Welding is the most well-known aspect of steel fabrication. However, it is far from the only type. But these other fabrication methods are probably a mystery to anybody outside of a machine shop. However, we benefit from the use of these methods every day.
We may be familiar with the image of a person in a welder’s mask holding a torch to a piece of metal, but the workings of a steel lathe are probably less recognizable.
Let’s look into some more methods for steel fabrication beyond welding.
Machining is one of the more exciting methods of steel fabrication. We describe it this way because it can be used to make an wide variety of products with an extremely detailed level of accuracy. And even if you don’t get the chance to use the final product, it’s simply fun to watch.
Machining is the process of carving, molding, cutting, or drilling into a piece of steel with the help of a machine. There are a few machines that can be used in this category.
- Drill Presses use the power of a machine to drill holes into a piece of steel.
- Lathes make use of rotation to form materials. The workpiece is spun at a very high rate of speed and the lathe is used to cut into it, making uniform alterations.
- Milling machines are generally used to work on flat pieces, but not always. A multi-toothed cutter is fed into the workpiece to remove material.
These impressive machines can take many forms. They can be small enough to use at home, or as big as a home themselves. They can be used to intricately work on pieces as small as a coin, or to quickly remove large amounts of material.
These types of steel fabrication can be done with manual machines or Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines. The range of possible products is massive — anything from bullets to car parts.
Forming is an interesting method of steel fabrication because it changes the shape, and therefore the use of an object, without altering its mass. No materials are removed. The raw materials are deformed using dies and presses. Imagine a fabric sheet lying over the top of a chair. Now imagine if you could pick that sheet up and it retained the form of the chair. That’s (an over-simplified version of) forming.
There are a couple different classifications of steel forming:
This method of fabrication includes methods in which the primary means of altering the workpiece is compressing it with force. This includes forging, die forming, indenting, extrusion., and rolling.
This method of fabrication includes methods in which the primary means of altering the workpiece is tensile stress. This includes expanding, recessing, and stretching.
These two classifications of forming methods can be combined for processes such as flange forming, upset bulging, spinning, pulling through a die, and deep drawing.
These processes can yield a great variety of products. It can be used to make smaller items such as pipes, tubes, and fasteners. It can also be used for large sections of car manufacturing and even airplane assembly.
There are a number of methods that can be used to cut raw material.
The most common of these methods is shearing. This is a means of cutting straight lines on flat pieces such as steel sheets. One of the two blades remains stationary while the other cuts down and forces the metal to pass between them.
This makes use of an instrument similar to a welder’s torch, but with the addition of an oxygen blast trigger. The metal is first heated to a high temperature and then oxygen is supplied to the area. The oxygen produces more heat when it reacts with the metal and forms an oxide. This is blasted out of the cut. This heat continues the cutting process.
An accelerated jet of hot plasma is used to cut through metals. This can only be accomplished with electrically conductive materials. This includes materials such as copper, brass, stainless steel, aluminum, and others. This is used in large scale industrial applications because of its precision, low cost, and speed.
A high-powered laser (usually an optic laser) is guided through CNC to perform highly intricate cuts and designs. The beam either melts, vaporizes, or burns the material according to the design entered into the CNC. It is frequently used by industrial manufacturing applications although it is becoming increasingly used by small businesses as well as hobbyists.
Water Jet Cutting
A mixture of an abrasive substance and water is shot at a material through a highly-pressurized device. This is capable of making cuts in a wide variety of materials. This method is often used to fabricate machine parts although it is also frequently used in the aerospace industry.