What is Fabrication?

What Is Fabrication?

Fabrication is the construction of items from different parts using at least one of a range of processes and materials such as metal, laminates, wood and other solid surface materials.

Frequently used in relation to metal fabrication, the steps involved can include stamping, welding, cutting, bending, and assembling processes.

As with other manufacturing processes, fabrication can be done manually, but the processes are often automated these days with the use of computer aided designs (CAD) that can be programmed into computer numerical control (CNC) technologies that can communicate directly with machines on the shop floor, reducing lead times, costs and material usage while improving accuracy and quality.

The fabricator’s process tends to make items from manufactured materials like steel, that can then be assembled to create larger metal structures. In addition, fabrication involves making components for items such as engines, machines, tools, and household appliances.  

Fabrication uses semi-finished or raw materials to make something from start to finish, as opposed to simply assembling it. This work is typically completed by a fabrication shop (or fab shop) that will bid on the contract for the job based on engineering drawings and specifications.

What is Fabrications

What Is Metal Fabrication?

Simply put, “metal fabrication” is defined as creating products or structures by cutting, bending, and/or assembling metal material. It’s largely considered a value-added process as it consists of putting together actual products or structures from metal raw material.

Jobs usually consist of three phases:

  • design, where shop drawings are created to the intended measurements;
  • fabrication, which involves the aforementioned cutting, bending, and/or assembling; and finally,
  • 3) installation, where the end product or structure is put together (either partially or fully).

Metal fabricators typically work with a range of raw materials that may include different types of metal such as plate metal, expanded metal, welding wires and rods, and cast metal. In a nutshell, fabrication is a critical step in creating any sort of finished metal part or structure.

Fabricators generally work in either machine shops or designated metal fabrication shops that focus on everything from metal preparation to fabrication.

Though not as common as the types of metal fabrication that we’ll discuss in this piece, blacksmiths, boilermakers, and ironworkers have also historically been considered metal fabricators.

There are various different segmentation levels which we’ll touch on in this post including hree of the most common types of metal fabrication: industrial, structural, and commercial.

How dose Fabrication Work?

Fabrication is the process of constructing products by combining typically standardised parts using one or more individual processes. For example, steel fabrication is the production of metal structures using a range of processes such as cutting, bending and assembling.

The fabrication process can involve a range of different steps, depending on what is being produced and from what materials. However, the first stage in any fabrication is design.

Although it is possible to use hand-drawn diagrams for simpler work, more complex or detailed designs can be created and tested with computer aided design (CAD) programs. More complex fabrications will also often involve prototyping, which helps with visualising and testing product iterations.

Fabricators use a range of different processes according to the product specification and materials.

There is more about the processes below, which include cutting (through chiselling, sawing, shearing, torching, or with lasers, mill bits or water jets), bending (with powered and manual hammers, press brakes, tube bending tools, etc.), and assembly (with adhesives, binding, threaded fasteners, rivets, crimping or welding).

Once a product has been formed, it will often have coatings or other finishing processes applied to improve appearance and improve durability. Many fabrication shops will offer associated processes such as casting, powder coating, powder metallurgy, machining and welding.

More complex or large-scale projects may need professional installation with the help of skilled engineers or welders. Of course, once installed, there may be a need for servicing and maintenance to keep items in working order.

What Are the Example of Fabrication?

As highlighted above, there are a range of different fabrication processes that can be used according to the materials being used and the desired outcome. Fabricating something from wood, for example, requires different processes from fabricating something from steel.

Some example fabrication processes include:

#1. Burning and Cutting

Burning and cutting tools are used to cut through raw materials, with the most common method being shearing. Shearing is used to trim away unwanted material, using two blades either side of the metal to create long, straight cuts.

Saws are also widely used for cutting, including band saws with hardened blades and feed mechanisms to ensure even cuts and abrasive cut off or chop saws.

Burning is also used to cut sections of material, using natural gas CNC cutting torches, plasma and laser cutting. Other CNC cutting methods include water jet cutting.  

#2. Forming

This process involves using force to change a flat sheet metal into a 3D part without adding or subtracting material. Punches and dies can be used to control the forming as machines control the direction and amount of force that is applied.

