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A Guide to Steel Fabrication: What Is It? How Does It Work? An Introduction to Steel Types

Updated: Dec 14, 2022


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Fabrication, or secondary manufacturing, is the process of reshaping and joining semi-finished metal products so that they are suitable for final use. These semi-finished metal products are further tailored to suit the requirements of customers.


Steel fabrication products include steel trusses, storage tanks, automotive chassis, and metal enclosures. It can be done on-site or in machine shops or fabrication shops, otherwise, you can hire a professional steel manufacturing company to produce steel-based products you require.


You can read on to learn more about steel fabrication in this article.


What is Steel Fabricating?


The steel fabrication process creates steel products through secondary metal manufacturing.


This includes cutting, bending, and joining metal products. Finishing and heat treatment are also used to impart additional characteristics to the metal product. Almost all industrial sectors depend on steel products for construction, transportation, energy, mining, agriculture, and consumer goods.


Primary vs. Secondary Metal Manufacturing Processes


Understanding primary versus secondary metal manufacturing processes is key to understanding steel fabrication.


Primary manufacturing processes:


Casting, forging, rolling, extrusion, wire drawing, and sintering are all methods used to create simple, semi-finished metal products like plates, sheets, tubes, and bars. Steel mills and foundries perform primary manufacturing processes. They transform raw metal ingots or billets into metal products that will be used for secondary manufacturing processes.


Secondary manufacturing processes:


The process of reshaping and joining semi-finished metal products into a metal part or structure that can be used as an end product. It is also known as fabrication. Steel fabrication products include steel trusses, storage tanks, automobile chassis, and metal enclosures, as well as modifying the properties of these semi-finished metal products to meet the needs of customers. Fabrication of steel is done in machine shops or "fab shops," or on-site at the project site.


Raw Materials Needed for Steel Fabrication


In addition to steel, other types of metals can also be used for fabrication workpieces, including aluminum, copper, and nickel alloys. Metals like steel and aluminum alloys are available and cheap, making them the most widely used metals. It takes less energy to smelt iron than aluminum, so it's less expensive.


The Preparation of Steel Fabrication


It is essential to understand the preliminary steps before proceeding with fabrication. To prevent errors and material waste, the workpiece must be prepared beforehand.


Read on to learn more about the process of steel fabrication.


Step 1: Design and Drafting


A design and drafting process is used in the early stages of a fabrication process to determine the final product's dimensions and physical characteristics. Calculating the structure's strength, deflection, surface hardness, fatigue life, etc. Making construction and assembly drawings. Preparing the work methods and operations involved in manufacturing parts. Calculating raw material type and quantity.


In the past, engineering drawings and calculations were produced by hand. Today, most engineering and design processes are done with computer software. Advanced calculations and modeling can be done which streamlines the process by allowing quick design iterations.


Step 2: Workpiece Preparation


Typically, sub-finished metals are protected against corrosion with a protective coat. The level of protection isn't always effective, and some rusting can still occur. Handling, transfer, and storage can also build debris on the surface that needs to be cleaned before work can begin.


You must remove coatings, scales, oils, old paint, rust, dirt, and any other surface contaminants that can impede the fabrication process or affect the product's quality. Pneumatic blasting, waterjet cleaning, mild pickling, scraping, and brushing are common ways to prepare workpieces for the next steps of the assembly.


Step 3: Marking


As part of the preparation process, edge lines, fold lines, and hole centers are scribed on the workpiece to identify the measurement. This is the process of marking.

Metal scribes, pencils, chalks, dividers, and punches are common marking tools. Aside from measuring devices, rulers, center squares, and T-squares assist in marking.


Step 4: Cutting


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This is one of the three main steps of metal fabrication. It involves the removal and recycling of unwanted scraps and chips from the main product or workpiece.

Cutting can also involve a scrap-less operation wherein no material is lost for recycling. This method is commonly seen in cutting sheet metal. To conserve material, pieces of metal from both sides of the cut are used. A new part is produced with each cut.

Cutting can be divided into several main categories. These are shear cutting, wedge-action cutting, abrasion, and non-traditional methods.


Shear Cutting:


Shear cutting involves using two moving cutting tools to cut metal. Metal is placed between the two tools when cutting. As the workpiece is in contact, the stress overcomes the material's shear resistance, which separates the two pieces as the crack or tear propagates through it.


