Sheet Metal Prototypes

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Procedures to manufacture your sheet metal prototype

Discover the different technologies to bring your design of sheet metal parts to reality. From cutting to forming, at Abilista we bring you closer to the best manufacturers for cutting and deformation of sheet metal.

Sheet metal jobs are the closest thing to origami. We start from a sheet metal format which we will cut according to the calculated development, to later proceed to its folding or stamping.

Main applications for sheet metal process:

prototipos estéticos

Aesthetic prototypes

Get prototypes with similar quality as end-use parts and bring your aesthetic prototypes to live.

Functional prototypes

Fabrication of functional prototypes to validate the performance, reliability and assembly methods of products.

Low volume series

Fabrication of low volume parts for production and testing.

Advantages and Limitations of Sheet metal fabrication

Main advantages

Main limitations

Sheet metal cutting

Cutting is the first step in achieving a sheet metal prototype. Although this process, as its name indicates, is mainly used for metals, the same cutting technology can be used with a wide range of different materials. 

There are different technologies for cutting sheet metal. The most common are three:

Water Jet cutting

It is especially indicated for pieces with a good finish, as well as in those cases in which the crystalline structure of the metal cannot be altered by heat. The main drawback is that it is the most expensive cutting process.

corte por agua

Laser cutting

Being the most economical and versatile process, its main drawback is that, due to the heat generated in the cutting operation, the cut edges see the crystalline structure of the metal altered.

corte laser

CNC punching

It is a fast and inexpensive manufacturing method as long as there is no investment in punches.
It leaves the cutting contours rounded, not being necessary to finish them later, but it tends to leave marks in the borders of the punches. It is ideal for long series.

punzonado cnc

Sheet metal forming

Once we have cut the piece, the next step is to shape it. To shape or form the sheet metal, there are different processes.

Bending

Sheet metal bending is the most suitable rapid manufacturing system for making sheet metal prototypes.

Although there are several ways of folding, depending on the machine used, in general terms the procedure for folding parts is as follows. Starting from the flat sheet blank (already cut), it is arranged in a folder where a punch lowers on the piece, which is located on a “V” -shaped die (although other shapes can e used). In this way, the punch pushes the part forcing it to bend following the shape of the die.

As the investment in tools is not required, since normally any shop always has standard punches and dies, the execution times are low and the costs are very affordable. The CNC control of the machine guarantees the angles and distance of the bends of the pieces.

doblado de chapa

Stamping

Although we have hot and cold stamping, since our focus is the manufacture of prototypes and short series, we will focus on cold stamping.

This process consists of forming the sheet by exerting pressure against a mold. Thus, the molds are mounted in a hydraulic press, so that one part remains fixed to the press table, while the other is secured to the upper mobile part.

The blank of the piece (or even sometimes the entire sheet or strip) is located on the bottom of the molds. It is the upper part that goes down with great force, embedding the sheet in the mold, copying its geometry.

Due to the need to manufacture molds, the process is expensive and time consuming, although in some cases, it is possible to develop them by additive manufacturing, rather than by machining.

estampación metálica

Sheet metal forming materials

This technology supports almost any metal alloy, whether it is ferric or non-ferric. But besides metals, it can be also used with other common materials. The most used materials are:

chapa aluminio

Aluminum

Aluminum is prized for its lightness and its enormous resistance to corrosion. However, it presents two problems when it comes to manufacturing parts. Due to its refractive index it is expensive to laser cut. Also, if you do require welding, it is difficult to find experts in aluminum welding, which is why it is usually more expensive.

chapa acero inoxidable

Stainless Steel

Although there are endless variants, the most used are AISI304 and AISI316. The latter is the most recommended when the piece is going to be in saline environments.

acero galvanizado chapa

Galvanized steel

It is the most economical corrosion protection material. It accepts paint, but it is more expensive to weld.

Other sheet materials

Besides metals, cutting processes can also be used with other common materials such acrylic, fiberglass, wood, but also all kinds of fabric, leather or foams.

Acrylic

It is an inexpensive plastic material, commonly transparent and ideal for decorative products.

fibra de vidrio

Fiberglass

It is an engineering material, thanks to its fibers it is highly resistant and is used in high performance applications.

madera corte laser

Wood

Wood is one of the most common materials to cut out pieces to assemble, engrave gifts and carve out intricate patterns in a piece of wood. Plywood and MDF are the most commonly used.

Finishes in sheet metal forming

Although we have already been looking at some of the finishes, as a summary, we would say that there are three most common finishes:

pintado chapa

Painting

Almost any material can be painted, whether it is epoxy powder or spray paint.

aluminio anodizado

Anodized

In the case of aluminum, the anodizing process gives extra protection to this material, while giving it color.

cepillado chapa

Surface treatments

For protection, they are usually applied zinc plating and galvanized. Both admit painting afterwards. Other treatments for decorative purposes can be sandblasting, brushing and electrochemical treatments such as nickel plating.

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