Snapshot of the Future of Metal Fabrication
By: Monica Gomez
Anyone who wants to know where career possibilities exist, as well as where their current job is going, would benefit from paying attention to industry forecasts; the industry of metal fabrication is no exception. The metal product industry has been going through quite a bit of change over the last decade, reinventing itself quite a bit after significant changes occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, which reduced the number of mass production assembly plants nationwide. Today’s industry is often managed by smaller outfits that operate with far more nimble programs and functions, that take on quite a bit more of custom work, and that are spread out in far more places geographically. Let’s take a look forward to see where the industry might be headed.
One of the first big trends that appeared (and that continues to grow) is the use of recycled metal. Where recycled metal was once may be 10 or 20 percent of supply, today it makes up more than half of the material used, up to 60 percent. That means there are jobs and careers on both sides of the recycling picture, from sourcing material to be recycled to those consuming it and recreating used metal into new products and constructs.
At some point this figure will likely increase more, but the general demand for metal still far outpaces what is available from recycled sources. So there will continue to be some portion of new virgin metal supply provided. That said, understanding how to source, work with, and manipulate recycled metal is here to stay, especially as companies find themselves sourcing from farther and farther away for new raw supply.
In terms of actual product manufacturing, steel is still a hot commodity and has a healthy demand. This is expected to continue going forward because nothing has been produced so far that would replace the function and purpose of steel on a broad scale. Granted, there have been some interesting inventions with carbon fiber, aluminum and other materials, but steel remains the main building product for infrastructure strength and framework. In fact, steel has been booming in architectural design due to desire for a neo-modern appearance. Naked interiors of rooms and building showing the structural framework have been very popular in new building lobbies, restaurants and more.
3D Printing & Technology
On the production process side of metal manufacturing, technology is king. Knowing the various tools, software, types of systems applied, and how new tools are being invented for automated assembly is key. Those seeking to reinvent their career or start a new one in metal manufacturing will be well served to become as much of a related tech guru as possible. Computers and robot assembly have already established themselves as the replacement for hand labor in large facilities. These same tools are now starting to make inroads to medium and smaller facilities because the cost of the technology is coming down, making it far more affordable. 3D printing allows users to expand the realm of possibilities and could also potentially cut costs and manufacturing time, writes weldingschool.com. 3D printing trends mean there will be a growing demand for those who know how to run and operate such equipment and software.
Finally, the metal fabrication world and related markets are becoming more and more global. Having knowledge of other languages and cultures will go a long way for anyone looking to not just be in fabrication, but manage it from an international customer perspective. This includes remote quality control, sales, manufacturing training, multi-vendor supply system management, and more. The ability to work with different people in different time zones will become more and more important, especially as much of communication is changing to a round-the-clock status in terms of working with people and exchanging information.
So, metal fabrication isn't going anywhere. Instead, the industry is healthy and will continue to see demand in the future, but it will require far more technical knowledge with a heavy reliance on technology for accuracy and engineering.
Part of being a good metal worker is the ability to read a panel and what needs to be done to correct an issue or make the metal do what you want. Once you are "in-tune" with the metal you can correct some pretty crazy damage in a panel. This really comes in handy when you're faced with body damage. In most cases a smashed up bolt-on panel like a front fender would just warrant a call to a sheet metal supplier, a trip to the junkyard, or an eBay search, that is if you have a "common" vehicle. Click Here To Read Full Post...
Possibly the biggest undertaking yet on this truck was making the new custom bed for Project Pilehouse. To quote Ron Covell in a metal shaping class at Eastwood headquarters; "I think those bedsides were the single largest pieces I've ever seen bead rolled in my life!". The bed was definitely the largest part of a vehicle I've fabricated from scratch.
So when the time came to start designing the tailgate for the bed next, I initially thought "oh this will be simple, it's small and will be just like the front panel of the bed". I was sorta right, but the difference is that an added layer of difficulty was added when I decided I wanted the tailgate to actually function AND be as clean and "sanitary" looking as the rest of the bed. You see, I'm a bit jaded when it comes to my opinion on styling on custom cars, and I often tend to want to do things the "hard way" so they look better than what I see the majority do to their projects. This means I am also normally working out of my comfort or skill level. I know what I DON'T want and what I think will look "right", but making it all a reality can take some help from others here at Eastwood.
