30 Sheet Metal Fabrication Terms Every Buyer Should Know

Let’s be honest. Like any industry, those of us who live in sheet metal fabrication speak our own language. We want to bring you into the fold, so we’re sharing 30 common sheet metal fabrication terms and what they mean. Let’s talk shop!

Sheet Metal Fabrication:
The term “sheet metal fabrication” encompasses the manufacturing processes required to turn sheet metals, such as steel and aluminum, into specific shapes. Sheet metal is received into a facility in flat sheets which can be turned into everything from cabinets and enclosures to chassis and beyond.

New Product Development For Sheet Metal Fabrication:

New Product Development: This is the design and development of a new product. This requires creating or new design or altering an existing design and testing that on the shop floor with a limited release volume. 

Prototypes: Prototypes are a fantastic way to understand the form, fit and function of a product and to validate a design. Prototypes are small quantity runs and because of this, typically cost more per piece than a production unit. These are made without production tooling, but with a high level of craftsmanship. This is the time to make engineering changes to improve product manufacturability for full-scale production. Prototypes can also use variances to production units such as different fabrication capabilities, material or purchase components.

First Article Inspection (FAIs): FAIs are the first step after a design is “frozen,” and all engineering changes are in place. This is a validation run. Unlike a prototype, FAI units are made with production tooling and fixtures in a production environment. 

Computer Aided Design (CAD): After initial specifications for a product are created, which ideally include 3D models and 2D prints, these specifications are converted to a sheet metal design so flat patterns and manufacturing instructions can be created. These are then sent to the shop floor to drive sheet metal fabrication. 

Tooling in Sheet Metal Fabrication:

Tooling: An implement that is required to produce a part in sheet metal fabrication. This can include hard-tooling, soft-tooling, hand-tools and hybrid tooling.

Hard-tool: Generally considered die sets that fit into punch presses, forming machines or stamping equipment. Hard-tools typically cost more than soft-tools but are great for high volume production and more complex features.

Die set: Forming aids used in a press brake to bend sheet metal to a required angle and radius.

Soft-tool: Soft-tools are generally used in CNC machines such as those used for laser cutting parts. Soft-tools are ideal for cutting flats with no form features and typically cost less than hard-tools. These are also great for high-accuracy, quick turn programs.

Hybrid-tool: There are variations that can be defined as a hybrid-tool. A notable example of a hybrid-tool is a punch press where you are creating multiple features at once and then using hard tools such as stamping to create the more complex features.

Hand-tools: When it comes to sheet metal fabrication, these include tools such as drills, riveting guns, grinders and welders. 

Sheet Metal Joining:

ARC Welding: Joining common material metals using an electric arc and heat. 

Robotic Welding: This welding process requires using a robotic arm and advanced welding fixtures to join metals together.

Metal Inert Gas (MIG) Welding: A welding process where the consumable filler metal is the electrode. During the melting process, the filler metal melts and joins with the base metal to complete the weld and create the weld joint.

Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) Welding: Uses a non-consumable tungsten electrode to create the arc and melt the metal. The filler is fed into the base metal separately. 

Spot Welding: This is a welding method where two metals are joined together by passing a current through two electrodes and generating heat to create a weld joint.

Weld Tables: A table with specialized features to aid in the welding process. The tables help reduce fixturing costs and development time because clamping and squaring is done with removable features.

Weld Fixtures: Specialized tooling to hold parts together during the welding process. Weld fixtures help ensure process repeatability and part reliability.

Riveting: Riveting is a mechanical fastening method used to join multiple materials together using a fastener.

Metal Clinching: Clinching creates a form feature between two materials to create a joint using specialized tooling. It is essentially stacking two parts on top of each other and pushing them together.

Sheet Metal Finishing:

Deburring: Mechanically removing a burr on the edge of a piece of steel. A burr is a small portion of the base material that creates a sharp edge which can be a safety hazard.

Powder Coat Paint: A painting process using a dry powder. The powder coat paint process includes pre-treatment cleaning and a bake cycle.

Wet Paint: A painting process that uses liquid paint. This process also includes pre-treatment and a bake cycle like powder coat paint.

Epoxy Paint: This is a two-part epoxy paint that allows the paint to cure without a heat application due to a chemical reaction of the paint.

Silk Screening: The application of paint to a product for graphic design such as logos or other branding images.

Additional Sheet Metal Fabrication Processes:

Punching: Uses a turret and die to force material out of a working piece or part. In layman's terms this process creates holes. Punch press turrets come in assorted sizes and styles to create different shaped openings.

Stamping: The stamping process utilizes a die to mold and create shapes. Unlike punching, stamping does not completely cut through metal. This is synonymous with hard tooling. 

Bending: A process of adding a defined shape to a flat sheet of metal along a single axis.

Machining: This is a subtractive fabrication process meaning material is removed from metal to create the form or shape. 

Laser Cutting: This is an alternative to a punch press or turret as it uses a laser to cut the sheet metal.


Having a good understanding of these phrases will help you communicate better with your metal fabrication partner and have a deeper understanding of your product’s needs. Believe it or not, these 30 commonly used terms in sheet metal fabrication just scratch the surface of all there is to know about this industry. But don’t worry about that — our team at Maysteel have it covered (and are happy to share our knowledge with you)

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