What is a sheet metal worker?
Sheet metal workers make, install, and maintain heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning duct systems; roofs; siding; rain gutters; downspouts; skylights; restaurant equipment; outdoor signs; railroad cars; tailgates; customized precision equipment; and many other products made from metal sheets. They also may work with fibreglass and plastic materials. Although some workers specialize in fabrication, installation, or maintenance, most do all three jobs. Sheet metal workers do both construction-related work and mass production of sheet metal products in manufacturing.
A sheet metal worker is a skilled tradesman who creates, installs, and repairs sheet metal products. Most commonly, these products include elements of heating, cooling, and ventilation systems, although sheet metal workers also fabricate and repair products for drainage and roofing applications. Some sheet metal workers are skilled tradesmen, while others work on assembly lines performing less skilled tasks of metal assembly.
What does a sheet metal worker do?
Sheet metal workers first study plans and specifications to determine the kind and quantity of materials they will need. They measure, cut, bend, shape, and fasten pieces of sheet metal to make ductwork, countertops, and other custom products. Sheet metal workers program and operate computerized metalworking equipment. They cut, drill, and form parts with computer-controlled saws, lasers, shears, and presses.
In shops without computerized equipment, and for products that cannot be made with such equipment, sheet metal workers make the required calculations and use tapes, rulers, and other measuring devices for layout work. They then cut or stamp the parts with machine tools.
Before assembling pieces, sheet metal workers use measuring instruments such as tape measures, callipers, and micrometres to check each part for accuracy. If necessary, they use hand, rotary, or squaring shears and hacksaws to finish pieces. After inspecting the pieces, workers fasten seams and joints together with welds, bolts, cement, rivets, solder, or other connecting devices. They then take the parts constructed in the shop and assemble the pieces further as they install them. These workers install ducts, pipes, and tubes by joining them end to end and hanging them with metal hangers secured to a ceiling or a wall. They also use shears, hammers, punches, and drills to make parts at the worksite or to alter parts made in the shop.
Some jobs are done completely at the job site. When installing a metal roof, for example, sheet metal workers usually measure and cut the roofing panels on-site. They secure the first panel in place and interlock and fasten the grooved edge of the next panel into the grooved edge of the first. Then they nail or weld the free edge of the panel to the structure. This two-step process is repeated for each additional panel. Finally, the workers fasten machine-made moulding at joints, along with corners, and around windows and doors, for a neat, finished effect.
Sheet metal workers are typically employed at construction sites, in metal shops, or at manufacturing plants. They can specialize in fabrication, installation, or maintenance, though most are skilled in all three areas. Sheet metal workers employed by a factory, however, are traditionally unskilled, performing only one repetitive task. All sheet metal workers make use of specialized equipment where they cut, form, or weld sheets of metal to create useful products for both commercial and industrial applications.
In order to fabricate sheet metal, the worker must first create or study given plans, blueprints and specifications. They determine what processes, equipment, and type of metal will be needed to create the product or part. They then measure and cut the materials according to specifications laid out in the plans. Measuring is done with tapes, rulers, or stamping equipment. Saws, plasma cutters, and drills are then used to create precise cuts. Sometimes sheet metal workers perform this work by hand; in other cases, they use computer-controlled equipment to perform detailed and accurate work. After the metal is cut, workers bend the metal if necessary. Before assembly, workers use callipers, micrometres, and other measuring equipment to ensure accuracy. When all pieces of the part or product are ready, they are joined together with screws, rivets, bolts, or welds.
At construction sites, sheet metal workers install the products created in the factory or sheet metal shop. If the product is in pieces, workers perform further assembly work, joining ducts, seams and tubes. The pieces are joined end-to-end, and then lifted or dropped into place. The worker must then secure the pieces with metal hangers and brackets. Often, they are required to make adjustments or alterations at the site. They use tools like punches, drills, hammers, and welding equipment to make alterations and ensure equipment is installed safely, functionally, and correctly. In some cases, pieces are fabricated on-site, then installed and welded, interlocked, or bolted in place.