Wedge-action Cutting:


These processes work with solid blocks, like bars, rods, and slabs, which are gradually removed until the final dimensions are achieved by a cutting tool that penetrates the material and moves towards the direction of the cutting line.


Non-traditional Cutting Methods:


Unlike traditional cutting methods, non-conventional cutting removes material electrically, electromagnetically, chemically, thermally, acoustically, or by special mechanisms.


Examples are provided below.


Waterjet Cutting: By eroding the material along the cutting line, waterjet cutting cuts metals and other harder materials. Waterjet cutting, also called abrasive jet cutting, uses water mixed with abrasive materials to cut.


Laser Cutting:There are various ways of cutting the materials in laser cutting, however the most common method is to use intensely focused beams of light called lasers to cut through the material.


Electrochemical Machining (ECM): Typically, special hard metal alloys such as titanium, Inconel, and other high-strength alloys are machined by using this process. The material is removed by electrolytically dissolving the unwanted material.


Whichever process you think is best for you, cutting can be challenging to accomplish on your own, that’s why it’s always a good idea to hire a professional steel manufacturing company like NBS.


Step 5: Bending


Generally, bending is the process of forming metal in the desired shape by supporting it at least twice and applying pressure in between. This process occurs when the metal is supported on at least two points and pressure is applied between the points.

It is common for metal sheets, plates, strips, rods, and bars to be bent as a result of the profile of the press or punch, as well as the configuration of the supports or dies. As a result of bending, you can produce angle bars, channels, V-shape and U-shape bars, profiled sheets, and rounded plates.


Step 6: Assembly and Joining


To create a single, larger structure, all the cut and shaped parts are combined and integrated. A general picture of the structure to be built is gained by assembling the parts piece by piece. The initial assembly uses temporary tack welds or bolted connections to ensure all parts are properly aligned.


Permanent joints are formed once the metal parts are aligned and positioned. The most common joining methods in metal fabrications are welding, bolting, screwing, and riveting.


These joining processes are explained below:


  • Welding: It involves heating and melting metal joints, fillers, and mixing them to form a weld pool. Once the weld pool cools and fuses, it forms an integral joint. In welding, heat is used to melt the metal, shields are used to protect the welding, and material thickness is taken into account.

  • Soldering and Brazing: Joining processes such as welding and brazing involve melting a filler metal and depositing it into a joint. There is no difference between soldering and brazing, except brazing melts at higher temperatures and does not melt the workpiece or the base metal. The filler metal used in brazing melts at higher temperatures than those used in soldering. Brass is typically used as filler, while tin-lead alloys and silver alloys are used in soldering.

  • Bolting and Screwing: When bolted and screwed, fasteners can be inserted on either side of the part without damaging it. They can be removed without causing damage. During vibrations, bolts and screws can loosen over time.

  • Riveting: Sheet metal is typically joined with this semi-permanent riveting. Like bolting and screwing, the workpiece is not permanently damaged.


Our recommendation is to hire a professional manufacturing company that specializes in welding. Look for a company that strives to make welding as safe and efficient as possible. NBS has been a pioneer in robotic welding technology for many years now.


Step 7: Finishing and Other Secondary Metal Fabrication Processes


There are different types of finishing as well as other secondary industrial fabrication processes that can be performed on a part, each depending on the design and intended application of the part.


There are several secondary processes associated with steel fabrication:


Heat Treatment: Metal parts can be modified by heat treatment to increase their strength and hardness. It can also relieve residual stresses left over from primary manufacturing processes and welding.


Coating: Generally, coatings are curable polymers in powder or liquid form. Powder coating and painting are common coating processes. Coatings make surfaces more durable, attractive, textured, and chemically resistant.


Galvanizing: During this process, a layer of zinc is applied to a metal surface to prevent it from rusting. The most common application method is hot-dip galvanizing, where the metal is submerged in molten zinc.


Anodizing: It involves passing current through an aluminum part submerged in an electrolyte bath to build up a thick oxide layer on its surface.


Deburring: By removing burrs, which are raised edges left by the initial machining process, deburring boosts the quality of the final product. Burrs develop after shearing, bending, cutting, piercing, and compressing metals.


How Can Steel Fabrication Be Used?


