3D Printing’s Impact on the Metal Fabrication Industry
The potential for technology to change the way the metal fabrication industry operates is ongoing and enormous. We’ve already benefited from laser technology with faster, more accurate metal fabrication. As 3D printing evolves, it will also have a big impact on how things are manufactured.
Also known as additive manufacturing (AM), 3D printing is changing the face of manufacturing and production when it comes to just about every industry: automotive, electronics, military, even food. Originally used with plastics and polymers, recent innovations include a type of 3D metal printing as an additive process that uses a laser beam to melt micron layers of metal powder instead of plastic filament. New 3D printing machines will allow for using a wider variety of metals, which will simplify the printing process.
Industrial Fabrication and Manufacturing
The evolution of 3D printing has gone from a product development tool to a full-blown industrial and manufacturing tool. Metal additive manufacturing will lead the way with processes such as metal binder jetting, powder bed fusion, and directed energy deposition.
Mass manufacturing faces the biggest challenges when it comes to 3D printing, but rapidly evolving technology will eventually allow production speed and quantity to increase. Some experts predict a complete disruption in traditional manufacturing in many industries.
In April 2017, a Massachusetts startup announced the release of two new metal 3D printing systems targeted toward the engineering and manufacturing industries. Initially allowing engineers to make metal prototypes, the full production system rolling out in 2018 will enable manufacturers to print metal parts. The system uses powdered metal and a “bound metal deposition extrusion process, which it says creates repeatable, high-resolution parts that are superior to not just current printed parts, but also parts made from traditional casting.” (Forbes)
In traditional fabrication, there’s often wasted materials. With 3D printing, waste and energy use can be reduced. 3D printed products also have the potential to be lighter, a big benefit especially in the aerospace and aviation industries.
One of the coolest anticipations is the ability to use 3D printing in zero gravity. Astronauts will eventually be able to print parts, tools, and possibly even food in space, helping make space missions more self-sufficient.
All Metals Fabrication is watching this technology carefully, anticipating the day will come when we add this capacity to our manufacturing base.
Welding Metals Together Will Create Warping and Distortion
Warping and distortion when welding metals is a topic we have discussed before but it seems to be one of the biggest overall issues that our customers misunderstand.
Welding metal materials is not “gluing” pieces of metal together, although that is sort of how it seems.
Welding is basically melting metals together—for steel, those melting temperatures, without getting overly technical, range at approximately 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
The color of the metal, during the process, will give a good clue to just how hot the joining metals become. Bright yellow and you are over 2000 degrees. Red is around 1200 degrees.
Most people might naturally begin to understand that introducing that type of heat, along with rapid cooling, is a recipe for warping and distortion.
There are ways, of course, to mitigate warping but sometimes, particularly fabrication assemblies that have high dimensional tolerances (or aesthetic tolerances for architectural designs) the engineers or designer may be asking for something that is nearly impossible.
So, some steps to help minimize distortion when welding metals include the following:
1) Avoid Over Welding—this is a big one! Solid, thick welds look pretty but can warp the heck out of metal particularly on thinner materials.
2) Use Intermittent Welding whenever possible—this is commonly referred to as stitch welding. It allows for parts to have little segments of weld rather than continuous welds.
3) Well-planned Weld Sequences—this process allows for welding along different segments of the assembly so all the heat does not collect in one point for a long period of work.
4) Clamping and Jigs—locking parts into place while welding is the most commonly used method of minimizing warping but it is not a fix-all. Parts will often move once they are removed from the clamps (hopefully not as much as if they were welded in free form).
5) Allowing for Warping—which means presetting the parts anticipating that they will move or warp, hopefully into place.
Metal welding is not a new trade—craftsman have been mastering this work for years and can do amazing things…sometimes impossible things. Still, there are limits. Engineers and designers would be well served to consult industry experts as they design and detail parts to make sure they are, in fact, workable and weld-able!
Laser Cutting Plastic-Type Materials
AMF is often asked about the feasibility of laser cutting materials other than metal.
Truth is lasers do a good job of cutting nearly anything but it isn’t that simple particularly when it comes to plastic.