In addition to installation, some sheet metal workers specialize in testing, balancing, adjusting, and servicing existing air-conditioning and ventilation systems to make sure they are functioning properly and to improve their energy efficiency. Properly installed duct systems are a key component of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems; sometimes, duct installers are called HVAC technicians. A growing activity for sheet metal workers is the commissioning of a building—a complete mechanical inspection of the building's HVAC, water, and lighting systems.
Sheet metal workers in manufacturing plants make sheet metal parts for products such as aircraft or industrial equipment. Although some of the fabrication techniques used in large-scale manufacturing are similar to those used in smaller shops, the work may be highly automated and repetitive. Sheet metal workers doing such work may be responsible for reprogramming the computer control systems of the equipment they operate.
What is the workplace of a sheet metal worker like?
Sheet metal workers usually work a 40-hour week. Those who fabricate sheet metal products work in small shops and manufacturing plants that are usually well lighted and well ventilated. However, they stand for long periods and lift heavy materials and finished pieces. Those performing installation at construction sites or inside buildings do considerable bending, lifting, standing, climbing, and squatting, sometimes in close quarters or awkward positions. Working outdoors exposes sheet metal workers to various kinds of weather.
Sheet metal workers must follow safety practices because this occupation has a relatively high rate of nonfatal injuries. Some sheet metal workers work around high-speed machines, which can be dangerous. Others are subject to cuts from sharp metal, burns from soldering or welding, and falls from ladders or scaffolds. They often are required to wear safety glasses and must not wear jewellery or loose-fitting clothing that could easily be caught in a machine. To avoid repetitive-type injuries, they may work at a variety of different production stations.
Those working at construction sites typically work inside the structure, usually near the end of the structure's completion and usually don't need to adjust their schedules due to inclement weather. However, those employed in applying metal products to roofs or outdoor structures often work around unfavourable weather conditions.
Sheet metal working is labour-intensive. Workers must lift heavy materials and equipment, stand for long periods of time, bend over, and sometimes crawl into small spaces to install products. Because of the risk of burns, cuts from sharp metal, and falls at construction sites, sheet metal workers employ rigid safety practices on the job. The environment, in addition to being dangerous, is often noisy or allows exposure to toxic fumes from chemicals used in construction and metal preparation.
Sheet metal workers held about 142,300 jobs in 2012. About 59 per cent worked in the construction industry, and 27 per cent worked in manufacturing.
Sheet metal fabricators usually work in small shops and manufacturing plants that are well ventilated. They often must lift heavy materials and stand for long periods. Workers who install sheet metal at construction sites must bend, climb, and squat, sometimes in close quarters or awkward positions. Sheet metal installers who work outdoors are exposed to all kinds of weather.
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Does it require education and training?
To become a skilled sheet metal construction worker usually takes between 4 and 5 years of both classroom and on-the-job training. Although there are many different ways to obtain this training, generally the more formalized the training received by an individual, the more thoroughly skilled the person becomes and the more likely he or she is to be in demand by employers. For some, this training begins in a high school, where classes in English, algebra, geometry, physics, mechanical drawing and blueprint reading, and general shop are recommended.
After high school, there are several different ways to train. One way is to get a job with a contractor who will provide training on the job. Entry-level workers generally start as helpers, assisting more experienced workers. Most begin by carrying metal and cleaning up debris in a metal shop, learning about materials, tools, and their uses as they go about their tasks. Later, they learn to operate machines that bend or cut metal. In time, helpers go to the job site to learn installation. Employers may send their employees to a trade or vocational school to take courses or to a community college to receive further formal training. Helpers may be promoted to the journeyman level if they show the requisite knowledge and skills. Most sheet metal workers in large-scale manufacturing receive on-the-job training, with additional classwork or in-house training as necessary. The training needed to become proficient in manufacturing takes less time than the training for proficiency in construction.
