With a market value of over $15.3 billion in 2022, it is clear that industries across the globe heavily rely on sheet metal fabricators. However, knowing how to work with a sheet metal fabricator is not always easy. So, let’s demystify the inner workings of sheet metal fabricators to help you make more informed decisions for your sheet metal fabrication needs.

What Do Sheet Metal Fabricators Do?

Sheet metal fabricators turn raw metal sheets into various products and components. They play a critical role in modern manufacturing and primarily serve the automotive, aerospace, construction, and manufacturing industries.

Sheet metal fabricators design, cut, shape, and assemble sheet metal to meet the specifications and requirements of their clients. Typically, they use computer-aided design (CAD) software to develop precise models and layouts of the desired product. Then, sheet metal fabricators process the sheet metal to create the design.

What Is a Precision Sheet Metal Fabricator?

Precision sheet metal fabricators further specialize their capabilities to produce products and components that require tight tolerances and high levels of accuracy. Industries vulnerable to catastrophic failure from a single malfunction require precision sheet metal fabricators. Think nuclear power plants, aviation, or medical device manufacturing.

These precision sheet metal fabricators use expensive machinery to produce products and components within specifications. Often, these sheet metal fabricators meet specs within 0.005 inches. They also invest heavily in quality control processes to ensure all products and components that leave their factories meet their customer's specifications perfectly.

Common Materials Used by Sheet Metal Fabricators

Since a wide variety of metals can be flattened into sheets, custom sheet metal fabricators use lots of different materials depending on the needs of their clients. Here are a few of the most common materials that sheet metal fabricators use:

Steel: Due to its strength, versatility, and durability, steel is one of the most commonly used materials. It comes in various grades and alloys, each with specific properties suited for different applications. Automotive, construction, and appliance industries rely heavily on steel sheet metal fabrication.

Aluminum: Because of its lightweight properties and corrosion resistance, aluminum finds frequent use in the aerospace and transportation industries. It is also widely used in manufacturing building facades, signage, and consumer products like electronic enclosures.

Copper: Electrical components, heat exchangers, and plumbing applications require the electrical and thermal conductivity that copper offers. Its antimicrobial properties also make it suitable for use in healthcare settings.

Brass: As an alloy of copper and zinc, brass boasts a combination of strength, durability, and aesthetic appeal. That makes brass particularly suited for decorative applications, such as architectural features, lighting fixtures, and musical instruments.

Titanium: Even though titanium costs significantly more than most other materials, its exceptionally high strength-to-weight ratio, corrosion resistance, and biocompatibility make it the top choice for specialized industries like the aerospace, medical, and marine industries.

Techniques and Processes Offered by Custom Sheet Metal Fabricators

To transform raw metal sheets into precise and functional components, custom sheet metal fabricators use an array of techniques. These processes can be broken down into cutting, forming, and joining.

Cutting Methods

Breaking down larger sheet metal into smaller pieces requires precision cutting methods such as:

Laser Cutting: A high-powered laser beam can cut through metal sheets with high accuracy, which minimizes waste when cutting intricate designs and complex shapes. 

Water Jet Cutting: Mixing water with abrasive particles and then shooting a pressurized stream of the mixture at a thick metal can cut through it. This type of cutting prevents the creation of heat-affected zones. So, it is ideal for steel, aluminum, and titanium.

Plasma Cutting: At the opposite end of the spectrum, plasma cutting intentionally uses a high-temperature plasma arc to cut and melt through the sheet metal. While it’s a fast process, it can create up to 10% waste by weight often called dross.


Forming Techniques

Most components and products that sheet metal fabricators make require some amount of alteration in the shape of the sheet metal. It is where sheet metal forming techniques come into play.

Bending: To create angular or curved shapes in metal sheets, sheet metal fabricators use press brakes or folding machines to bend the sheet metal without breaking it.

Rolling: Tubes, pipes, and curved panels require a consistent circular shape. Rolling machines take a piece of sheet metal and wrap it around a cylinder to make a curved shape.

Stamping: By pressing sheet metal into a mold, stamping enables high-volume production runs with consistent shaping. However, it can lead to some breakage that results in material waste.


Joining Processes

Creating a complete product or component usually necessitates combining multiple pieces of formed sheet metal. Custom sheet metal fabricators can use a variety of joining processes to accomplish this goal. For example:

Welding: Though there are multiple welding processes, they all use heat and pressure to fuse metal parts.

Riveting: Instead of fusing metal parts, riveting uses small metal fasteners that hold multiple pieces of sheet metal together.

Soldering: As a kind of combination of welding and riveting, soldering melts a metal alloy, called solder, onto two pieces of sheet metal. The melted metal alloy then solidifies to both pieces of metal, creating a bond.


After cutting, forming, and joining, surface treatment may be needed according to the client's needs, such as powder coating, anodizing, painting, etc. There are many surface treatments available for sheet metal products. Sheet metal fabricators can not do them all in-house. They will work with vendors to finish the work.

Advantages of Working with Sheet Metal Fabricators

Partnering with qualified sheet metal fabricators to create your products and components gives you significant advantages that should not be overlooked. You get access to their specialized experts who can help you identify the most cost-effective method of producing your components. They can also guide you toward designs that minimize waste.

Usually, custom sheet metal fabricators work alongside EPA-established Waste Minimization Assessment Centers (WMACs). WMACs use university labs to help manufacturers minimize waste and improve the sustainability of manufacturing processes. You can access this expertise by working with precision sheet metal fabricators.


This article explored the core processes and materials sheet metal fabricators use to create products and components. You can better understand their core capabilities and limitations. It empowers you to make more informed decisions when deciding on a manufacturing method for your next project.

You are welcome to contact our sheet metal experts at X Rapid Technologies. Let us see how to get your project rolling.