An ancient Chinese proverb states, “There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.” The same can be said about metal fabrication techniques. There are many metal cutting methods, sheet metal bending techniques, and shearing processes in sheet metal for craftsmen to choose from—but the goals of quality and functionality remain the same. Continue reading this article to learn how custom sheet metal engineering, no matter the technique, can produce durable metal roofing, beautiful sculptures, and striking fountains based on various metal fabrication processes.
Common Metal Cutting Methods Used for Sheet Metal Fabrication
The starting point and cornerstone of sheet metal engineering is cutting. Fabrication shops employ various metal fabrication techniques and cutting technologies based on metal material, design, and application. Let’s explore some of today’s most common metal cutting methods and tools.
Water Jet Cutting
Water jets are among the most commonly used metal cutting technologies. Water jet cutting has become a staple of the commercial roofing industry thanks to several benefits this metal cutting method provides, including:
- Superior edge quality
- Ability to cut through virtually any material
Using the water jet metal cutting process, metal fabricators can create any shape required, not just for roofing. Signage, art installations, and other metal objects requiring curves, lettering, internal holes, or exactness are ideal for water jets.
Many fabrication experts consider laser cutters the gold standard of metal fabrication techniques when precision is the objective. Another benefit of laser cutting technology is that, unlike many other metal fabrication techniques, it causes little noise pollution and requires minimal maintenance and clean-up.
Laser cutters are considered very low risk for users. Though it is always recommended to take safety precautions, industry standards don’t require the use of eye or ear protections while using laser cutters. However, laser cutters can produce airborne toxins depending on the material being cut. Precautions must be accounted for to ensure the health and safety of workers.
Laser vs Water Jet Cutting
You may be wondering which metal fabrication technique is better, laser or water jet cutting. Rather than claim one is better than the other, you must consider the application. Water jet technology may be for you if you seek versatility and the capability to cut through almost anything.
If a quiet, easy-upkeep, and precision-based cutter that can add serial numbers or intricate designs to a piece is what you need, laser cutters should interest you. Lasers are applicable for many materials and can cut through thick pieces, just not as thick as a water jet.
The laser and water jet metal cutting methods both pose some damage risk to materials. Because it uses heat, a laser cutter can leave burn marks on the exposed side but typically can be washed off. Water jets don’t rely on heat, so burns are not a factor.
But the sheer power they use to cut materials does pose a threat to smaller objects unable to withstand the force. Water jets also cause more waste due to the mixture of water and abrasives they produce.
As with all metal fabrication techniques, we suggest taking the time to factor in your specific needs when making a decision in laser vs water jet cutting.
The shearing process in sheet metal fabrication utilizes offset blades, much like large-scale scissors, to cut robust materials. Using smaller, handheld shears is also a viable metal cutting method. Handheld shears are ideal when working with less substantial and thinner pieces of sheet metal. Shearing is a preferred metal fabrication technique for trimming metal roof panels.
Specialized shears are designed for flat panels, corrugated roofing, and various types of metal like aluminum, copper, and galvanized steel.
Another metal cutting method is using a blow torch or torching, as it is often called. This power metal fabrication technique uses a hot flame to cut sheet metal that can oxidize, especially steel.
Routine Sheet Metal Bending Techniques
Much like metal fabrication techniques, there are many ways to bend sheet metal. One of the most common sheet metal bending techniques is air bending. This bending method uses two separate dies, the punch, and the bottom.
The punch pushes sheet metal into the bottom die, which is V-shaped, to shape sheets. While it is both efficient and a great way to control operating costs, air bending is not recommended when precision is paramount.
Sheet metal engineering specialists use roll forming to achieve superior bend angles, edges, and seals. Rolling uses a die sized to the precise bend radius required for a project. Modern technology makes this metal fabrication technique even more effective. That’s because rolling equipment can rotate in both directions, enhancing its forming capabilities.
On-Site Roll Forming
Working with a roofing company with on-site rolling forming capabilities provides several benefits, including:
- Minimized lead times
- Tighter seals
- Precision sheet metal engineering
- Lower costs
Rainville-Carlson’s Experience and Innovative Metal Fabrication Techniques Ensure Flawless Execution
For nearly 100 years, Rainville-Carlson has built its reputation as Minnesota, western Wisconsin, and the eastern Dakotas’ most trusted commercial roofing services provider. Our metal fabrication techniques and technology set us apart from other area roofing companies.
Our fabrication shop, sheet metal bending techniques, and on-site roll-forming capabilities enable us to craft unique metal elements for anything from roofing to kitchen hoods. If you have a project in mind, we offer metal design and consulting services to ensure your vision comes to life exactly as you picture it. Reach out to Rainville-Carlson to schedule your free consultation today.