When Precision Counts, Count on Laser Cutting Technology

laser cutting metalWhen Precision Counts, Count on Laser Cutting Technology

Experienced metal fabricators know that when it comes to projects that require the utmost in precision cutting, there is no cutting corners by using outdated and inefficient equipment. Laser technology has provided the fabrication industry with not only the means to allow for more precise manufacturing, but also a way to make their operations more efficient and less costly.

What is Laser Cutting?

The origin of the word LASER stems from the acronym for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.” Laser cutting is accomplished, true to its name, through a process that stimulates emission. Laser cutters for industrial use are able to cut through flat sheets, piping or structural metals. Cutting is made possible by the laser’s ability to burn, melt or blow away the area to be cut.

Electricity or special lamps used within a closed environment generate the power needed to charge up the material that creates the laser beam. There are three types of laser cutting available to metal fabricators, including:

  • CO2 for boring, cutting and engraving
  • Nd for boring that requires high-energy
  • Nd-YAG for when high power is required

Both the Nd and Nd-YAG lasers are used in the welding process.

Different types of material require different types of laser beams using various methods to allow for cutting. These methods include, but are not limited to:

  • Burning stabilized laser cutting
  • Cold cutting
  • Melt and blow
  • Melt blow and burn
  • Scribing
  • Thermal stress cracking
  • Vaporization

A typical laser cutting setup for a metal fabrication shop includes:

  • A power source to produce a laser beam
  • Positioning table to secure material with clamps, magnets or straps
  • Laser material
  • Stimulation apparatus
  • Mirrors
  • Lens for focusing the laser beam

Pros and Cons of Using Lasers for Cutting

Laser cutting is more precise than mechanical cutting methods because machines can be easily contaminated from the materials that are being cut with them. Additionally, their blades are subjected to continual use that can dull them and cause their cuts to be inconsistent which can often lead to wasted material.

With laser cutting, you can expect:

  • Cleaner cuts without burrs that require additional processing
  • Faster production time
  • Less human error
  • Improved accuracy resulting in waste reduction

However, using laser cutting machinery does have a few drawbacks. It requires more energy than mechanical cutting methods. Because of the heat process involved, the laser process requires a cooling source, where water is commonly used as a coolant for a heat transfer or chiller system.

Advances Continue to Make Cutting Process More Efficient and Cost-Effective

Improved technology continues to develop cutting equipment that will require less laser gas and power to operate while dramatically improving cutting speeds and accuracy. These advancements help to increase production and transform other areas of the business process for metal fabricators who are taking advantage of this technology to greatly improve their bottom line.

Sheet Metal Fabrication; Electroplating vs Painting?

 Electroplating vs PaintingSheet Metal Fabrication; Electroplating vs Painting?

Choosing a finish is an essential step in the sheet metal fabrication process. Finishes can prolong the lifespan of metal parts, improve their cosmetic appearance and increase their suitability for their intended use. There are a number of options for finishing sheet metal parts, but two of the most common are electroplating and painting. Both of these options offer distinct advantages as well as certain drawbacks depending on the product’s purpose.

Electroplating vs Painting

Electroplating is the process of attaching a thin layer of one metal, such as chrome, iridize or zinc, to the surface of another base metal, such as aluminum. The plating is chemically bonded to the surface of the base metal through electric conduction. Electroplating should not be confused with anodizing, which involves bonding an additional layer of the same metal to the base product through the same electrochemical process.

Painting is more straightforward and most people are familiar with it. A primer is first applied to the base metal, followed by multiple layers of liquid paint and finally, a protective coating such as lacquer is added to protect the underlying paint.

Advantages and Drawbacks of Electroplating

Electroplating offers a much stronger finish than paint. Depending on the choice of metal used for electroplating, the object may have better resistance to chemical corrosion or increased physical durability. For example, zinc offers additional resistance to water damage, while chrome reduces the friction on the metal’s surface and tin can be used to join aluminum, which is commonly used in sheet metal manufacturing, to dissimilar materials. Certain finishing metals can also increase paint adhesion to metal parts as well.

Because electroplating chemically bonds the finish to the metal product itself, the coating expands and contracts at the same rate of the base metal itself, making it suitable for environments with drastic temperature fluctuations.

