How many of us pause to consider the skilled hands that spent hours putting together our prized LED TVs or MacBook computers? The nimble fingers belong to fabricators – diligent people tasked with assembling products and the parts that go into them. Aside from using their hands, these workers also rely on tools and machinery to make engines, computers, aircraft, toys, electronic devices and other products.
Based on conversations with metal fabricators, the most rewarding part of the job is the ability to work with your hands and solve problems. They listen to customers and figure out how to make a metal part work for a particular application. Every day represents new jobs and new challenges. They aren’t stuck behind a desk.
Fabricators might work in the ship and boat building industry, but the majority of them are employed in the architectural and structural metals product manufacturing industries. Unlike industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers, fabricators typically don’t maintain and repair equipment or machinery; their chief job is to assemble and build.
Austgen Metal Fabrication Melbourne ensures staff are fully trained and always learning new skills so we can approach new projects with a great deal of confidence.
What is a metal fabricator?
A metal fabricator is a person who fabricates the metal parts and structures of an order placed by a client. You traditionally do these tasks by hand, and many tasks still require manual labour. However, there are now robotic machines and computers that do many intricate tasks. This automation improves precision and efficiency. As the metal fabricator, your job duties include reading blueprints and using complex equipment and hand tools to cut, weld, and create metal objects. You perform various quality checks to ensure your components meet all specifications, document the results, and keep records of materials and labour required for each project.
Fabricators join metal pieces together to create a product or to use as pieces in other products. They typically work in factory settings and must use safety equipment, like glasses and gloves, to protect them from flying debris, loud noises and other workplace hazards. Although many employers do not require any formal training, employees may need on-the-job or vocational training to learn fabrication techniques they will use as part of an assembly team. Optional certifications are available through the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International (FMA).
Fabricator Job Duties
Fabricators utilise technical drawings, blueprints or other specifications to construct metal products, as well as some products ranging from sheet metal parts to metal moulds. Some fabricators make pieces for larger projects, such as bridges or machines. Job duties also include aligning, fitting, welding, measuring, laying out and inspecting parts, marking cutting lines, studying specifications, gathering materials and operating machinery.
Working in this field requires the use of a variety of tools, such as blowtorches, shears, gauges, nail sets, power saws and workshop presses. Computers, enterprise resource planning software, spreadsheet software and word processing software are other tools commonly used. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some employers require vocational or on-the-job training to learn how to use tools, equipment, computer systems and software.
Many employers require no formal training, but many prefer completion of a certificate or degree program in metal fabrication. Programs offered at vocational schools or community colleges include courses on arc welding, blueprint reading and mathematics. Students may work with various metals, such as steel and iron. Some schools also offer metal fabricator apprenticeship programs that combine classroom and on-the-job training.
Metal fabricators in Melbourne Metal fabrication company have a broad range of resources including both conventional and CNC machining, metal fabrication and sheet metal work.
Fabricator Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The BLS reported that structural metal fabricators and fitters filled 76,090 jobs in 2018. The BLS predicts that from 2018 to 2028, the industry would see a 15% decrease in jobs. According to the BLS, these fabricators and fitters earned an annual median salary of $39,290 in 2018.
As we have learned, fabricators work with client specifications to create a product by welding together parts. Employers prefer prior work experience and/or training from a vocational institute.
Assemblers and fabricators assemble finished products and the parts that go into them. They use tools, machines, and their hands to make engines, computers, aircraft, ships, boats, toys, electronic devices, control panels, and more.
Assemblers and fabricators typically do the following:
- Read and understand schematics and blueprints
- Use hand tools or machines to assemble parts
- Conduct quality control checks
- Work closely with designers and engineers in product development
Assemblers and fabricators have an important role in the manufacturing process. They assemble both finished products and the pieces that go into them. The products encompass a full range of manufactured goods, including aircraft, toys, household appliances, automobiles, computers, and electronic devices.
Changes in technology have transformed the manufacturing and assembly process. Modern manufacturing systems use robots, computers, programmable motion-control devices, and various sensing technologies. These technological changes affect the way in which goods are made and the jobs of those who make them. Advanced assemblers must be able to work with these new technologies and use them to manufacture goods.
The job of an assembler or fabricator requires a range of knowledge and skills. Skilled assemblers putting together complex machines, for example, read detailed schematics that show how to assemble the machine. After determining how parts should connect, they use hand or power tools to trim, shim, cut, and make other adjustments to fit components together. Once the parts are properly aligned, they connect them with bolts and screws or weld or solder pieces together.
Quality control is important throughout the assembly process, so assemblers look for faulty components and mistakes in the assembly process. They help fix problems before defective products are made.
Manufacturing techniques are moving away from traditional assembly line systems toward lean manufacturing systems, which use teams of workers to produce entire products or components. Lean manufacturing has changed the nature of the assemblers’ duties.