On this tailgate project I first established what I didn't want, no ugly chains or straps and hooks, and no obtrusive latches or handles that would detract from the cleanliness of the rear of the truck. I also didn't want it to look like a piece of plate was welded into the opening and I had a "wall" of flat metal on the back of the truck. I started by cutting a piece of cardboard and spent a day or two drawing on the board and standing back and staring at it before erasing it and drawing something different. It seemed no matter what letters or designs I put on the tailgate, nothing seemed right. The truck is a "Custom" and isn't really a Dodge, Chevy, etc anymore, and beadrolling "PILEHOUSE in the tailgate panel seemed a little too over the top. In the end I went back to the K.I.S.S. theory and mimicked the design on the front panel of the bed for continuity. No lettering was necessary, I'd let the small custom touches do the talking!
Once I had a design laid out, I measured the tailgate opening and cut out 1"x1.5" box tubing for the frame of the tailgate. These matched the size of the bed supports they'd be butting up against and would also keep the tailgate from becoming a giant boat anchor on the back of the truck.
I first decided I wanted NO visible latches or handles on the tailgate. This meant latching the tailgate was going to be a little bit of a feat on its own. I enlisted the help of Product Designer and Eastwood R&D guru Mark R. here at Eastwood. He's helped me work through the engineering difficulties on most of my off-the-wall ideas on Pilehouse; luckily he likes a challege. Mark and I worked through a few ideas until we came up with the idea of putting keyed slots in the uprights of the outer uprights of the tailgate frame that would allow you to remove and lift the tailgate up and fold it down. The tailgate "latches" would be a perfectly cut opening on the bottom of the top tube of the tailgate on either end that would slip over the bed supports. Sounds simple right? Sorta.. lets show you how we did it!
We started by measuring the height of where our hinge pin needed to sit so we could see how long the slots in the side supports needed to be. The height of those slots were also determined by the height that the tubing needed to sit when the tailgate was closed PLUS the panel gap needed on the bottom and the sides, PLUS the sheet metal thickness of the outer "skin" we'd be adding later. We decided to use drill bits and round bar stock to set the height and gap on the tailgate uprights. If you keep these round bar or drill bits taped to the vehicle or at least nearby throughout the project you can quickly set pieces up each time you test fit them. With the height of the hinge point and the slot length traced out, Mark took the uprights to the mill and machined the slots. He also added a small indent on the bottom part of the frame so the hinge pin could slip fully seat through the upright.
I then took a piece of round DOM tubing that matched the upper rails on the bedsides and cut it to length to match the width between the bedsides. Next we cut out the underside of the tubing so it would fit tightly over the bed supports. This also gave us the final height the the tailgate frame uprights needed to be. We wanted the uprights and top cross brace to fit inside of the top tube for structural rigidity. I left the tailgate uprights tall so they would support the top tube and I clamped the side supports so they were square and gapped correctly. I then used the TIG 200 to partially weld the bottom cross bar and the two outer uprights together. This gave me a "U" shape we could begin to build off of. I then cut the outer supports down and welded the upper crossbar to the uprights.
The next issue that presented itself was the interference of the recessed design of the outer metal skin with the center uprights on the tailgate frame. The panel facing the outside of the truck would be rolled with our new forming dies to give a "pressed" look and the center of the panel would be offset to the inside. We decided to work around this by having Mark mill a channel into the center of the uprights so they would clear the panel. With everything test fit I welded the support braces in place and we had a complete tailgate frame.
With the frame built we test fit it into the opening with our round bar for our gap and made sure everything sat as it should. We then marked and drilled the holes for our pivot points at the bottom of the tailgate. We decided to use grade 8 bolts that we cut the heads off of for the hinge points. Butt welding these directly to the box tubing was asking for failure over time, so Mark machined up mounting blocks out of steel that snugly fit inside the box tubing and were drilled and tapped to accept the bolt. We used a drift to tap the blocks down into the box tubing until the tapped hole was lined up with the hole we drilled in the box tubing. I used the professional spot weld drill bit to cut an opening in the backside of the bed supports that I could plug weld the mounting block in place through with the MIG 175.