However, electroplating can be expensive and uneconomical, especially when parts are small. Furthermore, the advantages offered by electroplating may be excessive if the metal product is intended for a use that does not take full advantage of the benefits offered by the process.

Advantages and Drawbacks of Painting Sheet Metal

The most obvious advantage of painting is that fabricators have a much greater degree of control over how the finished product will look. Paint comes in just about any color imaginable, meaning that there are endless options for how the final product will look. Furthermore, company and product logos can also be added to the surface to further increase its cosmetic value.

Certain paints offer similar advantages to electroplating; some can increase the metal product’s resistance to chemical corrosion or physical damage, though not to the same degree as electroplating. Damage to specific areas of painted surfaces is easily repaired as paint can be applied quickly and easily to small areas of a product’s surface. Another advantage paint has over electroplating is that it can be applied to certain areas of a product’s surface if the entire product does not require finishing. Unlike electroplating, painting is not an “all or nothing” process.

Paint, however, is not as durable as electroplating. Furthermore, because paint is applied as liquid, it can take many applications to ensure a finish of even thickness and color.

Which Option is Best For You?

Electroplating and painting each offer unique advantages for finishing a sheet metal product. Ultimately, deciding on which finishing option is best for you depends on the intended use of your product. It is important that you consider all factors and the advantages and drawbacks of each before making a final decision.

Sandblasting Helps Save Time and Money

sandblastingSandblasting Helps Save Time and Money

A major challenge facing many industrial companies is how to get more use out of their storage tanks. Often companies simply purchase new tanks without trying to repair or restore their existing tanks. However, what many companies may not realize is that sandblasting provides an easy way to repair and restore their tanks to almost new condition. Sandblasting is a time and cost-effective method for maintaining and restoring existing tanks.

What is Sandblasting?

Sandblasting is the process of shooting a gritty, particle-based medium such as sand, glass beads or aluminum sulfide onto a hard surface to sand or polish it smooth. There is a variety of purposes where sandblasting can be useful. It can be used to clean pollutants or remove rust from storage tank walls or to prepare them for repainting or recoating.

Sandblasting is an extremely versatile process because of the many types of mediums that can be used. For example, a more delicate tank lining may require a gentler sandblasting medium such as walnut shells or glass beads. Tougher jobs, such as those found in oil storage tanks or where the tank surface must be stripped to bare metal may require a more abrasive medium such as silicon carbide.

Save Money By Recycling What You Already Own

Including installation, a new tank could cost more than $20,000. However, an existing tank of the same size can be sandblasted, have its leaks welded and then be repainted for under $4,000. This is less than 25 percent the cost of a new tank. You can add five to 10 years to the lifespan of tanks by choosing to have them sandblasted.

Most sandblasting mediums can be reused multiple times. Glass beads are often recycled from glass bottles and may be used for sandblasting up to 30 times. Other mediums, such as silicon carbide, may also be reused multiple times.

Some of the mediums used can be made from byproducts produced with a water jet cutting process used in some metal fabrication shops. This further reduces their cost. An added advantage with some mediums, such as walnut shells, is that they are fully biodegradable, thus saving money on their clean up and disposal costs.

Reap the Benefits of Sandblasting

It is possible to save time and potential headaches that come with buying a new tank or replacing your old one. It can take months to fabricate, transport and install a new tank. In many cases, the entire sandblasting process from site preparation to cleanup can be completed in less than a week. The most abrasive sandblasting mediums can further reduce downtime because they can achieve the same results as softer compounds but in less time.

Most sandblasting companies are full service and take care of all aspects of the process, including other repairs that may arise and site cleanup. This helps alleviate hassles you might encounter trying to coordinate a new tank install. As a result, sandblasting effectively reduces your usage downtime because your tanks are out of commission for a shorter amount of time than they would be if you chose to replace them.

With sandblasting, your old tanks can be restored to their former condition, quickly and inexpensively. This can be beneficial if your tanks are located in a visible location or an urban area where old rusty tanks might be considered eyesores. 

Metal Cutting Methods

Metal CuttingChoosing the Best Cutting Method for Your Metal Project

There are many types of metal and each requires different metal cutting techniques. Because of this, there are a variety of methods available to cut metal materials. The method you choose for your project will depend on the type of metal being used, the level of precision that is required and the intended use of the fabricated part and project.

