People seldom think of sheet metal fabrication as being a high-precision system. After all, we’ve all encountered file cabinets with stubborn drawers, and they’re formed from sheet metal. That’s true, fair enough, but sheet metal is also the backbone of your phone. Sheet metal forms rocket bodies and high-pressure fuel tanks. It forms satellite dishes. It even forms many calipers and other tools we use to gauge accuracy.
Some of the most difficult challenges we receive at Ben Machine involve sheet metal. Often used to shield components from electronic interference, it’s common for sheet metal to be turned into some genuinely complex forms to fit in the space allowed. It’s common for a customer to bring us precision sheet metal fabrication problems they haven’t been able to resolve.
The Special Case of Precision Sheet Metal Fabrication
CNC milling and lathe work share a common element; the material is removed to form the static part. Sheet metal adds a new dimension. While metal is removed to achieve the desired shape, that shape is then often bent and folded into a more refined design. If you are measuring the location of features from a point that’s been bent into position, tiny variances in those folds can add up to throw off the position of the feature you’re measuring. Our customers rely on geometric dimensioning and tolerancing to account for this kind of possible error. GD&T, as it’s called, positions each feature in a three-dimensional space to prevent any other variables from throwing off its positioning.
That sounds good on paper. Problems can arise when the theory is put into practice. We often find we have to develop a different method for sheet metal fabrication -different positioning, different tooling, or a different order of steps. The answers aren’t always readily apparent, and that’s where our top-tier sheet metal experts really come into play.
A Case Study in Details
One customer brought us a truly curious issue on an advanced device designed to de-ice plane wings in a non-traditional mechanical manner. The enclosure had to fit into a very specific area and also had to withstand the stresses of flight and freezing temperatures. Qualification called for rivets to be used, but there was insufficient room to install rivets in the back corners. We were able to figure out new tooling, the proper rivets for the application, and an installation regimen to make sure they were applied properly. It was one of many examples of precision sheet metal fabrication where creativity was as necessary as accuracy.
We see that quite a lot when working with sheet metal. The accurate location of specific features calls for careful planning before anything gets cut or bent to ensure those cuts and bends don’t throw things out of tolerance. Experience and a willingness to scrap a plan and start over are the keys to solving a lot of these unexpected problems. Ben Machine has the experts, the experience, and the creative spirit to take your project from paper to finished product.
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