Metal Fabrication: A Guide to Manufacturing Metal Parts

Metal fabrication stands as the alchemist’s art of modern industry, where raw metal materials are transformed into magnificent creations that fuel our world’s machinery, infrastructure, and innovation. In our journey through the realms of metal fabrication, we delve into the intricate dance between material selection and manufacturing techniques, unlocking the secrets to crafting metal prototypes and production parts with finesse and precision. From the molten embrace of casting to the precise dance of machining, each step in the process breathes life into metal, shaping it into forms that defy imagination. Join us as we embark on a voyage through the metallurgical wonders of material selection and manufacturing techniques, unraveling the mysteries that lie beneath the surface of metal fabrication.

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Importance of Material Selection in Metal Fabrication

Modo Rapid, as a metal manufacturer, shares a write-up on tips for selecting materials. Material selection is a critical aspect of metal fabrication, influencing the performance, longevity, and cost-effectiveness of the final product. Let’s delve into the significance of various factors in material selection:

Strength and Durability:

Strength and durability are paramount considerations in material selection, especially for components subjected to heavy loads, high pressures, or harsh environments. Choosing metals with high tensile strength, such as steel or titanium, ensures that the fabricated parts can withstand mechanical stresses without deformation or failure. Additionally, durability ensures the longevity of the components, reducing the need for frequent replacements and maintenance.

Corrosion Resistance:

Corrosion resistance is essential, particularly in applications where metal parts are exposed to moisture, chemicals, or corrosive substances. Selecting corrosion-resistant materials like stainless steel or aluminum alloys helps prevent rust, oxidation, and degradation over time. This not only enhances the aesthetic appeal of the fabricated parts but also extends their service life in corrosive environments, reducing maintenance costs and downtime.

Thermal Conductivity:

Thermal conductivity plays a crucial role in material selection, especially for components operating in environments with fluctuating temperatures or high heat transfer requirements. Metals with high thermal conductivity, such as copper or aluminum, facilitate efficient heat dissipation, preventing overheating and thermal damage to the surrounding components. This is particularly important in applications like heat exchangers, electronics cooling systems, and engine components.

Cost Considerations:

Cost considerations are integral to material selection, balancing performance requirements with budget constraints. While high-performance alloys may offer superior mechanical properties, they often come at a higher cost. Therefore, it’s essential to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of materials based on factors such as initial material cost, fabrication complexity, and long-term maintenance expenses. Opting for cost-effective materials that meet the desired performance criteria helps optimize project budgets without compromising quality or functionality.

how metal made

Common Materials Used in Metal Manufacturing

Metal fabrication encompasses a wide range of materials, each chosen for its specific properties and suitability for various applications. Modo Rapid provides  manufacturing services using a variety of metals. Let’s explore the common materials used in metal fabrication and categorize them based on their characteristics:

1. Steel:

  • Carbon Steel: Known for its strength, durability, and affordability, carbon steel is widely used in metal fabrication. It comes in various grades, with higher carbon content offering increased hardness and strength.
  • Stainless Steel: Stainless steel is prized for its corrosion resistance, making it ideal for applications where exposure to moisture or harsh environments is a concern. It offers excellent strength, durability, and aesthetic appeal, making it suitable for architectural, automotive, and food processing industries.
  • Alloy Steel: Alloy steel combines iron with other elements such as chromium, nickel, or molybdenum to enhance specific properties like strength, hardness, and resistance to wear and corrosion. It is commonly used in applications requiring high tensile strength and impact resistance, such as machinery components and structural parts.
  • In the realm of hard metals, steel reigns supreme, finding its way into a multitude of applications, from cars to cruise ships, and cables to crescent wrenches. Composed mainly of iron, steel’s history traces back thousands of years, with limited manufacturing until the mid-1800s when the Bessemer steel process revolutionized mass production, sparking the industrial revolution.Similar to softer metals, steel’s properties are significantly influenced by small quantities of alloying elements. For instance, the addition of less than 1 percent carbon and manganese transforms brittle iron into tough 1018 steel, while 4140 alloy steel, suitable for aircraft use, requires a sprinkle of chromium and molybdenum.Carbon steels like these can be hardened to varying degrees and are easily welded. However, they are prone to rust, necessitating plating or painting for most applications involving carbon steel. Modo Rapid recognizes the importance of steel in modern manufacturing and offers precision machining services for a wide range of steel alloys, ensuring high-quality components for diverse industrial needs.

