sheet metal tools involved in the process, let’s take a look at some of the places where sheet metal is used.
There’s an immense need for sheet metal in the manufacturing industry because products made from sheet metal are much less expensive than those that were casted or additively manufactured. Sheet metals are in high demand from everything like housing, to transportation and containers.
Since sheet metals are relatively thin, durable and malleable, they’ve found a wide range of use in industries like:
- Automotive Industries
- Aerospace Industries
- Building and Constructions
- Consumer goods manufacturing
- Electronics and Robotics
- Jewelry and Metal decorations
- Machine part construction etc.
After going through this article we’re certain that your appreciation for sheet metals and sheet metal tools, and also how SolidFace can play a crucial role in helping you create that amazing sheet metal part you’ve always wanted to build.