Cutting certain types of plastics can cause significant caustic fumes that can literally be lethal if someone is exposed in a major way.
Of course there is science behind this. Without getting into the chemical specifics, common plastics can be divided into two categories: Thermosets and Thermoplastics.
These two categories are delineated by how much chemical bonding takes place inside the plastic material itself.
Thermosets have a large amount of bonding connections and break down easily when heated because they are less subject to melting or puddling.
Common example of Thermoset plastics would include: Rubber and Epoxy Resins
Thermoplastics have fewer bonding connections and are a bit harder to cut as they tend to melt. In fact cutting is accomplished by a term called “melt shearing”.
Common examples of Thermoplastics would include: Polypropylene, Polyethylene, Nylon, PVC, Lexan and Acrylic.
The quality of the cut can be an issue. Often times the plastic will discolor at the edge of the cut with a brown charring effect. In addition to discoloration, some plastics will not cut cleanly but will, instead, melt at the edge leaving a poor quality (almost a drippy-looking) cut edge.
Cut discoloration and edge quality are certainly important factors but perhaps the most significant overall factor is safety. The ‘melting’ and heating impact of the laser beam cutting through the plastic creates fumes and gases.
Some of these fumes are merely unpleasant to smell, but some fumes can be very caustic and, as mentioned at the onset, can be utterly lethal.
Smokey and stinky materials include the likes of common rubber (think smoking tires on the road) and lexan.
Toxic materials include plastics such as Delrin, Vinyl and PVC.
PVC literally will create Hydrochloric Gas Vapors!
The takeaway here is that AMF’s tube laser will not be cutting PVC pipe. We generally try to avoid most plastics in general but do cut, from time-to-time, materials like Plexiglas near the end of the day when the shop can avoid the stink-out.
Create an Exciting and Rewarding Career in Metal Fabrication
A career in metal fabrication is a rewarding, exciting and lucrative one for skilled metal workers. This ever-growing career field offers a steady pool of jobs, solid income potential, and the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects.
Assemblers and fabricators hold 1.8 million jobs in today’s workforce. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 2.3% employment rise in 2016, with an average hourly wage of $19.23 per hour and a mean annual wage of $40,000. Industries with the highest levels of employment for metal fabricators include architectural manufacturing, ship and boat building, and foundation/structural contractors. Other highly employable industries within metal fabrication include industrial, transportation, shipping, motor vehicle, body and trailer manufacturing, engines and turbines, aerospace parts, rail transportation, and jobs within the government sector.
We do metal fabricators do?
Metal fabricators utilize raw metals and machinery to fabricate, position, align and fit metal products for a large variety of products and industries. From car parts to aircraft to steel buildings, if there’s metal involved, you need a fabricator. Most metal fabricators work in fabrication companies or manufacturing plants. Even with advances in technology and machinery, such as precision tube lasers, metal fabrication requires strength and skill.
Skills and training
Hands-on occupational training in the fundamentals, skills and theories of metal fabrication is critical to success in the field. Typically, a high school diploma is required, followed by study in a technical program. It’s important to find a solid program with a strong combination of education and hands-on experience with state-of-the-art equipment. Areas of instruction should include safety, blueprint readings, math, MIG/TIG/stick welding, sheet metal fabrication, part constructing and forming and project building. In Utah, the DATC in Kaysville and OWATC in Ogden, for example, teach a variety of welding processes, cutting, joining, reading and understanding blueprints, and industrial skills.
Our people and technology
All Metals Fabrication is about more than just metal. Utilizing a strong combination of skilled craftsmen and state-of-the-art technology, our experienced fabrication crews work closely with our project management, engineering, and installation teams to create high-quality metal fabrication work that delivers on time. From our dedicated 60-foot tube laser to welding, flat sheet lasering, punching, rolling, forming and polishing, we provide high-end architectural and industrial metal fabrication from start to finish. For more information about career opportunities, including incredible benefits such as 100% health care coverage and 401K Safe Harbor retirement plans, contact us today at All Metals Fabrication, where Vision Takes Shape!
