Keeping manufacturing costs down is always important. You know that. Your boss knows that. But did you know that one of the keys to minimizing financial waste is to understand the standard sizes of the materials you’ll use?
This is especially true when designing a sheet metal project. If your daughter used 50 sheets of construction paper to make valentines for her class, but only used 20% of each piece, you’d be annoyed, right? It’s the same idea with metal sheets.
By knowing what is standard, you can ensure your project uses as many standardized materials as possible. This helps you avoid the unnecessary expense of scrap waste and customized manufacturing that are inevitable when you don’t take standard sizes of sheet metal into account.
Standard Sizes of Sheet Metal -- What You Need to Know
Let’s get the basics out of the way.
Sheet metal is created using any one of a variety of metals. Your material of choice is formed into thin sheets using a process that creates standardized pieces of specific thicknesses. Although steel is probably the most widely used type of sheet metal for industrial applications, it is possible to obtain sheets made of numerous types of metals, including:
Generally, sheet metal is considered anything thinner than about 0.25”. Beyond 0.25” the material is referred to as plate metal. And the thinnest sheets of metal are referred to as foil.
Factors to Consider with Sheet Metal Sizes
There are several factors you should consider when dealing with sheet metal sizing. These include:
While most of the world measures sheet metal thickness in millimeters, in the United States sheet metal thickness is measured in gauges. The larger the gauge number, the thinner the sheet. The smaller the gauge number, the thicker the sheet. The standards used to develop the gauge system were based on the weight of material in a specific size sheet.
The thickness of a sheet is something to consider not only due to the cost of material but also due to the amount of work required to cut the sheet and the thickness necessary for any bends. Thicker sheets are harder to cut, and bends require sheets of approximately 1x or thicker than the radii of inside bends to avoid cracking or warping.
Every sheet of a specific gauge has a specific weight. In the U.S., the weight is measured using pounds per square foot. In Europe and many other parts of the world, the weight is measured in kilograms per square meter.
Sheet Metal Size Specifications
There are a variety of standard sheet metal sizes, including:
- 36” x 96”
- 36” x 120”
- 36” x 144”
- 48” x 96”
- 48” x 120”
- 48” x 144”
Designing for Fabrication
While it’s definitely possible to find a fabricator who can deal with custom orders, the fact is ... saving money requires easy reproducibility. If the fabricator can use standard sheet sizes and stick to cutting methods like basic laser cutting and roll forming sheet metal, then the cost of your order will be lower. If you can keep costs down, it is easier to justify improvements like powder coating, a fancier metal, etc.
The easiest way to determine if your design is ideal for fabrication is to talk with your sheet metal fabricator. Manufacturing partners should be happy to give you tips for keeping costs down and making fabrication as straightforward as possible. In many cases, they save money themselves by saving you money!