The Metal Fabrication Process from Drawing to Cutting

Posted by Naimor Metal Fabrication on Apr 24, 2018 10:31:49 AM

A better understanding of our metal fabrication capabilities leads to better design decisions and can help develop better quality metal parts at reduced cost. Design software is productive, but it’s not all-knowing. Knowing the capabilities of our machines, available tools, and what experienced personnel can and cannot do minimizes confusion and makes our job – and yours – progress smoothly.


Metal Fabrication Step One: Drawing

We use Solidworks to draw and cut parts. We can also use files from a variety of other programs as long as they can be exported and saved as one of the following vector-format file types:

  • STEP files (preferred)
  • DXF
  • DWG

To cut parts, we need one of the accepted file types listed above.* To draw parts on the computer for our clients, we can work from a drawing off the back of a napkin or a mock-up of parts prepared in a file type we can read, such as JPG, GIF, BMP, or PDF.

architectural metal fab

For any file, it is important to validate that dimensions are correct, especially when moving from a flat pattern to a formed part. Parts get complex with bends, tabs, and holes, and details can get overlooked. Accuracy issues surface with file transfers and drawing changes. Mistakes are easy to make when revisions are made. At times we’ll find a feature that’s missing or an additional feature on the file that’s not on the vector drawing,

Naimor’s metal fabrication services can custom cut parts suitable for a variety of projects. Knowing the capabilities and limitations of the equipment used to cut and shape final products gives a better appreciation of its craftsmanship and abilities.


Step Two: Cutting

CNC machine cutting is only limited by your imagination as to what you can do with it for metal fabrication. We mainly router cut aluminum, but can also make brass, copper, plastic, rubber, wood and foam parts up to 96” wide x 300” long. Thickness is dependent on the material, size of the cutter head inserted into the collet and the z axis clearance. Our clearance is 8 inches – in theory we can cut up to 8” thick material, although the thickest we have processed to date is 6”.

Routers cut with friction. A cylindrical bit with cutting edges spins at high speeds and carves away unwanted material. The type of cutter used will determine the type of cuts possible, as well as the appearance of the final product.

Routers work great for curves and rounded edges. Precision is limited by the radius of the bit – in other words, the cut can only be as wide as the bit that makes it.

The smallest router bits have a radius of about 1 mm. To cut a small star pattern, for example, the point where the rays converge would appear as a curve rather than as an angle. Routers can’t achieve the same sharp, precise inside angles that lasers can.

One advantage routers have over lasers is the ease with which they can cut precise depths. The cutter can be adjusted up or down along the Z axis, so that only some of the surface is cut away.

Because routers cut by friction, the material needs to be secured to the cutting surface. If this isn’t done, the torque of the router will spin the material or cause it to fly off the table. Shavings can also become lodged in the grooves of the bit, forcing the operator to stop the machine to clean it. Clamping down material and the care that needs to be taken in doing so, takes time and effort, which increases costs.

Laser Cutting

With a laser you can do everything a CNC router can do, except deep cut 3D carvings. At Naimor Metal Fabrication, we mainly cut custom aluminum, mild steel and stainless steel parts. We stock these materials in various grades and thicknesses, but can also use material our clients send us.

We can laser cut and engrave parts up to:

  • 60” wide x 144” long
  • Aluminum up to 0.5”
  • Mild steel up to 1.0”
  • Stainless steel up to 0.5”
  • Holes as small as the laser beam width of around 0.01”

We cannot cut glass, lexan, or thicker materials. Lasers cut with heat, not friction. A high energy light beam burns through the material rather than carving it away, producing fine edges.

As was mentioned earlier, the width of a cut is limited by the width of the cutting tool. While the smallest router bits have a radius of just under 1 mm, the radius of a laser beam can be set to as small as 0.1mm. Extremely detailed cuts can be made with precision.

The laser also cuts very quickly with a high degree of accuracy, cutting almost twice as fast as a router. A laser can make a cut in one pass through thick material, whereas a router may require multiple passes. There is no need to clamp down the material as no force is being applied to the material, eliminating this step in the laser cutting process adding up to significant time and cost savings.

CNC Turret Punch

A punch press with a large turret can hold several ready to use tools, allowing positioning, punching and change of tools automatically. This make fast work of generating round holes, slots, vents, louvers and other forms.

If there is any type of intensive part or parts that require bumps, countersinks, counterbores, or tapping, these are typical cost effective applications for punching machines. Lasers are generally used for geometries that the punch can’t do or for shapes you wouldn't want to purchase costly punching tools for.

We can punch:

  • Aluminum, stainless steel, and galvanized steel sheets up to ¼” thick
  • Hole diameters up to 4.5”
  • Sheets (W/O repositioning) up to 50" x 72" in size

A hybrid press/laser machine, which we have on hand, combines the benefits of a punch and a laser. When combined, you can use either laser or turret punch press functionality for a huge range of parts with unusual shapes.


Turn Your Concept to Reality

Naimor, Inc. works with you to develop your idea from concept to completion, and our talented team works together to build your vision. Send us your architectural drawings for a quote today!


*We may be able to use other vector drawing file formats not listed above; you are welcomed to send a different file type and if we cannot open it, we will let you know. If in doubt, please send a DXF file compatible with AutoCAD version 2007 or earlier (most programs let you “Save as” or “Export” to this file type and have a “Set up” or “Advanced” option to set the AutoCAD version compatibility).

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Tags: architectural concept, architectural metal fabrication, metal fabrication