Metal fabrication is a booming and ever-growing industry. This process is used to produce a nearly endless amount of parts for manufacturing companies around the world. For instance, metal fabricators create large materials such as frames for cars, fuselages for airplanes, hulls for ships, and beams for buildings, bridges, and towers. Custom fabricators also create smaller materials, including staircases, piping for plumbing systems, and even art like sculptures and business signs. Indeed, the sheer number of metal fabrication applications boggles the mind, but no matter what product is ultimately being created, the process can be summed up with three basic techniques: cutting, bending, and assembling.

Metal plate must be cut according to the precise specifications of the project. Professional fabricators use an array of techniques for this process. Here are the three most common:

Plasma cutting – Plasma cutting torches shoot an electrical arc through compressed air, ionizing the air and generating a powerful flame that can slice through any electrically conductive metal, e.g., stainless steel and aluminum.
Oxy-fuel cutting – Oxy-fuel cutters heat up the plate with a preheated flame, then create a chemical reaction with a stream of pure oxygen that cuts through the material. This type of fabrication is limited to ferrous, or iron-containing, metals like low-carbon steel.
Waterjet cutting – Waterjet cutting machines super-pressurize a stream of water by forcing it through a miniscule nozzle. The beam of water is so concentrated that it can slice through the metal plate.
There are unique benefits and limitations to each cutting method, so they are typically used for different applications. And while fabricating metal with a handheld torch has been and still is common practice, many professional metal fabricators opt for CNC cutters, which are equipped with automation technology to optimize materials and production times.

After a metal plate has been cut, it may need to be bent into shape. Just like the cutting process, bending can be done by hand or with machinery. Press brakes, for instance, are a popular method for bending metal sheet and plate. These heavy-duty machines clamp the material into a punch die, forcing it to take the required shape. As with CNC operations, press brakes can be automated to speed up production and eliminate processing errors.