Metal components comprise an enormous portion of products we see and use daily. So many things are made from metal components that it’s easy to forget they’re even there. However, to make them all, we must join individual metal parts to create finished products like street signs, machinery, and tools.
Fabricators can form metal into sheets that they can cut and shape into smaller or precisely cut designs. Various methods are available to create these smaller pieces, with metal stamping and metal fabrication being the most popular. These two methods are often used in manufacturing processes but serve innately different purposes.
What is Metal Stamping?
Metal stamping is a process through which an engineer transforms a simple metal sheet into a more complex shape. They achieve this through processes including:
Shaping a metal sheet by stamping it can be a single motion or a series of steps, known as multiphase or progressive die stamping. This process occurs by pulling a metal strip through a series of tool stations. Each station completes a single function, such as a twist, bend, punch, or cut, that will permanently change the surface of the metal sheet. Every subsequent station adds a new effect to the previous ones. As the metal moves, the series of actions transforms the metal into a final shape.
The original piece of metal has a new, solid shape to it. These shapes are designed according to the needs of the final product, allowing the use of the newly designed component.
The Pros of Metal Stamping
As a manufacturing process, metal stamping is cost-effective. It is ideal for large-scale projects requiring high-volume orders of pieces of the same shape. This setup works by feeding many sheets into it to be stamped progressively. It is easy to automate, as a multiphase stamping process is often completed by a machine rather than by hand.
Due to the nature of these production lines, stamping has less labor cost and less base material loss. In short, metal stamping is the best option for large-volume, uniform output production.
The Cons of Metal Stamping
Despite the benefits, there are a handful of downsides to metal stamping. The initial upfront costs for setting up the stamping tools is significant. For small-volume production, the costs typically far outstrip the profits from the final products. A single setup will only produce shaped metal according to a single design requiring alterations or resets for subsequent jobs. These setup times are also lengthy, requiring a dedicated pre-production phase that could be costly.
The last negative of metal stamping is that it is much harder to make design alterations mid-process. If the engineer finds an issue with the process, it will take longer to locate and change the step in the process that is causing this issue. All designs need to be tested and quality-assured before mass production begins.
What is Flat Sheet Metal Fabrication?
Whereas metal stamping creates a specifically shaped component by changing the shape of a sheet of metal, fabrication does it by adding or subtracting from it. Using special fabrication technologies such as CNC plasma cutters, a metal sheet is cut, punched, welded, or bent according to a design. This process can integrate more than a single sheet of aluminum or steel into its design.
Different metals and components are integrated into a base sheet through fabrication to create new components all of which change the fundamental purpose of the sheet. These parts include:
Unlike stamping, fabrication is often a handheld process due to the intricate nature of the alterations. Plasma-cutting technology can be integrated into automated cutting machines to create uniform cuts. However, smaller-volume batches can be done by hand.
Pros of Sheet Metal Fabrication
In contrast to stamping, metal fabrication offers far more versatility for the end product of a design. As it occurs, customization and changes can be made in the process, making it ideal for design prototyping and small-volume orders. The shorter time frame for lower orders makes it far more cost-effective than stamping.
Ultimately, fabrication is the most versatile form of metal shaping. It is the go-to process for product prototyping and experimentation.
Cons of Sheet Metal Fabrication
Most manufacturers will not choose fabrication for producing high-volume pieces. Also, fabrication is not a great option for mass production as it is significantly more labor-intensive, requiring much more input by operatives, which quickly raises production costs and time. It also leads to significantly more waste, as designs are tested and altered on a whim.
Which Should You Use: Metal Stamping or Metal Fabrication?
The deciding factor for which process to use is the stage of the production you are currently in. Metal fabrication is the best option during the earliest stages before deciding on the final design schematics. This is time for tests and changes, as it is much easier. It is also a good choice for any production that requires a limited number of components or final pieces, such as art installations or custom parts.
If production designs are already set, however, and a product is ready for mass production, this is when to choose metal stamping. Metal stamping is far easier (and cheaper) to automate, making it the best option for outputting high-volume orders of reliable designs.
The terms metal fabrication and metal stamping are often used interchangeably, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. While they both occupy a similar conceptual stage of production, they each have their own ideal time for implementation. Knowing which to choose and when is important for anyone looking to save time and money on a big manufacturing project.