Machine controlled forming is easily repeatable, allowing it to find use in industries including aerospace, automotive, construction and architecture.  Forming can be combined with welding (see below) to produce lengths of fabricated metal sheeting.

#3. Machining

Another process frequently used with metal fabrication, machining involves the removal of material from a solid block to create a desired shape.

Most fabrication shops have machining capabilities including the use of lathes, mills, drills and other machining tools. Solid items like bolts, screws and nuts are made through machining.

#4. Punching and Stamping

Punching involves using a press to create holes in metals. The finished product created by punching could be an item with fastening holes punched out or the pieces of metal that are punched out themselves, known as blanks.

Smaller fabrication shops may use hand powered or mechanical punch presses, but most large scale industrial facilities will use CNC programmed presses that can produce complex designs at high outputs.

Where punching creates a hole in the metal, stamping leaves an indentation that can allow shapes, letters or images to be imprinted into the workpiece. Operated hydraulically or mechanically, many stamping machines can also cast, cut, punch and shape metal sheets.

#5. Welding

Being the main process used by steel fabricators, welding is part of many fabrication jobs. Whether it is joining formed and machined parts based on engineering drawings, or a highly skilled welder using experience to fabricate a unique part, welding will need to take account of the material and the desired finish, avoiding problems like warping or burn through.

What is Industrial Metal Fabrication?

As you likely can already guess, industrial metal fabrication is the process of integrating various parts or assemblies typically made from sheets or plates into industrial products.

Industrial fabricators typically serve industries such as aerospace, alternative energy, material handling, pollution engineering, water treatment, automotive, and more. The products they create are usually very large in scale and often include the likes of tanks, silos, and heavy machine parts.

Unlike structural metal fabrication, which we’ll get to in the next section, industrial metal parts are typically used as complements to one another.

What is Structural Metal Fabrication?

High-strength structural metal is one of the most popular materials used in the construction field today, whether the project is commercial, industrial, or residential in nature. Noting this, structural metal fabrication involves creating structural metal parts for these types of applications, such as I-beams.

Thanks to its ideal strength-to-weight ratio, steel is the most popular metal used in metal fabrication for structural purposes, as just about any type of construction project utilizes the material in some way, shape, or form.

In a commercial setting, the steel is likely what helps form the foundation. In fact, some of the most well-known buildings constructed with structural steel include New York City’s Empire State Building, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.

Here’s a look at some of the types of metal parts that may be used for a structural project:

  • Towers, or custom-made parts of a facility that enable more enhanced production
  • Platforms, which often form a part of loading bays, storage locations, ramps, or decks in certain facilities
  • Walkways (in industrial environments, walkways are typically required to meet various OSHA standards)
  • Stairs, when durability and strength are a requirement in either a residential, commercial, or industrial setting
  • Structural components that make up the main framework of a particular building (e.g., trusses, girders, and beams)

What is Commercial Metal Fabrication?

Commercial metal fabrication consists of creating the parts that are typically installed in commercial venues such as restaurants, stores, public spaces, and municipal buildings. Commercial metal products may include the following:

  • Guardrails
  • Awnings
  • Shelving
  • Sinks and other appliances
  • Conveyors

Another type of commercial metal fabrication is decorative or ornamental metal. These types of metal products are typically designed for installation on the exterior of commercial buildings to give the facilities better aesthetics and more curbside appeal.

Compared to structural and industrial metal parts, commercial parts tend to be smaller and more precise in nature. However, they’re just as important to how a commercial entity operates, both from a functional standpoint and when it comes to keeping employees and customers safe.

What Is the Differences between Fabrication And Manufacturing?

Fabrication involves combining different parts to form a finished product. Whereas manufacturing is taking raw materials and putting them through a process to create a finished product.

The difference between them does seem nuanced, and certain areas of fabrication do fall under the manufacturing umbrella. However, manufacturing is a more inclusive process that involves the creation of elements and the creation process. Fabrication doesn’t involve creating elements, but combining pre-assembled elements to create a final product.

Whether you need manufacturing or fabrication will depend on the project you are undertaking. But a skilled design and manufacturing team will be able to undertake both fabrication and manufacturing depending on your needs.