You want your supply chain to be as short and sweet as possible. That means you need to know exactly which metal manufacturing processes to plan for. You should also circle back with your metal forming company to see if they offer additional metal manufacturing services & capabilities you weren't aware of.
Here are the basics of each process and their approximate location in the supply chain.
Metal Manufacturing Processes at a Metal Forming Company
Metal manufacturing services can mean a lot of different things. Here are the 7 common metal manufacturing processes we'll talk about today:
- Powder processing
- Forming Parts
- Metal Finishing Options
Depending on the metal and its purpose, the metal may simply be melted down and molded to shape. This process is known as casting.
Casting is best for small or intricate parts. Casting SHOULD NOT be used for products that require:
- High strength
- High ductility
- Tight tolerances
Dies, jewelry, plaques, and machine components all benefit from this simple production process.
2. Powder Processing
Powder processing treats powdered metals with pressure (pressing, aka compacting) and heat (sintering) to form different shapes. Powdered metallurgy is known for its precision and output quality -- it keeps tight tolerances and often requires no secondary fabrications.
However, it can be incredibly costly and generally only used for small, complex parts. Powder processing is NOT appropriate for high-strength applications.
Metal forming takes a raw metal (usually a sheet) and mechanically manipulates it into a desired shape. Unlike casting, metal forming services allow for higher:
- Workability for additional fabrications
Tubing made from steel is very popular for structural and other applications. This video shows metal tube forming in action:
What Does Fabrication Mean in Manufacturing?
Deformation includes bending, roll bending, forging, and drawing.
Steel and aluminum tube bending solutions increase manufacturing:
- Repeatable quality
CNC benders can handle large quantities in a single production step, removing costly transitions from one step to another. Your steel or aluminum tube bending company can program the computers to automatically check part quality and ID any necessary corrections.
Related: Design Tips for Tube Bending
Machining refers to any tube fabricating method that removes a section of the metal. Machining is also known as material removal processing. Common types of machining fabrications include:
When planning for machining in your supply chain, hardening processes should happen AFTER machining processes. Hardened metals have a high shear strength and are more difficult to cut.
Related: How to Reduce Metal Stamping Costs
Joining, or assembly, is one of the last steps of the metal manufacturing process. This category includes:
Assembly can be done by machine or by hand.
Related: Best Types of Steel for Welding
Depending on your material and application, you may also need metal finishing services. Finishing includes everything from galvanization to powder coating services, and can take place throughout the metal manufacturing process.
Skipping the metal finishing process can literally cost you in the long run, especially if your project must be aesthetically pleasing or will reside in a harsh environment.
Benefits of finishing metal include:
- Improved durability
- Better corrosion resistance
- A nicer-looking product
- Increased electrical conductivity
- Higher electrical resistance
- Higher tarnish resistance
- Potential for vulcanization
Note that there is no miracle finish that improves corrosion resistance AND improves looks AND upgrades wear resistance as well as the others. Certain processes have certain strengths.
Common types of metal finishing include:
- Naturally occurring finishes
- Hot blackening
- Metal grinding
- Metal plating
- Powder coating
- Vibratory finishing
Related: Cost of Powder Coating vs. Painting
OEM Tube Manufacturing in the USA ... & Your Supply Chain
The more processes your product requires, the longer and more complex your supply chain will be.
However, there are ways to reduce manufacturing costs and lead times. Careful supply chain planning and vendor consolidation can both improve your manufacturing experience.
(Editor's note: This article was originally published in October 2016 and was recently updated.)