Apprenticeship programs combine paid on-the-job training with related classroom instruction. Usually, apprenticeship applicants must be at least 18 years old and meet local requirements. The length of the program, typically 4 to 5 years, varies with the apprentice's skill. Apprenticeship programs provide comprehensive instruction in both sheet metal fabrication and sheet metal installation. They may be administered by local joint committees composed of the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association and local chapters of the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors National Association.
Sheet metal workers can choose one of many specialties. Workers can specialize in commercial and residential HVAC installation and maintenance, industrial welding and fabrication, exterior or architectural sheet metal installation, sign fabrication, service and refrigeration, and testing and balancing of building systems.
On the job, apprentices receive first safety training and then training in tasks that allow them to begin work immediately. They use materials such as fibreglass, plastics, and other nonmetallic materials. Workers focus on a particular sheet metal career path. In the classroom, apprentices learn computer-aided drafting; reading of plans and specifications; trigonometry and geometry applicable to layout work; welding; the use of computerized equipment; the principles of heating, air-conditioning, and ventilation systems. In addition, apprentices learn the relationship between sheet metal work and other construction work.
Although most sheet metal workers, particularly those in construction, learn their trade through an apprenticeship, those who work in manufacturing more often learn on the job or at a technical college.
Most sheet metal workers learn their trade through 4- or 5-year apprenticeships. Each year, apprentices must have at least 1,700 to 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training and a minimum of 246 hours of related technical instruction. Apprentices learn construction basics such as blueprint reading, mathematics, building code requirements, and safety and first-aid practices.
After completing an apprenticeship program, sheet metal workers are considered to be journey workers, qualifying them to do tasks on their own.
Unions and businesses offer apprenticeship programs. The basic qualifications for entering an apprenticeship program are reaching the age of 18 and having a high school diploma or the equivalent.
Although most workers enter apprenticeships directly after finishing high school or getting their GED, some start out with a job as a helper before entering an apprenticeship.
What are the other skills required?
Sheet metal workers need to be in good physical condition and have the mechanical and mathematical aptitude and good reading skills. Good eye-hand coordination, accurate perception of spaces and forms, and manual dexterity also are important. Courses in algebra, trigonometry, geometry, mechanical drawing, and shop provide a helpful background for learning the trade, as does related work experience obtained in the US Armed Services.
How to enhance advance (advancement)?
Experienced sheet metal workers need to keep abreast of new technological developments, such as the use of computerized layout and laser-cutting machines. In addition, new software, called BIM, which stands for "building information modelling," allows contractors, architects, and engineers to coordinate their efforts and increase efficiency at worksites.
Certifications in one of the specialties also can be beneficial to workers. Certifications related to sheet metal specialties are offered by a wide variety of associations, several of which are listed in the sources of additional information at the end of this statement.
Sheet metal workers in construction may advance to supervisory jobs. Some of these workers take additional training in welding and do more specialized work. Workers who perform building and system testing are able to move into construction and building inspection. Others go into the contracting business for themselves. Because a sheet metal contractor must have a shop with equipment to fabricate products, this type of contracting business is more expensive to start than other types of construction contracts.
Sheet metal workers in manufacturing may advance to positions as supervisors or quality inspectors. Some of these workers may move into other management positions.
What is the chance of job employment of a sheet metal worker?
Sheet metal workers held about 170,700 jobs in 2008. About 63 per cent of all sheet metal workers were in the construction industry, including 46 per cent who worked for plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors; most of the rest in construction worked for roofing contractors and for building finishing contractors. Some worked for general contractors engaged in residential and commercial building and for other special trade contractors.
About 23 per cent of all sheet metal workers were in manufacturing industries, such as the fabricated metal products, machinery, and aerospace products and parts industries. Some sheet metal workers work for the Federal Government.
Compared with workers in most construction craft occupations, relatively few sheet metal workers are self-employed.
How does this job grow?
Employment of sheet metal workers is expected to increase by 6 per cent between 2008 and 2018, slower than the average for all occupations. This change reflects anticipated growth in the number of industrial, commercial, and residential structures to be built over the decade. In addition, it reflects the need to install energy-efficient air-conditioning, heating, and ventilation systems in older buildings and to perform other types of renovation and maintenance work on these systems. Also, the popularity of decorative sheet metal products and increased architectural restoration are expected to add to the demand for sheet metal workers.