2. Aluminum:

  • Aluminum Alloys: Modo Rapid’s metal manufacturing service provides parts crafted from two aluminum variants: 6061-T651 and 7075-T651. The “T” symbol denotes a post-heat treatment stretching process, reducing residual stress to enhance machining stability. With magnesium and silicon alloys, 6061 aluminum maintains a yield strength of 40,000 psi or more in its wrought form. Recognized for its corrosion resistance and weldability when using suitable equipment, it stands as an ideal choice for robust, lightweight material needs in various demanding applications, such as structural machinery components, hydraulic valve bodies, marine and automotive parts, among others.
  • Modo Rapid’s manufacturing service also offers 7075 aluminum, known for its superior hardness and strength compared to 6061. With a yield strength nearly double that of its counterpart, it boasts primary alloying elements such as zinc, magnesium, and copper. Widely utilized by the American military in firearms and in applications like top fuel dragster connecting rods and Boeing aircraft wing spars, 7075 stands as a robust material. While it excels in toughness, 6061 surpasses it in corrosion resistance and applications requiring flexibility. Both materials facilitate easy machining, although 7075 tends to be slightly abrasive.

metal manufacturing

3. Copper:

  • Pure Copper: Copper, renowned for its ease of brazing yet difficulty in welding, boasts extreme ductility, offering a rare combination of strength and flexibility among metals. Its applications extend beyond conducting power for grills, finding use in semiconductor manufacturing for high-temperature superconducting, glass-to-metal seals essential for vacuum tubes, and approved by the United States EPA for antimicrobial surfaces in hospitals and public spaces.For machinists, brass presents an effortless machining experience: optional coolant, exceptional tool life, and high feedrates. Despite its seemingly easygoing nature, brass proves to be sturdy, rivaling the tensile strength of mild steel. Interestingly, unalloyed copper tells a different story. While it serves as the primary ingredient in brass, its machinability is approximately five times worse, discouraging even the most patient machinists due to its tough, stringy nature. Chips are notoriously difficult to break, and its high thermal conductivity causes rapid heating during cutting processes.

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4. Titanium:

  • Titanium Alloys: Titanium alloys are renowned for their exceptional strength-to-weight ratio, corrosion resistance, and biocompatibility. They find applications in aerospace, medical implants, and chemical processing industries where lightweight, high-strength materials are required.

5. Brass:

  • Brass Alloys: Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, offering excellent machinability, corrosion resistance, and aesthetic appeal. It is commonly used in architectural hardware, plumbing fittings, and musical instruments due to its unique golden appearance and antimicrobial properties.

6. Nickel Alloys:

  • Nickel-Based Alloys: Nickel-based alloys, such as Inconel and Monel, exhibit outstanding resistance to high temperatures, corrosion, and oxidation. They are extensively used in aerospace, chemical processing, and marine applications where extreme conditions are encountered.

7. Magnesium:

  • Magnesium Alloys: Modo Rapid offers magnesium alloy processing, providing a popular lightweight material that ranks as the fourth most abundant element in the earth’s crust. Weighing two-thirds less than 6061 aluminum and boasting comparable strength, magnesium stands as the lightest of all structural metals. It finds extensive use in camera and cell phone bodies, power tool frames, laptop computer chassis, and various applications where strength and low weight are crucial. Automobile manufacturers utilize magnesium extensively in transmission cases, seat frames, and intake manifolds to enhance fuel efficiency. Typically alloyed with aluminum and zinc, magnesium exhibits excellent dampening characteristics, machinability, and is readily molded or die-cast. Despite susceptibility to corrosion and reduced strength at high temperatures, magnesium has been successfully employed by manufacturers like Volkswagen in the crankcase of its air-cooled Beetle engine for over 50 years. While magnesium may be more expensive than aluminum, the relative ease of manufacturing magnesium components helps mitigate costs. It’s worth noting that Modo Rapid specializes in manufacturing magnesium parts.

8. Lead:

  • Lead Alloys: Lead alloys, such as leaded steel and leaded bronze, are utilized for their high density, damping capacity, and radiation shielding properties. They find applications in medical imaging, nuclear shielding, and soundproofing materials.