Hand Tools for Cutting Metal Manually

For smaller cutting jobs, hand tools, including hand shears and hacksaws may be used for cutting metal into the desired shape. This cutting method is best suited for projects using more pliable metals, such as thinner-gauge aluminum. Using hand tools to cut metal is not recommended if the metal must be cut into extremely small pieces because the force needed to cut the metal may simply break it, instead of cutting it as intended.

Chisels can also be used to remove excess metal and to make a shape more precise. Depending upon the job, you may opt to use a cold chisel, with a sharpened edge or a hot chisel, which is heated before being hammered through metal.

Using Machinery to Cut Metal

For larger projects or those that use thicker or more robust metals, manual cutting is not always practical. There are numerous machine-based cutting methods to choose from, based on your metal cutting needs.

  • Grinder – For projects that require the finished part to be extremely smooth, a grinding machine may be your tool of choice. Using a rotating blade or wheel made of an abrasive material; a grinder uses friction to wear down the surface of the metal until it is smooth, similar to sanding wood.
  • Lathe – Using a sharpened cutting tool against a rapidly spinning piece of material, a lathe will cut a piece of metal to its desired shape. This machine is very common in the machining industry because it allows for a higher degree of precision.
  • Punch – This machine uses an extreme amount of pressure to force sharpened blades into or through metal to cut it into the shape desired. The amount of pressure generated by a machine punch is far greater than any human worker could produce, thus this cutting method is suitable for metals that are more robust. Some machine punches are capable of up to 1,000 hits per minute, making this cutting method very productive.
  • Water jet – Using water or water mixed with an abrasive compound, this machine directs an intense and concentrated stream into metal and cuts it. This method is best suited for metals that may be sensitive to extreme heat or temperature changes because it does not use heat in the process.
  • Flame and plasma – This process is similar to a water jet, but instead a flammable gas is pumped through a torch to create an intense hot flame. The flame then cuts the metal by burning and melting it. Flame torches, such as oxyacetylene torches are very efficient for cutting. Plasma cutters are known for their high degree of precision because they burn much hotter.

Greater Precision in a New Method of Metal Cutting

Laser cutting is one of the newest and most exciting methods in cutting technology. These cutters apply an intense beam of light to the metal, heating it past its melting point, and then cut through the metal. A laser cutter is able to concentrate light onto a very small area, which makes this method suitable for projects that require a very high degree of precision. However, this method is slower and more expensive than other methods of metal cutting.

Types of Prototyping for Metal Fabrication

prototyping for metal fabricationTypes of Prototyping for Metal Fabrication

In preparing prototypes, it’s important to have an eye towards your eventual production plans. Whether you will be using precision stamping or fabrication could affect your design, costs, and flexibility down the line. Knowing how you plan to produce your parts will play an important role in the design constraints of the prototyping phase.

Creating quality steel products is no simple task. In order to make the best product for your client base, you have to plan and prepare. We’ve provided you with a few types of prototyping that will help you choose the right prototyping process for your project.

Sheet Metal Prototypes

When it comes to metal products, sheet metal prototyping is the key to success. If this all-important step is skipped during a major run of a key piece and alterations are required, the resulting changes, material losses, and time spent could cost tens of thousands of dollars on even a small project.

Quality steel fabrication relies on a testing and adjustment from the design phase up until production, to prevent major costs down the line. Prototyping with sheet metal allows companies to see and understand the product they are preparing.

Rapid Prototyping

Depending on your needs, different forms of rapid prototyping might be suitable for your business. For marketing models and fit checks, Stereo-lithography, or SLA, is a precise option. If what you need is a functional, durable model, then Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), which is less smooth than SLA is a great option. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), on the other hand, makes an excellent engineering model tool, with cost-effective, durable prototyping available. If you need elastomeric or over-mold models, Polyjet might be the option for you. And finally, CNC machining can be used when you need metal models for precision work, but these are fairly expensive.

Precision Fabrication

Metal fabrication is a great tool for prototyping, but it’s a less reliable and consistent method in metal production than stamping. Unlike stamping, if something doesn’t quite work, it isn’t a major challenge to make adjustments. The process includes controlled machining, robotic welding, and accurate cutting techniques, which means that the product is carefully handled at every step of the way. However, the technique tends to be more costly than precision stamping, and the most complex pieces aren’t a great fit for fabrication techniques.