It has become more common to involve assemblers and fabricators in product development. Designers and engineers consult manufacturing workers during the design stage to improve product reliability and manufacturing efficiency. Some experienced assemblers work with designers and engineers to build prototypes or test products.
Although most assemblers and fabricators are classified as team assemblers, others specialise in producing one type of product or perform the same or similar tasks throughout the assembly process.
The following are examples of types of assemblers and fabricators:
- Aircraft structure, surfaces, rigging, and systems assemblers fit, fasten, and install parts of aeroplanes, space vehicles, or missiles, such as the wings, fuselage, landing gear, rigging and control equipment, and heating and ventilating systems.
- Coil winders, tapers, and finishers wind wire coils of electrical components used in a variety of electrical and electronic products, including resistors, transformers, generators, and electric motors.
- Electrical and electronic equipment assemblers build products such as electric motors, computers, electronic control devices, and sensing equipment. Automated systems have been put in place because many small electronic parts are too small or fragile for human assembly. Much of the remaining work of electrical and electronic assemblers is done by hand during the small-scale production of electronic devices used in all types of aircraft, military systems, and medical equipment. Production by hand requires these workers to use devices such as soldering irons.
- Electromechanical equipment assemblers assemble and modify electromechanical devices such as household appliances, computer tomography scanners, or vending machines. The workers use a variety of tools, such as rulers, rivet guns, and soldering irons.
- Engine and machine assemblers construct, assemble, and rebuild engines, turbines, and machines used in automobiles, construction and mining equipment, and power generators.
- Structural metal fabricators and fitters cut, align, and fit together structural metal parts and may help weld or rivet the parts together.
- Fibreglass laminators and fabricators laminate layers of fibreglass on moulds to form boat decks and hulls, bodies for golf carts, automobiles, and other products.
- Team assemblers work on an assembly line, but they rotate through different tasks, rather than specialising in a single task. The team may decide how the work is assigned and how different tasks are done. Some aspects of lean production, such as rotating tasks and seeking worker input on improving the assembly process, are common to all assembly and fabrication occupations.
- Timing device assemblers, adjusters, and calibrators do precision assembling or adjusting of timing devices within very narrow tolerances.
Ways to Be a Better Fabricator
Manufacturing overall and especially sheet-metal fabrication is a noble, most excellent trade, one that helps to keep our homes warm, our cars safe, our daily chores more enjoyable. Simply put, it’s darned important to modern society. Explore some of the ways you can be successful in your fabrication career.
Change things up to success in manufacturing
As with many things in life, success in manufacturing is about embracing change. Lean manufacturing pundits call this Kaizen, the Japanese word for continuous improvement, while others call it common sense. Either way, continuous improvement means taking small steps forward, fostering employee involvement, and providing metrics with which to measure the efficacy of incremental changes. This is the path by which people and companies alike thrive, no matter what they produce.
Acceptance of the status quo spreads like a disease in most environments, and manufacturing is no exception — creativity is stymied, all thoughts of continuous improvement quashed. But what’s a creative company or its subset of “let’s move forward” employees to do in the face of a larger workforce that’s afraid of change?
Companies should strive for a culture of change, one that builds on the skills and knowledge of existing personnel. This means encouraging employees to search for improvement opportunities constantly. Get them excited about new technologies, and show them the benefits — financial, occupational, and social — of joining the let’s make our company the best it can be a club. Then turn them loose to do their jobs. You might be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Adopt new technology to become a better fabricator
The best examples of continuous improvement are those that either improve part quality or increase the number of parts completed each day (or both). One way to start this most important of Kaizen changes is by talking to your tooling supplier. These are the guys and gals who spend their days travelling to different shops and get to see firsthand what works and what doesn’t, who attend routine company-sponsored seminars on new manufacturing technologies, and whose paychecks are often dependent on making their customers successful.
For example, press-brake crowning systems are a great way to reduce setup time. Wheel tools for turret punch presses and tool coatings, for example, do not require a massive investment and improve productivity. Take a look at this figure for another cool example.
Convinced to give the latest widget a try? Don’t do it willy-nilly. Testing any new technology must be done scientifically. No matter how small, document each change and record the results. Keep track of setup and cycle times (something you should be doing anyway) before and after the change. Analyse how the investment improved part quality or tool life and then validate that it will pay for itself in a reasonable time frame. And above all, document, document, document — if not, you or someone else in the shop will end up reinventing the wheel six months from now.
Market your fabrication business vertically
What’s vertical integration? If you had a stainless-steel, DeLorean, you could accelerate to 88 miles per hour and emerge in a simpler past, when machine shops machined parts and fabricating shops bent, formed, and welded them. But for many manufacturing companies, those easier days are over — their customers prefer the economy and convenience of a single source for their production needs, and want suppliers that can provide finished products, even if that means they must master fabricating, machining, painting, testing, and assembly, all under one roof. That’s vertical integration.
