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Top 4 New Trends in Sheet Metal Fabrication

Jun 21, 2023Jun 21, 2023

Sheet metal fabrication undergoes continuous improvements. Those changes affect related areas and professionals, such as aiding HVAC experts with ductwork fabrication. Here are some recent examples of eye-opening progress in the field.

Until recently, robots for sheet metal fabrication were relatively niche products. Now, they’re coming into the mainstream. One of the most compelling examples is how federal entities — including NASA and the U.S. Air Force — are among the investors supporting California startup Machina Labs.

That company specializes in robots for sheet metal fabrication. Its machines are too slow for mass production, but many clients rely on the technology to test their ideas during the early stages. Some other customers place orders for metal components in quantities from dozens to hundreds to ensure they have enough spare parts available. The Machina robots excel in fulfilling such needs.

Some people in the industry who’ve seen the robots at work say they can do the jobs as well as seasoned metalworkers, preventing those professionals from suffering complications like back pain. There will likely be more examples of robots supplementing sheet metal professionals but not replacing them as the years and technology progress.

Metalworking shops were not traditionally known for using digitized processes to improve workflows. However, that’s starting to change. More shop owners and managers are exploring digital solutions, and they’ll be increasingly likely to notice competitive advantages.

One of the most significant advantages of digitalization is that it can break down the data silos that would otherwise slow or stop productivity. For example, someone might clock in to start a shift, access digital files in a cloud-based platform and immediately see what co-workers did on a client’s order earlier.

Workers can spend more time focusing on making high-quality sheet metal parts, knowing they always have access to the most up-to-date information. Data-driven operations are also valuable when a client makes a last-minute change request. A digital system often reflects the difference immediately, while a person updating things manually may take hours to communicate the change to shop employees.

Digital processes can also prove valuable in the field. A client may need an on-site estimate about ductwork fabrication for a home under construction. The contractor could use a digital tool to provide that quote and any other particulars that could help the customer reach an informed decision and feel confident about working with a specific professional.

Learning sheet metal fabrication requires mastering numerous techniques. For example, air-powered metal-cutting tools significantly ease molding and shaping needs. People receiving metalworking training get the necessary knowledge in various ways. They might read textbooks, go through online modules, and attend in-person lectures and hands-on training sessions. Those are all valid learning options.

However, some students now use virtual reality simulations and similar technologies to learn the necessary skills. Augmented reality (AR) is another popular choice because it adds virtual details to real environments. For example, someone new to sheet metal fabrication might see a checklist floating in midair for them to follow. That approach keeps their hands free to work.

AR can also support error prevention. In one case, an AR overlay detected someone’s mistake before they incorrectly placed a sheet metal panel. Failing to catch that error would have ruined a million-dollar product.

Simulations play an increasingly important role in ductwork fabrication plans. People can easily access and learn simulation software that helps them see how certain options would work before committing to them during a project. Workers who can see the possibilities with software first have the knowledge needed to please clients and ensure the work finishes on schedule.

Anyone who has stayed abreast of 3D printing developments knows many are game-changing. Manufacturers can quickly prototype new designs and even create spare parts on-site instead of relying on external suppliers.

3D printing also creates new opportunities for sheet metal fabrication. One example comes from 3D printer maker Desktop Metal. Its recently released FIGUR G15 machine provides on-demand shaping for standard sheet metal by pulling details from a design file and exerting up to 2,000 pounds of force to achieve the desired outcome.

The current model can make sheet metal pieces measuring up to 1.5 meters by 1.2 meters. People save substantial production time by not needing to use stamps, dies or other tools.

Elsewhere, Australian architecture firm BVM hopes to change ductwork fabrication with 3D printing. The company uses recycled plastic for its ductwork rather than aluminum or steel. Moreover, this solution requires ductwork to be exposed rather than hidden behind drywall.

Company representatives have also studied how to create 3D-printed designs that promote even air distribution throughout a room rather than leaving some people too warm and others cold. Tests of the concept showed it achieved that goal and used 10% less energy than conventional options.

These four innovations are already shaking things up in the worlds of sheet metal and ductwork fabrication. People who are not yet familiar with them should learn about them soon. That’s a great way to keep up with peers and the fast-changing pace of the industry.

Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist and the editor-in-chief of Revolutionized. She enjoys reading and writing about how technology is changing the world around us.