Castings: Metal ingots are melted and solidified into these products. The end product is shaped according to the casting, but some dimensions are usually outside tolerance. A final product is shaped, finished, and heat treated by secondary processes.


Blooms: Developed from the first breakdown of the metal ingots, blooms are metal stocks with an almost square cross-section that have a dimension equivalent to or greater than 6 x 6 inches. They are the product made from the first breakdown of the metal ingots.


Slabs: This type of material is made from the rolling of metal ingots in a steel mill. Slabs are rectangular in shape and have a thickness of roughly 8 inches or more. They have a rectangular cross-section and are inverted.


Billets: Compared to blooms, billets have a square cross-section with a dimension between 2 by 2 inches and 5 x 5 inches. A billet is essentially a bloom that has been further shaped either after rolling, forging, or extrusion to get the desired shape.


Plates, Sheets, and Strips: Further rolling of these semi-finished products produces plates with a thickness of more than a quarter of an inch, while sheets and strips are thinner. Sheets are distinguished from strips by their relatively wide thickness-to-width ratios.


Bars: In the production process, billets are further rolled into smaller cross-sections that are usually 0.5-2 inches in cross-section. Bars are solid metal products that have square, round, or rectangular cross-sections.


Rods: There are many types of rods. The most common are coils and rolls, which are a small cross-section steel rod. Rods usually have a cross-section measuring between 0.2 and 0.5 inches. They are easy to bend because of their small cross-sections.


Beams, Channels, Angles, and Rails: By progressive rolling in which rotating grooved rolls are fitted together and a gap is left between each roll, the metal product is formed from blooms with irregular cross-sections that are formed by the progressive rolling process. As the product passes through the gap, it takes shape.


Tubes and Pipes: Usually square, rectangular, or round, tubes and pipes are hollow metal products. Welded tubes and pipes can be rolled into a coil and welded by electric resistance welding. Seamless tubes and pipes are manufactured by rolling a round bar and piercing it using a rotating cone. Seamless tubes are formed at elevated temperatures near their transition temperature.


Wires: A wire is formed by a metalworking process called drawing. This process involves pulling a metal piece, typically a rod, from a die. By drawing at room temperature, the cross-sections are greatly reduced. Wires are formed through a metalworking process called drawing.


What are the Benefits of Steel Fabrication in Mining and Drilling Industries?


Mining for iron ore uses steel made tools, making steel important to any country's economy. While it is true that steel fabrication may not exist without the mining industry , they now complement each other.


The iron ore mining industry is indispensable for the production of steel tools and equipment. The mines even require steel frameworks to be built. For example, steel fabrication has been used to manufacture a wide range of mining equipment in Western Australia.


The use of computer-aided design technology has made steel fabrication even more precise and efficient. Some of the advanced equipment that can be found in mining in Western Australia comes from steel fabrication:


  • Augers

  • Blades

  • Hammers

  • Rippers

  • Wheel

  • Excavators and buckets

  • Wheel Loaders and buckets

  • Wheel dozers

  • Articulate trucks

  • Material handlers

  • Motor graders

  • Off-highway trucks

  • Track loaders


In the mining industry, steel fabrication is used to create a number of tools and equipment. National Boilermaking Services is the most experienced and reliable steel fabricator for the mining and drilling sectors in Perth, WA.


Quality Steel Fabrication Requires Industry Experts


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NBS is the best engineering company for steel metal fabrication with highly trained staff, cutting-edge equipment, and extensive hands-on experience.


NBS provides cutting-edge upgrades that OEMs cannot provide. Their wide catalog offers aftermarket drill equipment upgrades and much more!


National Boilermaking Services are famous for providing customers with innovative, flexible solutions in order to improve productivity and reduce operating costs. Their product range includes, but is not limited to:


- CAT 785 Trucks

- DT10 Dozers


Fabrication Services At National Boilermaking Services


NBS prioritizes safety, reliability, efficiency, and commercial success through intelligent and hard work.


In order to guarantee the quality and consistency of its operations, NBS has invested in automated welding robots and automatic positioning systems since 2020. NBS plans to automate every stage of its manufacturing process by 2025, enabling it to increase its production capacity by 50%.


Are you located in Australia? Then please contact us if you have any questions about NBS or if you need assistance with your steel fabrication project.




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