Steel is one of today's most widely used construction materials. Steel is used in everything from trucks and kitchen appliances, to surgical tools, but did you ever stop to think about how a sheet of steel is turned into the final product? Steel fabrication can be a complicated business, and there are several processes involved in producing the finished item. Cutting, bending, and assembling will all play their part, and historically there is a high degree of manual work involved.
Cutting steel used to be a labour intensive process involving sawing, shearing, and chiselling to produce a piece of metal of the right size.
As the need for more precisely fabricated steel parts has grown in recent years there has been significant growth in the use of laser cutting tools, these can offer a much higher degree of precision and accuracy than any manual process, no matter how skilled.
While greater accuracy may be the most common reason for using lasers to cut steel, laser cutting has many other advantages that may not be immediately obvious.
Manufacturers can benefit from the absence of tooling costs, and the associated rapid turnaround times. The lack of any special tooling means that laser cutting is ideal for prototyping as well as for standard production runs of any size.
The automation of the cutting process means that each piece of steel will be cut in exactly the same way, ensuring total consistency and reducing rework to a minimum. Unlike traditional cutting machines there is no blade to suffer wear during the cutting process.
The fabrication of more complex parts is a simple matter with laser cutting. It allows the cutting of small diameter holes with excellent edge quality and complex details in either plate, sheet, plate, box or tube section.
Forming the steel
Once the steel has been cut to the right size it must be formed into the appropriate shape, and then assembled together with other pieces to create the finished product. Frequently, welding is used to connect the formed parts, although other techniques can be used depending on the job requirements.
Assembling the product
The last stage of the process is Final assembly. This often means sand blasting, priming, and painting, although it can involve any finishing, or additional manufacturing specified by the customer. When everything is finally ready the product is given one last inspection and then sent on its way to the customer.
Steel fabrication is a fascinating process which is often overlooked. Understanding the work involved in creating the products we use every day will provide greater appreciation for the skills of those involved in the manufacturing industries.