Beginner’s Guide to Sheet Metal

Sheet metal has found its way into the manufacturing of many different products, including automobiles, electrical appliances, furniture, toys and boats. It’s a crucial component for so many things because it’s easy to work with and shape, and certain sheet metals are aesthetically pleasing.

You can create sheet metal from various metallic substances, all of which have different properties and appearances. Check out this guide to learn about different sheet metals and their uses.

What Is Sheet Metal?

Any metal that professionals shape into thin flat pieces is sheet metal. You can express sheet metal’s thickness in millimeters or inches, but most factories use gauges — Standard Wire Gauge (SWG), Birmingham Gauge (BG) and Brown and Sharpe Gauge (B & S). Here are the various categories of sheet metal based on their thicknesses:

  • Leaf: Leaf is the thinnest sheet metal, from a couple of atoms to 0.025 millimeters thick. It’s often composed of precious metals like gold or silver.
  • Foil: Slightly thicker than leaf, foil sheet metal is 0.025 to 0.15 millimeters thick. It’s generally brass, copper, aluminum, platinum, gold or silver.
  • Sheet: Flat sheets are 0.15 to 6 millimeters thick. Sheets less than 3 millimeters thick are generally easy to shape, but those exceeding this threshold start to require heavy machinery. The most common type of sheet metal is steel.
  • Plate: Anything thicker than 6 millimeters is classified as plate.

Manufacturers use various materials to make sheet metal, including copper, aluminum, steel and bronze. Sheet metal has many great properties, including:

  • Malleability and ductility: Ductility allows manufacturers to shape the metal without cracking or breaking it. Malleability means manufacturers can stretch, bend or stamp the metal.
  • Excellent strength: In most cases, sheet metal maintains its strength at lower thicknesses, resulting in sturdy, highly resilient products
  • Versatility: Since materials used as sheet metal come in varying thicknesses, you can impart their valuable characteristics to many different items.

What Is Sheet Metal Used For?

Sheet metal appears in products from numerous industries, but it’s especially useful in medical, communications, automotive and electronics applications. The metal type’s properties determine how much value it offers a product. Here are the most common types of sheet metal and their uses:

  • Aluminum: Aluminum weighs less than steel while still offering ample strength, so it frequently appears in products where weight is a concern. It’s also corrosion-resistant, so manufacturers use it to make cookware, automotive and aerospace parts, boat components, and marine vessels and structures.
  • Copper: Copper is excellent at conducting electricity, so it’s common in equipment that requires quick electrical transference, like battery systems, heat exchangers and resistance welding equipment. This sheet metal is also malleable, so it’s commonly used in artwork and decor.
  • Hot-rolled steel: Manufacturers work hot-rolled steel at high temperatures to increase its malleability. This sheet metal retains its strength after this process, so it’s perfect for structural parts and the automotive industry.
  • Cold-rolled steel: Cold-rolled steel is hot-rolled steel that’s cooled, then re-rolled to improve its toughness and machinability and produce more precise dimensions. You often find this material in products where aesthetics are important, like appliances, furniture, filing cabinets and lockers.
  • Carbon steel: Carbon steel works well for general metal fabrication purposes, like creating store signs or car bodies. It’s affordable and has greater tensile strength than aluminum and copper, so it resists breaking under tension.
  • Galvanized steel: Galvanized steel is carbon steel that has undergone a zinc treatment to protect its outside from rusting. It has the durability to last a long time and endure harsh weather elements. Most objects that must face water exposure, like irrigation pipes, greenhouse equipment and marine vessels, are made with galvanized steel.
  • Stainless steel: Stainless steel has enhanced corrosion resistance, so it typically costs more than carbon and galvanized steel. Thanks to this valuable characteristic, manufacturers use it to make high-performance marine vessels and structures, food handling equipment, aerospace engine components, pharmaceutical processing equipment, appliances and signage.
  • Brass and bronze: Brass and bronze are copper alloys. They’re often used to make decor because they’re attractive, easy to work with and highly resistant to corrosion.

How Is Sheet Metal Made?

The process of making sheet metal is straightforward and involves five steps:

  1. Melting: First, professionals must heat the metal until it’s molten. Melting the metal puts it in a more processable form so it can be pressed into sheets. The temperature and time required to melt the metal vary based on its type.
  2. Pouring: After the metal becomes a liquid, they pour it into a rectangular mold. This rectangular mold gives it the basic shape it needs before it’s refined. The metal must maintain a high temperature to remain liquified while professionals transfer it to the mold — this will ensure it flows easily without creating voids or hardening prematurely.
  3. Pickling: Pickling is the process of submerging the metal in a chemical mixture to remove impurities such as stains, rust, scale and inorganic contaminants. The solution changes based on what the metal is for but usually contains strong acids and additives to prevent corrosion.
  4. Rolling: Manufacturers can press the bar into a sheet once it’s clean. Then, they place the metal between two rollers that move closer to each other every time the metal goes through them. Rolling thins the metal, so it goes through this process several times until it achieves the desired thickness.
  5. Annealing: As the metal becomes harder, the workers must anneal it to continue rolling it. Annealing involves reheating the metal — but not to the point of melting — and pickling it again, then sending it back through the rollers. Softening the metal this way allows manufacturers to achieve more precise dimensions.

PBZ Manufacturing Is the One-Stop Shop for Your Manufacturing Needs

PBZ Manufacturing can work your sheet metal into whatever you need. We’re a leading provider of customized manufacturing solutions in southeastern Pennsylvania. Our services include:

  • Design: We work closely with you to develop an integrated contract manufacturing strategy. Our experienced team uses advanced technology to create 2D or 3D models of your product.
  • Metal fabrication: Our team has the tools to fabricate your products. We specialize in services like welding, tube bending, and 2D flat and 3D tube laser cutting.
  • Finishing: We offer numerous finishes and coatings to protect your product and increase its durability.
  • Assembly: Our qualified team can assemble your product, whether it involves metal, structural or electrical components.
  • Shipping: PBZ can handle your shipping needs to streamline your process and minimize delays, letting you maintain focus on your operation.

With over 70 years in the business, PBZ has the skills, knowledge, technology and experience to see your project through to completion while saving you time and money. Learn more about our capabilities or contact us today to request a free quote.

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