Now that the tailgate frame was mounted and functioned correctly we were ready to move on to making the sheet metal skin that would actually be visible when done. I started cutting two pieces of 18 gauge with an extra 1/2" of material on each side so we could fold the edges over and weld the two skins (inner and outer) together. I then realized I had to take the material thickness of the two pieces of 18 gauge out of the opening in the bottom of the top tube to allow them to slip up inside of the sandwich of round tubing, box tubing, and sheet metal. This was solved by a few passes over the opening with the flap disc on the angle grinder. We then test fit the panels onto the frame to make sure I liked the look of the simplified design before we continued.
The bead roller was mounted in the vice and we installed our new offset forming dies. These dies allow you to create a "pressed or raised" look in a panel depending on how you set the dies. I set the gap between the dies (determines the size of the "ramp" in the bead) pretty tight so we had a steep, deep pressed design like the bedsides. We ran both panels through the bead roller and then notched the corners of each panel to clear the pivot on the bed. We also marked and broke the 1/2" edges on the panels.
Here's everything test-fit together and this is the home stretch where everything really starts to come together that you had been working on! After checking my gaps I noted some spots on the corners that needs a little hammer and dolly work and removed the panels to prep them for final assembly. I cleaned everything with a red scuff pad and then wiped it all down with PRE to prepare for primer. I chose our black self etching primer to apply to the entire frame and the insides of the outer panels that would all be hidden. I laid 3-4 medium coats to assure I had every inch covered completely with primer.
I then assembled everything one last time and butted the edges of the skins where they were broke for welding. I set the panels up so there was little or no gap where the panels met so I could metal finish the sides to hide the weld seam that would be visible when the gate was open. I did small runs jumping around the seams until I had all sides welded solid and the two outer skins were one.
I then used a 36 grit sanding disc on the pneumatic 1/4" angle grinder to knock the welds down and blend them into the metal. I then went back and touched up any pits or low spots in the weld seam with additional weld and sanded the entire area with 80 grit paper on the palm DA sander. This gives a nice brushed finish that highlights any major high or low spots.
With the skin welded together and to the frame I test fit everything one more time and made witness marks of where the top tube sat when fully seated over the tailgate and ran a handful of short welds that connected the bottom of the tube to the top of the tailgate skin. I did this for a couple reasons, one was to secure the round tubing to the gate, the other was so the tubing wouldn't flex or bow from lifting up on the tailgate when opening. I didn't want to weld the entire seam as it was a little overkill and I wanted to avoid putting too much heat into the skin since I can't get behind the panels to hammer and dolly any heat shrinkage out. I will be adding a small bead of of our flexible, paintable seam sealer to these seams to give a finished look when the truck someday is painted. I plan to add some small high tensile wire tethers to the sides of the tailgate to allow it to sit open.
The result is an ultra clean tailgate that matches the rest of the bed and I'm pretty excited as this is one of the last major exterior panels of the truck that we needed to make (I can almost see a light at the end of the tunnel!). I can't wait to see this all in paint and the questions that will surely come at a cruise-in or show... "How does the tailgate open or latch?".
Next I need to decide on a bed floor, metal bead rolled, or a traditional wood slat floor? Weigh in on your opinion in the comments!
Since the 1980s the automotive manufacturers have been painting cars with two stage, base coat/clear coat systems. That may not seem all that long ago to some of us older guys, but these cars are now 30 years old and entering prime project car territory. Because drivetrain technology had hit its stride by then, cars like 5.0 Mustangs are still running and driving just fine. But many cars from the 80s and 90s have clear coat paint that is just peeling and flaking off in chunks. Some cars, like the Plymouth Neon, seemed to have paint and clear coat failing before they were even off lease. Click Here To Read Full Post...
Our tech hotline answers lots of calls every day about everything we sell, and how best to use it. A lot of questions are about welding and technique, and a lot of questions concern paint and applying it. We are happy to answer those, and any other automotive related topics. If we don’t have an expert on the line immediately, we’ll be sure to find out the answer from one and get back to you.
Recently a customer called with a question about mixing single stage urethane paints with a urethane clear. Single stage paint already has plenty of gloss and is UV stabilized to be used as a top coat by itself. So, you may ask why mix a single stage color coat with a clear top coat? When people do this it is typically because they have been painting since the lacquer days, or the person who taught them was from that era. Click Here To Read Full Post...