5 Common Sheet Metal Forming Processes and Applications

There’s no denying that sheet metal plays a pivotal role in projects across numerous industries. Sheet metal is commonly fashioned from steel or aluminum and typically takes a thin and flat form. Despite this, sheet metal alterations are commonplace — and essential — depending on the application in question. This is where the forming of sheet metal parts comes into play.

Sheet metal is widely used due to its formability, ductility, and tensile nature. Manufacturers thus have a central goal: manipulating malleable metals accordingly while preserving structural integrity. Manipulation is achieved in multiple ways and to multiple tolerances. This article will break down some sheet metal forming processes and their relevance within specific industries.

Bending Sheet Metal

As one might expect, bending involves altering sheet metal’s shape through applied pressure. Doing this by hand isn’t typically possible, and thus industrial methods become necessary to reach the desired shapes. Manufacturers employ different types of presses to achieve this, such as high strength roll forming machines. They must also have intimate knowledge of their medium’s physical properties to avoid causing damage or excessive deflection during the machining process.

Press brakes and machine presses are ideal in these situations. Hydraulic, pneumatic, mechanical, or electrical forces may be applied to different locations along with the sheet. These, paired with a forming die, help the metal reach its intended form. The metal on-hand will determine how much force is applied, as well as its direction.

Press brakes are convenient since punch and die combinations are plentiful. These lend themselves to numerous types of jobs.

Applications

Sheet metal bending is indispensable for automotive production. Today’s vehicles aren’t just boxes with four wheels, and panel corners have a certain radius, which helps create visual consistency. In the case of supportive pillars, sheet-metal bending forms a bridge between aesthetics and occupant safety.

In terms of architecture, a key focus of modern building construction is flow. Gentle curves and geometric structures — both internally and externally — are hallmarks of parametric design.  

Any application requiring a unique shape will rely on bending processes. Another notable example is the aerospace industry. Manufacturers commonly fashion passenger-and-military aircraft from aluminum alloy and titanium alloy. These metallic compounds are highly flexible and retain their shapes (aka “have memory”). Such attributes are essential for curved structures like fuselages, wings, and engine mounts.

Curling Sheet Metal

Not to be confused with bending, curling focuses on fixing imperfections stemming from a sheet’s production. Sheet metal is cut to various predetermined dimensions during the manufacturing process. While tooling can effectively create precise (straight) edges, there’s a significant drawback: burrs. Just like cutting wood sharply produces rough edges, the same happens to steel and aluminum.

Burrs aren’t just a safety risk — these sharp edges cause tolerance issues that can potentially hamper fitment and product quality later on. Additionally, a type of residue called “slag” forms during specific cutting processes. These splatters of cooled metal must be removed. Special deburring machines do this, while grinders smoothen out any hazardous artifacts.

Applications

Curling has widespread importance across multiple industries. Consider modern architectural design, where panels must meet cleanly and seamlessly. The same goes for automotive applications — particularly bodywork like doors and quarter panels. These aren’t only common touchpoints for owners or passersby. Finished edges elevate

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