Precision Stamping

Metal stamping can be used to make all kinds of parts, and it’s a relatively fast and cost-effective solution for the production of several identical parts. If you require the production of unique parts, metal stamping probably isn’t the ideal solution since the work and cost to set up a stamp is the same whether you are producing one or thousands of identical pieces.

Precision stamping requires a design that is set in stone, since it’s difficult to make changes to designs once the stamping tools have been created. This leads to fairly long lead times to get production started.

That said, many precision stamping companies offer prototyping services to save costs. Because of the nature of precision stamping, it’s important not to commit to a design until it’s perfect.



Will Low Oil Prices Affect Metal Fabricators?

Low Oil Prices Affect Metal FabricatorsWill Low Oil Prices Affect Metal Fabricators?

The Possible Effects of Low Oil Prices on Metal Fabricators

The drop in oil prices hasn’t yet touched metal fabricators, but over the long term, we know that lower prices for oil and gas will lessen production, which could affect the fabrication industry. How this will look is hard to say, but it is clear that a heavy dependence on the oil and gas sector could slow down demand for some businesses.

A Bright Future

It may seem counter-intuitive, but dropping oil prices could end up being good for manufacturers and fabricators. For one thing, the Canadian dollar is heavily tied to oil prices, and as it drops, state-of-the-art manufacturing could be in greater demand.

Another opportunity for metal fabrication is in ongoing projects, which continue to require replacement parts and ongoing development. A slower market for new projects will not necessarily mean less work, but reinvestment in older parts to get more ‘bang for the buck’ in the oil industry.

Furthermore, there could possibly be an increase in steel imports over time, taking advantage of cheaper prices for transport and materials. It’s worth noting that just as the strengthening Canadian dollar led to layoffs in the manufacturing sector in 2004, the reverse could happen today as the dollar drops.

The Unknown

As layoffs occur in the oil field, manufacturers are bracing for a downturn in the fabrication sector as well. But fabrication works on a different time scale than the oil field, and changes are slower to reach the sector. Because of the time needed to produce metal pieces for the oil field, companies are working on projects now for deliverables that are months down the line. Predicting production needs over the longer term is difficult, but ongoing projects still need to be produced.

Prices for hot rolled coil are down, as is demand for sheet steel and bars for seamless pipe. Steel is faring better than other metals, like copper and aluminum, which have seen great changes in commodity prices since the oil bubble burst. Over the long term, the down turn could be damaging, especially for fabricators whose most significant markets are in Western Canada, Texas, or North Dakota.


Some US oil and gas producers believe steel demand from the oil sector could be down by as much as 50% in the next year, and that spells trouble for businesses that haven’t diversified.

Like the Canadian dollar, being tied to just one market could prove damaging for some businesses. For metal fabricators who have the ability to diversify their markets and interests, now is the time to explore a greater variety of business partners, thus mitigating the negative impact of low oil prices. One recommendation is to pursue or further existing relationships with automakers, as they make the most value-added steel.

Overall, the industry outlook is positive. While this could be a challenging time for some metal fabricators, it isn’t likely to cause serious harm to the industry as a whole.

The Sheet Metal Stamping Process: How Does it Work?

sheet metal stamping processHow Does the Sheet Metal Stamping Process Work?

Sheet metal is one of the strongest materials that can still be easily shaped and cut. Plus, sheet metal is recyclable, which drives costs down.

Metal stamping is used to produce parts in many industries. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) most often make use of sheet metal stamping to make their parts where casting would be too expensive. It’s inexpensive and efficient, but it’s likely you don’t really know how it works.

First, the basics.

Some OEMs produce their own stamped sheet metal on site, while others outsource to Tier 1 suppliers. It is these suppliers that build the dies for stamping down the line.

Sheet metal itself is usually made of steel, but stamping can be done with all kinds of metals, including golds and advanced super-alloys.

Basically, sheet metal stamping involves a flat metal sheet, also known as a blank, being pressed between a die and a punch to get the desired shape.

  • Blank – the portion of the sheet metal which is punched through the die
  • Die – defines the outside shape of the part
  • Punch – defines the inside shape of the part
  • Ram – moving component which presses down on the metal with upper die pattern
  • Bolster Plate – stationary lower part of the die
  • Blank Holder – holds the blank for control during stamping

These parts form the press, the ultimate tool of stamping sheet metal.

