Advanced Thermoforming Solutions

Sheet Metal Molding

FAQ: Sheet Metal Molding - Your Questions, Answered

It’s no secret that we prefer thermoformed plastic, but as experts in the thermoforming business, we’re often asked about sheet metal molding. So, we decided to compile a Sheet Metal Molding 101 with everything you need to know.

Rolls of steel sheet metal ready to be molded

Q: What is sheet metal?

A: Sheet metal is metal that has been specially manufactured into thin, flat pieces. The thickness of sheet metal can vary, but it is typically no thicker than 6 mm – at that point, it’s considered “plate” rather than “sheet.” In the U.S., the thickness of sheet metal is measured in gauges, with the largest gauges representing the thinnest sheets.

A stamper machine being used to mold sheet metal

Q: What type of metal is sheet metal?

A: Sheet metal can be one of multiple different types of metal, including aluminum, brass, copper, steel, tin, nickel and others.

Tandem stamping tool for sheet metal

Q: What is sheet metal molding?

A: Sheet metal molding is the process of taking sheet metal and forming it into various shapes.

Technician operating a machine to bend and cut sheet metal

Q: How is sheet metal molded?

A: There are many different ways to mold sheet metal, each with its own set of equipment, costs and processes. Sheet metal can be formed by bending, curling, rolling, spinning, stamping, laser cutting, ironing, perforating and much more. The process or processes used (in many cases, more than one process is needed) typically depends on the product itself.

Sheet metal after laser cutting

Q: What types of products are made from molding sheet metal?

A: Back in the day, sheet metal was used to make armor for cavalry. Today, sheet metal is used for practical and decorative purposes, including automobile and aircraft exteriors, home appliances, canned goods and much more.

Operator bending sheet metal with machine

Q: How do I choose between sheet metal molding and thermoformed plastic?

A: The answer to this question is, of course, partly determined by your product needs. And while we are a little biased, there are a number of things to consider when choosing between sheet metal and thermoformed plastic. Here are a few of them:

  • Thermoforming is cost-effective (at the right quantities, it can save significantly more than sheet metal).
  • Thermoformed plastic is much more lightweight than metal, and just as – in some cases, more – durable.
  • Unlike metal, thermoformed plastic will never corrode when exposed to the elements.
  • Thermoformed plastic, unlike other plastics and some metals, is 100% recyclable.
  • Thermoformed plastic is less susceptible to dents and scratching, and more resistant to impact than sheet metal is (just ask your car).
  • Depending on your product, sheet metal often requires paint while thermoplastic can be manufactured in whatever color you need.
  • Thermoformed plastic is more easily manipulated into intricate shapes and curves than sheet metal.

Sources:
Autoform
Wikipedia

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