Closing the Skills Gap With Sheet Metal Fabrication

New technologies are blurring the lines between CAD/CAM software and equipment to overcome training gaps, enabling more manufacturers to enter sheet metal fabrication. However, even with this technology, following best practices in part design is essential to ensuring that components function as intended. For instance, ensuring there’s enough space around features and providing manufacturers with a 3D file of your part will help ensure your parts are robust and created to your specifications.

Changing Metal Fabrication Landscape
Newer CAD-embedded presses, punches, and sheet metal brakes are replacing increasingly difficult-to-access training to enable companies to start fabricating faster. These machines use a 3D CAD design or digital twin to extrapolate a flat pattern, but that’s not all. They also give their operators feedback, training, and step-by-step instructions on how to fabricate a sheet metal part, including which tools are needed and how to place workpieces in the machine. They can even prevent a user from making mistakes in fabrication.

Machinery like this is more crucial than ever to overcome accessibility barriers to one of the least expensive manufacturing methods. Fabricating is often cheaper than milling, and it scales well in volume production. It also is effective for large parts, and it provides parts of all sizes with a high strength-to-weight ratio. However, specialized fabrication knowledge has traditionally been limited to CAD designers and machine operators, requiring years of training and experience. Now, fabrication apprenticeship and training programs are vanishing, making learning these skills through training even more difficult. This is where these machines come in; they help to augment knowledge so those with less training can also enter the field.

For companies that can afford these machines (which can cost five times the price of a traditional one) the investment allows them to catch up on traditionally tribalized knowledge and quickly start production. For one company in our manufacturing network, this machinery enabled them to expand their range of services beyond laser cutting and start offering bending and other sheet metal fabrication services using online tutorials and the machine’s guidance. The equipment and digital tools caught them up on the skills they needed immediately. While suppliers now have these machines to help them, however, there are still certain design best practices to keep in mind to ensure the final parts come out exactly to your specifications. What does a manufacturer need from a designer to make their part successfully? What are the best design tips for sheet metal? Read on and find out.

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