Sheet Metal: A Versatile Industry Staple

Sheet Metal: A Versatile Industry Staple

Published in Stainless Steel
07/27/2021

Since the Industrial Revolution, sheet metal has played an increasingly important role in global manufacturing. Today, sheet metal is used extensively in many industries, including aerospace, commercial building, automotive, and healthcare. As demand continues to grow, the global sheet metal market is projected to reach US$86 Billion by 2027.

How Sheet Metal Is Made

Making sheet metal is a complex, multi-step procedure. For example, here is the process for creating stainless steel sheet metal:

Melting and Refining

Stainless steel scrap and raw materials are added to an Electric Arc Furnace (EAF). Various refining stations, such as Argon Oxygen Decarburization (AOD), Ladle Metallurgy Station (LMS), Wire Feed Station (WFS), and the Argon Stir Station, are used to achieve the desired chemistry and temperature.

Continuous Casting

The molten metal is transferred to a ladle, then to a tundish and continuously cast into ~ 10" thick slabs. The width and length of the slabs can vary.

Hot Rolling

The slabs of metal pass through a furnace, which heats them to the desired temperature depending on the grade of stainless steel required. When the desired temperature is achieved, the slabs run through a series of rolls, reducing the thickness of the material from approximately 10" to a 1/8" thick strip. The strip is then coiled for further processing.

Anneal & Pickling

Annealing is the process of heating the material to the desired temperature to soften and set properties, allowing the material to be further processed by cold rolling or fabricated into parts. Pickling removes the scale formed on the surface through hot rolling or annealing in the atmosphere through the immersion of the strip in an acid solution. These two processes can be combined into one single process known as a continuous anneal and pickle line.

Cold Rolling

The process in which the steel is passed through one or more pairs of rolls at a temperature below the recrystallization temperature to reduce the thickness to the desired gauge.

Slitting

The process of cutting large, wide coils of steel into narrower widths.

A World of Industrial Applications

Sheet metal is highly versatile and can be fabricated into countless components for a wide range of industries. Typical industrial sheet metal applications include:

Commercial Buildings. Walk into any office tower, and you’re sure to see stainless steel and aluminum sheet metal used in a variety of ways. These two sheet metals are flexible, strong, attractive, and often used together in many building applications, from wall panels to elevator doors.

Healthcare. Sheet metal is used extensively in healthcare environments. Aluminum sheet metal is strong, light, and ideal for medical equipment like hospital beds and ventilator stands. Stainless steel sheet metal has a natural passivation layer that resists contamination and is easy to clean. It is widely used for fabricating built-to-order physical therapy equipment, custom medical carts, and surgical equipment.

Commercial HVAC. Aluminum sheet metal is ideally suited for industrial heating, ventilation, and air conditioning applications. It can be transformed into almost any shape through stamping, bending, or roll forming. By employing custom fabrication, HVAC specialists use aluminum sheet metal to create rectangular and spiral ductwork, roof curbs, fittings, and other HVAC components.

Transportation. Both aluminum and stainless steel sheet metal have many transportation applications. Automobiles now incorporate many aluminum components for weight savings, and 400 Series ferritic stainless steel sheet metal is an essential component of automotive exhaust systems.

Subway cars, light rail, and other forms of public transit also make extensive use of sheet metal. Another variant, aluminum 5083, is highly resistant to seawater and retains exceptional strength after welding, making it ideal for boat building.

Sheet Metal Finishes

Part of what makes sheet metal so popular with architects and product designers is its wide range of available finishes. From practical to aesthetically pleasing, there’s a sheet metal finish to meet almost any requirement:

Matte, Brushed, and Mirror Finishes

Matte, Brushed, and Mirror Finishes are the most common finishes for stainless steel sheet metal. Matte finishes have not been additionally processed and have a dull appearance. Brushed finishes have a minimal luster and display a pattern of fine lines. Highly reflective mirror finishes are created by polishing the stainless steel or mechanically treating the surface with abrasives.

Common Aluminum Finishes

Common Aluminum Finishes include mill finish, brushed, and clear.

Rice Grain

Rice Grain embossed stainless steel sheets are skid-resistant and often used as industrial flooring in high-traffic areas.

Blend S

Blend S is a proprietary finish manufactured by the Excelsior Steel Processing Company. A reparable brushed finish, Blend S is commonly used for elevator doors and building lobbies due to its soil resistance and easy-to-clean properties.

Colored Stainless Steel

Colored Stainless Steel sheet metal is treated with chemicals or a surface coating. Only the surface color is changed — the underlying metal remains silver in color.

Choosing Your Sheet Metal Provider

Size and Stability. Is your supplier large enough to fulfill all your requirements, including rush or custom orders? Have they been in business for several years, and do they have a stellar reputation? Do they maintain a network of value-added partners who can help deliver out-of-the-box solutions?

Inventory, Supply Chain, and Delivery. Does your proposed supplier maintain a large inventory of the products you’ll need over the life of your project? Do they have a robust supply chain that ensures no supply interruptions or delays? Here at Diversified Ulbrich, we stock over 20,000 products, manage 150,000 square feet of warehouse and production space, and employ a full line fleet of trucks and tractor-trailers to service the Canadian and US markets. These capabilities help ensure consistent, reliable product delivery — whenever and wherever you need it.

Industry Certifications. Does your sheet metal provider hold industry certifications that demonstrate a commitment to product and service quality? Diversified Ulbrich is an ISO 9001:2015 certified company, guaranteeing the quality of our processes.

Technical Support. Can your supplier quickly answer all of your technical questions, and do they provide expert technical support to resolve any issues? At Diversified Ulbrich, we invest heavily in training our customer support team to ensure they have the most up-to-date product and industry knowledge. We also have an on-staff mill metallurgist to provide our customers with expert troubleshooting, product selection, and technical support.

While it’s important to select the correct sheet metal and finish for your requirements, choosing the right supplier may be even more critical to your project’s success.

Contact us to learn more about Diversified Ulbrich’s complete line of sheet metals and other products and services.


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