Making Employee Safety a Priority in Industrial Fabrication
Employee safety in the industrial fabrication industry should be a paramount consideration for all companies. At AMF, we believe our employees are our most important assets, and that makes their safety our number one priority.
Safety vs. Productivity
When it comes to safety vs. productivity, employee safety should always be the clear winner. In fact, when properly implemented the two goals should complement each other. After all, safe employees are productive employees.
A survey by the National Safety Council reported that 70 percent of employees say that safety is part of their orientation and ongoing training. It’s important to remind both employees and management not to let safety practices slack due to a heavy workload and pending deadlines. Encouraging employees to stay focused will not only keep them safe, but will actually help get the job done right and on time.
The bottom line: Employees cannot and should not be forced to choose between safe practices and the pressure of keeping productivity goals. Most importantly, they must have the ability to stop production when they feel safety concerns are at stake.
Safety culture begins at the top
When it comes to worker safety in industrial fabrication, a safety manager is a key liaison between management and employees. The safety manager’s responsibilities begin with ensuring that all OSHA requirements are met. Under OSHA, employers have a responsibility to provide a safe work environment, including:
- Providing a workplace free from serious recognized hazards
- Comply with standards and regulations listed under OSH Act
- Ensure employees have and are trained to use safe and properly maintained tools and equipment
- Establish or update operating procedures and communicate them so that employees follow safety and health requirements.
- Provide safety training in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.
Safety issues should always be addressed immediately, before anyone gets hurt.
All Metals Fabrication works hard to create and maintain a safe work environment.
Our standard safety practices include:
- Yearly safety and process audits by outside consultants
- Monthly company-wide safety meetings
- Regular and accurate measuring of accidents and the root causes of those accidents
- Culture set up to allow employees to stop work when conditions feel unsafe
Workplace safety is important for many reasons, including employee welfare and retention, maintaining OSHA compliance, and manufacturing efficiency. OSHA reports that “an effective safety and health program…is the right thing to do, and doing it right pays off in lower costs, increased productivity, and higher employee morale.” At All Metals Fabrication, we wholeheartedly agree.
How Laser Cutting Works
The terms laser cutting, etching and engraving are often used interchangeably, but each process offers different metal fabrication benefits. All three provide a permanent way to mark products with company logos, serial numbers and designs. While it seems as these processes accomplish the same goal, how each goes about it is different, and one may work better for a particular metal or project over another.
The main difference between cutting, etching and engraving is the lens focal length. A laser-engraving machine has a shorter focal length, which results in high quality detail work. A laser cutter, on the other hand, uses a longer focal length, which allows for cutting thicker materials with a more precision cut and at faster speed.
Laser cutting is an industry standard for accurate, fast fabrication. A high-powered laser is able to make precision cuts in sheet metal by actually melting the metal. High-pressure gasses, typically nitrogen or oxygen, are used along with the laser beam, and the cutting head moves over the metal plate to create an exothermic reaction that delivers the precision cut details.
We often get asked if our 4,000-watt flat laser-cutting machine can etch materials. It can, but a laser engraver, designed specifically to etch and mark materials, can do the job better. The flip side is that a laser-engraving machine isn’t really designed to cut materials. While both machines serve essential functions, they’re not as cross functional as people may think.
The Mazak Fabrigear II 220 tube laser is the latest addition to the All Metals Fabrication family of laser cutters. Designed for fast, high-precision cutting, this revolutionary tube laser boasts 4,000 watts of power and a tapered laser torch that allows for the laser cutting head to cut any shape, size or extrusion. Click here to read about the significant advantages our new tube laser offers.
Tube laser cutting is very similar in the actual laser beam technology, but differs significantly from flat sheet lasers with the ability to cut full 24-foot lengths of tube, angle, channel, beam, etc. without requiring the very manual setup that flat sheet lasers need to cut the same extruded type of material.
Ultimately, cutting lasers and etching lasers are really designed for two different purposes and are both important and useful technologies in the fabrication industry.