Of these, the die is probably the most complicated, and are often designed with inserts to produce variations on standard presses. You’ve probably seen dies used to make novelty souvenir coins — dies can be used for all kinds of processes and materials.  They can be small enough to build microelectronics or large enough to cut out sides of busses.

Presses can be built as single stage or progressive blanking tools.

  • Single Stage Press – stamping operations are done before or after the blanking
  • Progressive Blanking Press Tools – stamping is done by the machine prior to blanking, so the complete component is punched out throughout the blanking die.

As blanks are punched out of the sheet metal, the come through the die, which is built with a slight angle so that blanks don’t get stuck inside the die. Accidental hold ups can damage the machine, so it’s important that the stamping and blanking process continues smoothly.

Sheet metal presses are powerful machines. It takes about 71 tonnes of pressure to cut a 10 inch circle out of .125 inch sheet metal. Modern presses range from 10 to 50,000 tonnes of force.

Several people are involved in the stamping process:

  • Machinist – cuts die components to correct dimensions
  • Diemaker – tests die for consistency and assembles stamping tool
  • Maintenance Technician – repairs and maintains stamping dies, correcting any problems.

After stamping, some parts require further work in a process known as deep drawing. In deep drawing, a flat blank is drawn slowly over a forming die to achieve its shape. Next, excess material must be cut from the deep drawn metal. Finally, the metal might need to be bent, flanged

3D Printing for Metal Fabrication: Helpful?

3D Printing for Metal Fabrication

3D Printing for Metal Fabrication: Helpful or Not?

The implementation of 3D printing has revolutionized modeling and prototyping for metal manufacturers. The 3D printers allow for rapid prototyping from AutoCAD designs, including custom components, which enable complex designs that are difficult to produce with conventional machining, molding or casting.

At first, 3D printers were used to create plastic models. This restricted its capabilities to only certain types of projects for sectors such as construction, consumer product design and engineering projects. They were primarily used to develop models for demonstration purposes. Unfortunately, 3D printers are found inadequate in heavy industries like mining and metal fabrication.

Restrictions linked to metal 3D printing

Although 3D printers simplify manufacturing and product conception, it is important to keep in mind that its technology is still restricted to working with liquefiable materials such as plastic and polystyrene. When considering materials like metal, the challenges significantly increase.

  • Consistency in finish: The widespread use of 3D metal printing, in the Canadian mining industry, has been delayed, because the proper finishing required for the final product remains inconsistent. Consistency with internal finishes is important for products such as engines, moving parts and gears. However, with 3D metal printers, this is difficult to achieve as most metal casts may have liquid or air passing through them at a high speed, which results in uneven interior surfaces that may lead to corrosion.
  • Achieving the required strengths to withstand stress: Products and tools that are used in the mining industry are consistently under high pressure and stress.  They must be reliable, without cracking, bending or breaking, after repeated use. However, certain metal alloys used in mining components are difficult to work with, because tool manufacturers require high production capacity at low cost.
  • High costs in producing simple machine parts: Large companies mainly use 3D metal printers for low-volume complex designs on the shop floor. Currently, mass-production of simple mechanical products is expensive in correlation to traditional mass-production techniques such as casting or welding.
  • Difficulties in working with certain metals: Creating components out of certain metals, like titanium, makes 3D metal printing laborious. Aside from the cost of titanium, the main drawback is that it is challenging to work with, because it has a tendency to harden during cutting and forming, which results in high tool wear.  Additionally, when welded, it weakens the welds if the proper precautions are not followed.
  • Technical challenges still need to be addressed: Various challenging areas have yet to be addressed such as faster build times, better quality prints, and easy to use CAD-CAM software. Unless these areas are improved upon, many manufacturers will become aware of the indirect costs of building components, through the use of 3D metal printers, being higher than that of traditional metal fabrication methods.

The 3D printing technology has made it possible to challenge the manufacturing processes of many industries such as medical, aerospace and consumer products; however, it has become relegated to niche components and products. In the mining industry, where components and tools must be strong, relatively simple and built in mass quantities, 3D metal printers will inevitably fall short in delivering the perceived benefits.