Fabrication is a blanket term for many metalworking processes; these include rolling, punching, stamping, sintering, welding, machining and many others.
Fabrication is a secondary metalworking process. Primary processes involve forming raw metal materials into shapes; extrusion and molding are both primary processes. Metal fabricators take extrusions and molded metals and weld them together, bend them and cut them to size. Nearly all products of primary metalworking processes require secondary processing to some extent before they become usable.
For example, metal plates don’t become hinges until their edges are bent, holes are drilled or punched and pins are inserted to connect them. Bar stock and small metal rods don’t become fasteners until they are machined and slotted. Fabrication services are essential to a long list of industrial operations including the automotive, aerospace, marine, construction, engineering, plumbing, petrochemical exploration and development, food and beverage and commercial product industries.
Fabricated metal products are prominent features of most bridges, airplanes, ships and buildings. Smaller metal fabrications are also important parts of water tanks, electrical wiring enclosures, metal cabinets, frames, brackets, panels, outdoor grills and even sculptures.
Fabricated metal products are produced by fabrication processes. These processes range in complexity, expense and labor intensity and can be used to create stock products and custom fabrications. Roll formers, for example, involve long series of rollers in different configurations that are used to bend raw metal into useful products.
Roll forming can be a completely automated process once the rollers have been configured. Roll formers are often managed by advanced computer software that monitors and controls the movement and positioning of the rollers, ensuring the closest possible relationship between product concept and reality.
On the other end of the labor intensity spectrum are processes like press braking, which require the constant attention of trained technicians. Press brakes are essentially indented work benches above which are suspended movable pressing tools. The pressing tools are shaped to match the indentation in the workbench, so when a sheet of metal is positioned between the pressing tool and the working surface, the metal is pressed into the indentation, forcing it to take the indentation’s shape.
A technician is generally required to manually position the metal and operate the pressing tool in this process. Other processes that involve moderate labor intensiveness are semi-automated robotic welding and mechanical punching processes.