AMF is the only fabricator in Utah that has water jetting, flat sheet lasering and now tube laser capacity under one roof. Call us or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how tube laser cutting can enhance your next metal fabrication project.
All Metals Fabrication Hires New Quality Assurance Director
All Metals Fabrication has experienced brisk growth in the industrial sector of parts and assembly manufacturing, including sectors such as automotive, transportation, medical, recreational, mining, machining, and machine building. In order to manage our growing quality requirements in these industries, we’ve hired a new Quality Assurance Director, Craig Johnson.
Craig brings both an incredibly optimistic attitude and highly skilled aptitude to the AMF senior management team. His major role as Quality Assurance Director will be making sure AMF meets the quality standards required from our great customers in processes such as flat sheet laser cutting, tube laser cutting, water jet cutting, plasma cutting, advanced forming, bending, rolling, cutting, cleaning, TIG welding, MIG welding, general assembly and more. He will also play a significant role in Continuous Improvement, Lean and Strategic initiatives for the company.
Craig’s background includes significant contributions in both sheet metal and metal foundry manufacturing processes. This wealth of experience in the metal industry allows Craig to focus on processes that will simultaneously improve quality and production methods at the same time.
All Metals Fabrication is thrilled to have Craig with the company and think our customers will feel the same!
Contact us to discuss how we can help turn your vision for your next industrial or architectural metal fabrication project into reality.
All Metals Fabrication’s Tube Laser Machine Specs
We recently invested in the Mazak Fabrigear II 220, a state-of-the-art tube laser machine designed to bring even higher quality and value-driven custom metal fabrication to our process. Tube laser technology introduces several significant advantages to All Metals Fabrication, including incredible speed increases, notable savings in downstream assembly costs, and the ability to overcome previous design limitations.
Our new Mazak Fabrigear II 220 tube laser utilizes a synchronized four-chuck material clamping system to make sure any tube or extrusion sets firmly in place while the laser beam actually cuts. Unlike competing machines, this system creates a highly accurate cutting process that begins to approach machining tolerance for pieces and parts that have to be just right.
All Metals Fabrication’s tube laser is set to handle tubing and sizes up to 8 inches in diameter and 6 inches square—along with the heaviest of wall thicknesses. In addition, our tube laser can handle 24-foot lengths of material both in and out of the machine.
All Metals Fabrication’s tube laser machine offers a true, full five-axis head, which allows the machine to cut around unique shapes, sizes and extrusions. In fact, it’s the only 3D tube laser with the true, full range of motion necessary to cut unique shapes like wide flange beams or custom extrusions. The head includes A-axis with full 360-degree movement, and B-axis with 135 degrees of rotation—the best in the metal fabrication industry!
Another notable feature is the tapered laser torch, which allows for the laser cutting head to get into tight corners, and results in the ultimate flexibility to cut any shape or size. This capacity is a significant advantage, particularly downstream, when part assembly (especially welding assembly) requires a tight fit up with beveled edges that are weld-ready as soon as the parts come together (no grinding or hand beveling required).
Click here to learn more about All Metals Fabrication’s tube laser.
All Metals Fabrication Introduces New Tube Laser
All Metals Fabrication is excited to introduce the Mazak Fabrigear II 220 to our fabrication process. Designed for fast, high-precision cutting solutions, this state-of-the-art tube laser boasts a 4,000-watt power cell and can handle heavy wall pieces of tube, pipe, channel, beam, angle or custom extrusion. The tapered laser torch allows for the laser cutting head to get into tight corners resulting in ultimate flexibility to cut any shape or size.
Tube laser technology introduces several significant advantages over traditional manufacturing and fabrication processes:
1. With the ability to overcome old design limitations, our engineers can do more intricate cuts faster and better. For example:
- Cut types, material shapes, and unique chamfering that were once impossible to do, can be easily accomplished with five axis cutting on all shapes: square, round, T, channel, angled, beams and more.
- Assemblies can take advantage of slotting, tabbing, mitering and hooking to create parts and assemblies.
- Form, angle cut, notch or bevel parts to create new assembly ideas.