9. Tin:

  • Tin Alloys: Tin alloys, such as solder and pewter, are valued for their low melting point, malleability, and corrosion resistance. They are commonly used in electronics assembly, plumbing, and decorative applications.

metal Prototyping and rapid fabrication

Key Manufacturing Techniques for Metal Prototypes and Production Parts

Metal fabrication encompasses a variety of manufacturing techniques, each offering unique advantages and applications. Let’s delve into the key techniques for metal prototypes and production parts:

1. Casting:

Casting is a widely used manufacturing process for creating metal parts by pouring molten metal into a mold cavity and allowing it to solidify. It is suitable for producing complex shapes and large quantities of parts with high dimensional accuracy. The main types of casting processes include:

  • Sand Casting: In sand casting, a pattern of the desired part is created using sand molds. Molten metal is poured into the mold cavity, where it solidifies to form the final part. Sand casting is versatile, cost-effective, and suitable for both ferrous and non-ferrous metals.
  • Investment Casting: Also known as lost-wax casting, investment casting involves creating a wax pattern of the part, which is then coated with a ceramic shell. The wax is melted out, leaving behind a cavity that is filled with molten metal. Investment casting offers high accuracy and surface finish, making it ideal for intricate and high-precision parts.

2. Machining:

Machining is a subtractive manufacturing process that involves removing material from a workpiece to create the desired shape and dimensions. It encompasses various techniques, including:

  • Milling: Milling uses rotary cutters to remove material from a workpiece, creating features such as slots, holes, and contours. It is suitable for both flat and curved surfaces and can achieve high precision and surface finish.
  • Turning: Turning involves rotating a workpiece on a lathe while a cutting tool removes material from the surface. It is used to create cylindrical shapes, such as shafts, rods, and tubes, with high accuracy and repeatability.
  • Drilling: Drilling creates holes in a workpiece using a rotating drill bit. It is a common machining operation used for creating holes of various sizes and depths in metal parts.

Precision manufacturing

3. Forming:

Forming processes reshape metal into desired shapes without removing material, making them ideal for creating complex geometries and maintaining material properties. Some common forming techniques include:

  • Stamping: Stamping uses a press to deform metal sheets or blanks into specific shapes using punches and dies. It is used for mass production of parts with consistent dimensions and tight tolerances.
  • Forging: Forging involves shaping metal by applying compressive forces to heated billets or ingots. It produces parts with superior strength, toughness, and grain structure, making it suitable for critical applications in aerospace, automotive, and manufacturing industries.

4. Welding:

Welding is a joining process that fuses metal parts together using heat and pressure. It is used to create strong and permanent bonds between metal components. Common welding techniques include:

  • Arc Welding: Arc welding uses an electric arc to melt and fuse metal parts together. It is versatile and suitable for various metals and thicknesses, making it widely used in fabrication and construction.
  • MIG Welding: Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welding uses a consumable wire electrode and shielding gas to create welds. It is known for its speed, versatility, and ease of use, making it suitable for both thin and thick metal sections.

5. Sheet Metal Fabrication:

Precision sheet metal manufacturing is a crucial metalworking technique aimed at producing high-precision metal prototypes and production parts. This technique involves the use of various materials such as stainless steel, aluminum alloys, and magnesium alloys, and utilizes processes like cutting, bending, stamping, and welding to fabricate sheet metal components. Precision sheet metal manufacturing enables the creation of complex geometries and meets stringent dimensional requirements, making it applicable across industries including automotive, aerospace, electronics, and medical devices.

Modo Rapid is committed to providing high-quality precision sheet metal manufacturing services, leveraging advanced equipment and technologies to meet the demanding requirements of precision and quality. Our skilled team possesses extensive experience and expertise to accurately fabricate various types of metal components according to customer designs and specifications. Whether for prototyping or mass production, we strive to deliver optimal solutions to meet our customers’ unique needs and market competitiveness.

6. Additive Manufacturing:

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, builds parts layer by layer from digital designs, offering unprecedented design freedom and complexity. Common additive manufacturing techniques for metal parts include:

  • Selective Laser Melting (SLM): SLM uses a high-powered laser to selectively melt and fuse metal powder particles, layer by layer, to create fully dense metal parts. It is suitable for producing complex geometries and customized parts with excellent mechanical properties.
  • Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS): DMLS is similar to SLM but uses lower laser power to sinter metal powder particles, producing parts with slightly lower density and mechanical properties. It is commonly used for rapid prototyping and small-scale production of metal parts.