For original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and their Tier I and Tier II suppliers, this isn’t simply a “one throat to choke” mentality (although that’s certainly part of their motivation). Single-sourcing one’s manufacturing needs to a qualified, multi-talented supplier is smart business. Done properly, it simplifies the procurement process and reduces product lead times. It strengthens the customer-supplier relationship. Engineering teams on each side of the fence are more likely to collaborate, increasing the likelihood of product improvements and cost reductions all around.
The moral of the story is simple: The most successful shops are (or soon will be) those that embrace all types of metalworking, as well as supporting processes such as plating, painting, powder coating, and assembly. They have learned to cross the party line and become masters of parts production technologies. This means future metalworking companies will offer bending, forming, stamping, and machining capabilities, assuring cost-effective and on-time delivery of quality products to whatever customer is asking for them.
Shorten setups, increase uptime in the fabrication
Shops in the United States, Canada, and Europe are routinely expected to produce small orders of parts with minimal lead time and do so at a competitive price. The result? Setup times are becoming a proportionally larger factor in the “how much does this part cost to produce?” equation.
Unfortunately, the ability to set up a job in minutes rather than hours is largely dependent on the type of tooling and software that is used. For example, quick-change tooling can be installed on most any press brake, as can systems that guide even unskilled operators through the correct punch and die placement. Similarly, offline programming and simulation software eliminates hours of machine downtime. All are important aspects of setup-time reduction but be warned. They require sizable investments and no small amount of planning.
The same can be said for turret punches, stamping presses, and virtually any other machine tool on the production floor. The setup-time reduction is a technical hurdle that all shops must overcome (assuming they wish to grow and be successful) and should be a top priority for anyone setting up multiple jobs per week.
Maintain the machine (and tools)
A significant chunk of the organisation just discussed involves routine maintenance of tooling and machinery. Here are several “best practices” shops should follow if they’re to keep everything in tip-top shape (the figure offers another example):
- Clean, disassemble, and inspect all tooling for damage and wear after use. Replace worn springs, stripper plates, washers, and so on as appropriate.
- A small amount of lubricant or rust preventative should be applied periodically to metal surfaces to avoid corrosion.
- Always use a torque wrench rather than the best guess with your arm to tighten things down.
- Air and oil filters should be replaced religiously. The same goes for hydraulic fluid.
- Routinely check back gauges and ram surfaces for parallelism and squareness.
- Periodically inspect electrical connections and other fasteners for tightness (be sure to use OSHA–approved lockout-tagout procedures).
- If you don’t have a George on staff (and even if you do), machines should be inspected annually by a factory-certified machine tool technician.
Perhaps the best way to become one of the qualified people just discussed is to attend vocational school. Working one’s way up the ladder isn’t the worst way to learn a trade. However, doing so requires an inquisitive mind, an abundance of patience, and the ability to put up with the hooting and to holler from your coworkers after crashing a machine (not to mention a stern talking-to from the owner).
For those of you who’d rather avoid the trials of learning on the job, there are plenty of training options available. Aside from vocational-technical schools (most of which offer excellent one- to two-year programs), a number of online classes exist:
- The Society of Manufacturing Engineers has developed its Tooling-U SME series of training materials. These include instructor-led and self-paced classes, on-demand e-books and videos, and industry-recognised certifications to demonstrate achievement.
- The Fabricators and Manufacturers Association (FMA) offers people an opportunity to earn its Precision Sheet Metal Operator (PSMO) certification, which covers important skills such as laser cutting, punch press operation, metal finishing, and a whole bunch of other stuff I discuss throughout this book.
- The American Welding Society (AWS) is just one of the organisations providing accreditation in this highly technical trade. Enrollees can pursue certification as a welder, inspector, engineer, radiographer (sort of like an industrial X-ray technician), and more.
- SolidWorks, a leading developer of CAD software, offers the “Certified SOLIDWORKS Professional Advanced Sheet Metal” (CSWPA-SM) exam to test the ability of those designing sheet-metal components. Similarly, CAD giant Autodesk offers its ACP certification (short for Autodesk Certified Professional). Both are great ways to increase your value to potential employers.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Recognising that manufacturing cannot succeed without skilled employees, schools across North America, together with machine-tool builders, software and tooling providers, and a host of manufacturing companies have stepped up to the plate, offering money, time, and knowledge to develop future talent. It’s truly a good time to enter the trades.
The bottom line is that successful manufacturing companies embrace employee safety, cleanliness, air quality, and all the things that make a shop environment pleasant to work in. Equipment lasts longer. Employee morale is better than in “piggy” workplaces. Visiting customers spread the word to others, “I’ve never seen such a clean shop, they must really be serious about quality,” thereby increasing the likelihood of new business. Dirty, hot, or dangerous shops? There’s really no reason for it. Get sweeping.