Sheet metal workers in manufacturing, however, are expected to experience a moderate decline in employment as the industry becomes more automated, and some of the work is done in other countries.
Job opportunities are expected to be good for sheet metal workers in the construction industry, reflecting both employment growth and openings arising each year as experienced sheet metal workers leave the occupation. Opportunities should be particularly good for individuals who have apprenticeship training or who are certified, welders. Applicants for jobs in manufacturing will experience competition.
Sheet metal workers in construction may experience periods of unemployment, particularly when construction projects end and economic conditions dampen construction activity. However, because the maintenance of existing equipment makes up a large part of the work done by sheet metal workers, they are less affected by construction downturns than are some other construction occupations. Installation of new air-conditioning and heating systems in existing buildings is expected to continue as individuals and businesses adopt more energy-efficient equipment to cut utility bills. In addition, a large proportion of sheet metal installation and maintenance is done indoors, so sheet metal workers usually lose less work time because of bad weather than other construction workers.
How much does a sheet metal worker earn?
In May 2008, median hourly wages of sheet metal workers were $19.37. The middle 50 per cent earned between $14.39 and $27.03. The lowest 10 per cent of all sheet metal workers earned less than $11.43, and the highest 10 per cent earned more than $35.36.
Apprentices normally start at about 40 to 50 per cent of the rate paid to experienced workers. As apprentices acquire more skills, they receive periodic pay increases, until their pay approaches that of experienced workers.
About 32 per cent of all sheet metal workers belong to a union. Union workers in some areas receive supplemental wages from the union when they are laid off or experience shortened workweeks.
The median annual wage for sheet metal workers was $43,290 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 per cent earned less than $25,310, and the top 10 per cent earned more than $74,740.
The starting pay for apprentices usually is between 40 per cent and 50 per cent of what fully trained sheet metal workers to make as they gain more skill, their pay increases.
Nearly all sheet metal workers are employed full time. Those who work in manufacturing are more likely to participate in profit sharing, work overtime, and receive output incentives to supplement their basic wages.
What are the types of sheet metal workers?
Fabrication sheet metal workers, sometimes called precision sheet metal workers, make ducts, gutters, and other metal products. Most work in shops and factories, operating tools and equipment. Although some of the fabrication techniques used in large-scale manufacturing are similar to those used in smaller shops, the work may be highly automated and repetitive. Many fabrication shops have automated machinery, and workers use computer-aided drafting and design (CADD) and building information modelling (BIM) systems to make products.
Installation sheet metal workers install heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) ducts. They also install other sheet metal products, such as metal roofs, siding, or gutters. They typically work on new construction and renovation projects.
Maintenance sheet metal workers repair and clean ventilation systems, so the systems use less energy. Workers remove dust and moisture and fix leaks or breaks in the sheet metal that makes up the ductwork.
Testing and balancing sheet metal specialists ensure that HVAC systems heat and cold rooms properly by making sure that air is transferred through sheet metal ducts efficiently. Information on workers who install or repair HVAC systems can be found in the profile on heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers.
What are the other responsibilities of a sheet metal worker?
Besides their "typical day", Sheet Metal Workers construct components for high-performance wind turbine systems. They might also maintain equipment, making repairs or modifications when necessary.
On a weekly to monthly basis, Sheet Metal Workers fabricate or alter parts at construction sites, using shears, hammers, punches, or drills. They also transport prefabricated parts to construction sites for assembly and installation.
In addition, they install assemblies, such as flashing, pipes, tubes, heating and air conditioning ducts, furnace casings, rain gutters, or downspouts in supportive frameworks.
Although specific duties may vary, many of them maneuver completed roofing units into position for installation.
To some Sheet Metal Workers, it is also their responsibility to perform building commissioning activities by completing mechanical inspections of a building's water, lighting, or heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.