In conclusion, the realm of metal fabrication is vast and ever-evolving, encompassing a myriad of techniques and processes to bring innovative designs to life. With Modo Rapid’s nearly two decades of experience in metal parts manufacturing, rest assured that we have the expertise and knowledge to recommend the most suitable processes tailored to your specific needs. Whether you require precision machining, intricate casting, or advanced additive manufacturing, we stand ready to partner with you on your journey to create exceptional metal parts that meet and exceed your expectations. Trust in our commitment to quality, reliability, and innovation as we collaborate to bring your visions to reality.

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Post-Processing Methods for Metal Fabrication

Metal parts often undergo secondary operations after manufacturing to enhance their properties and aesthetics. Heat-treating is a common method used to improve strength and relieve internal stresses generated during raw material processing and heavy machining. For instance, carbon steels like 1018 can undergo case hardening through nitriding or carburization, while 4140 can achieve hardness levels of 50 Rc or higher via quench and temper techniques. Similarly, 17-4 PH and certain 400-series stainless steels can be hardened extensively, whereas 300-series stainless steel can only be hardened through cold working or die drawing. Soft metals like aluminum and magnesium are typically not hardened, although they may undergo cryogenic stress-relieving or low-temperature heat aging.

Surface treatment is another crucial step in post-machining processes. Aluminum is commonly anodized for scratch-resistant surfaces available in various colors. Chemical film or chromate treatments provide non-decorative protection, which also works for magnesium, albeit with different chemicals. Copper and brass tend to discolor upon exposure to oxygen, prompting the application of electroless nickel or chrome plating for protection. Stainless steel and superalloys often require no additional protection, but steel may undergo black oxide treatment or plating with materials like nickel, cadmium, or zinc. Painting is also a popular choice, typically preceded by bead blasting or other abrasive preparation methods to ensure a clean, rust-free surface. Modo Rapid offers a range of post-processing services to enhance the performance and appearance of metal parts, ensuring optimal functionality and aesthetics for diverse applications.

3d printing vs additive manufacturing

Modo Rapid’s post-processing services include bead blasting and tumbling to eliminate burrs and achieve a uniform surface finish on machined components, as well as on parts produced through DMLS 3D printing. Bead blasting utilizes a high-pressure stream of abrasive particles, such as sand or glass beads, to smooth edges and remove burrs. Tumbling, on the other hand, involves the use of small ceramic or plastic media in a tumbler bowl to achieve similar results. At Modo Rapid, these processes can typically be completed within standard lead times, ensuring timely delivery of finished products. Additionally, customers have the option to further enhance their parts by requesting plating, painting, or anodizing services, which can be arranged immediately following bead blasting and tumbling.

Metals Manufacturing at Modo Rapid

At Modo Rapid, we provide a comprehensive selection of materials, encompassing both hard and soft metals, to meet your part manufacturing needs. From steels and stainless steels to cobalt chrome and aluminum, our range of materials covers a wide spectrum of physical and chemical requirements. Coupled with our diverse array of conventional machining processes, including sheet metal fabrication and metal laser sintering, we can bring virtually any design concept to life—from prototypes to low-volume production runs.

However, it’s essential to consider some specifics. While our 3D printing, sheet metal fabrication, and machining processes offer flexibility, there are minimum and maximum size restrictions for parts. Additionally, for machined parts, we advise against walls thinner than 0.020 in. and depths exceeding 2 in. from any given side, with typical part tolerances of +/-0.005 in. At this time, cobalt chrome and Inconel are not available for machining at Modo Rapid.

Our metal laser sintering capabilities expand the possibilities even further, accommodating materials like cobalt chrome and Inconel, alongside others mentioned earlier. With options for normal and high resolutions, we can achieve thin layer thicknesses and minimum feature sizes, constantly improving our capabilities to meet your needs. Parts produced via DMLS may require additional processes to refine surface finish and remove support structures, which can be discussed further with our team.

Modo Rapid provides a wide range of plastic materials for machining, including numerous moldable thermoplastics and liquid silicone rubber options. Alongside our plastic machining capabilities, we offer a suite of manufacturing services, including 3D printing, CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, and injection molding, ensuring that we can meet the diverse needs of your part-making projects. Our pricing is tailored to accommodate various budgets and project requirements, making Modo Rapid your go-to partner for high-quality, customized manufacturing solutions.

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From concept to creation, we offer innovative solutions tailored to your specifications. Reach out now to kickstart your next metal fabrication project with confidence.