2. Incredible speed increases in handling and fabricating traditional and non-traditional shapes and extrusions.
- Traditional methods, sawing, drilling, coping, mitering, punching, milling and deburring can be eliminated. These processes are often slow and inaccurate.
- Require multiple movements and handlings of material (often large materials).
- Require multiple machines.
- Are often laborious and slow due to hand marking or other manual processes.
3. Notable increase in downstream weld and assembly of parts.
- Expensive set up and jigging costs may be eliminated in many cases because parts can be designed to fit together with tabs, hooks, slots and hole locators.
- Gaps, spaces and out of square issues that usually cause excessive weld filling and part manipulation can be completely eliminated.
- Grooves and joints can be prepped and ready for immediate welding, eliminating grinding and beveling often required for proper fillets and weld assembly.
- Carefully planned tabs, marks and slots allow for fit up that eliminates parts being fabricated backward, incorrectly or errantly placed.
- Tacking and Fitting parts together can often be eliminated.
Tube laser technology is most often used in engineering and fabrication shops. Fabricators, erectors, job shops and local OEMs often outsource their tube and structural processing to save significant downstream assembly costs while simultaneously improving quality.
Contact All Metals Fabrication today to find out how tube laser cutting can change your fabrication world!
Why Reshoring Manufacturing To America Is Growing
The U.S. has lost millions of domestic manufacturing jobs over the past decade, thanks to outsourcing to foreign countries. But in a recent reverse trend, we’re starting to see a small yet growing number of American companies reshoring manufacturing jobs back to the United States.
USA Today cites that some 265,000 jobs have been re-shored in the past five years from cheap labor countries like China and India. New technology is making that reshoring possible. AMF’s newest tube laser technology is driving jobs back to the US because of the incredible advances in speed and manufacturing productivity.
Why did U.S companies start offshoring in the first place? Cheap labor and tax advantages, along with less stringent manufacturing regulations, are the main reasons. However, the same economic forces that pushed U.S. jobs overseas—costs—are now reversing and reshoring manufacturing jobs to America.
Manufacturing was the hardest-hit industry, accounting for about half of the trade deficit and leading to job loss in every state in the U.S. According to USA Today, the U.S. lost 2.4 million manufacturing jobs to China alone between 2001 and 2013. In addition to lost jobs, U.S. wages also suffered due to the competition with cheap labor around the world. It’s estimated that the average two-income U.S. household loses roughly $2,500 per year due to wage decrease.
Rising labor and shipping costs, in addition to increased risk, are major points of stimulus behind reshoring manufacturing to America. Reshoring Initiative indicates that this is the fastest and most efficient way to strengthen the U.S. economy, and lists the top reasons for reshoring to be:
- Lead time
- Higher product quality and consistency
- Rising offshore wages
- Skilled workforce
- Freight costs
- Image of being Made in USA
- Lower inventory levels, better turns
- Better responsiveness to changing customer demands
- Minimal intellectual property and regulatory compliance risks
- Improved innovation and product differentiation
- Local tax incentives
Of the 265,000 jobs jobs have been reshored in the past five years, many of these belong to some of the largest U.S.-based companies such as G.E., Walmart, Ford, Boeing, and Farouk Systems. Bringing manufacturing jobs back stateside can also benefit a company’s image. USA Today cites Walmart’s “Made in USA” initiative as an example of a successful brand-boosting initiative.
It’s estimated 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled in the U.S. over the next decade. According to a recent article by Harry Moser, Founder and President of the Reshoring Initiative, a higher skilled workforce is critical to a successful reshoring effort. As baby boomers retire and the rising generation sees a limit in the growth potential of manufacturing, recruiting and training skilled manufacturing talent is critical.
Creating a highly skilled workforce in the U.S. is critical to job growth in America. Reshoring manufacturing jobs to the U.S. is a key component to restoring a vibrant U.S. economy.
All Metals Fabrication continues brisk growth in the industrial sector of parts and assembly manufacturing, including sectors such as automotive, transportation, medical, recreational, mining, machining, and machine building. Contact us today to bring your industrial or architectural metal fabrication projects to life.