Metal Fabrication Processes and Equipment for Production of High Performance Products

Metal fabrication refers to the process of combined operations that are used to make something out of metal. The equipment used to perform the operations are: metal shears, laser cutting machines, water-jets, turret punches, machining centers, press brakes, rollers, and welding machines.The most commonly used types of metals are carbon steel, stainless steel, and aluminum. Most metal fabricators buy metal in the shapes of sheet, bar, and tubing to begin the fabrication process.

Metal sheets are used as a starting basis for a very large variety of metal products and can be purchased in a variety of gauges or thicknesses. When the thickness of the sheet is 3/16″ or greater, it is then referred to “plate”. Sheets are fabricated into thousands of different types of items such as industrial machinery, augers, conveyors, electronic enclosures, brackets, machine components, appliances, food processing equipment, just to name a few.

The first process of sheet metal fabrication is often to either shear, laser cut, or punch shapes into it. The equipment used to perform these steps is a metal shear, a laser, and a turret punch. Sometimes all three of these operations may be used while the metal is still in a flat shape. Once the basic flat shape is achieved, the metal goes to the press brake machines to make the bends. This process is called forming. Dies in a variety of shapes are used in the press brake to make one bend or a series of bends to form the metal as specified on the prints. At this point, some projects may be complete and can then be shipped to its end use, but often it goes to the welding tables next.

Welding is a true art in itself. It is the job of the welder to take a pile of cut and formed shapes, read the prints, then weld the metal pieces together for the final product. There is a plethora of welding techniques that can be used and it is important for the welder to use the appropriate procedure in order to get a good penetrating weld that will not fail. Welders must know how to deal with the expansion and shrinking of metal as it is heated during the welding process, then cools. Many metal fabrications, especially machine parts, have narrow tolerances that must be met. Fixtures are widely used by welders to help them quickly put the pieces together and hold them in the right place while they are welding them together.

Metal tubing and barstock is another common item purchased by metal fabricators. Railings and machine frames are two very common places that metal tubing and bar is used. Tubing is made in square, round, or rectangular shapes with a common wall thickness of about 1/8″, referred to by the industry as 10 or 11 gauge, or schedule 40 pipe. The reason metal tubing is commonly used is because it provides a lot strength with less metal than solid bar. Large tubing, 2-4 inches in diameter is used to fabricate railings that are installed along highway bridges where a very strong railing is needed should a vehicle crash into it. Using tubing as opposed to solid bar translates to less weight and lower cost, both desirable to the end user of metal fabrications. However, there are still many cases where solid bar is preferred. One case would be the shaft of a screw conveyor. There is extreme pressure applied by a motor to turn the auger and solid metal is necessary for successful operation of the screw conveyor. Many railings are also made of bar stock or made of a combination of bar and tubing. Bar is used on applications where the railing doesn’t have to be super heavy duty and thinner bars are desired.One half to 1 inch bar is widely used for railings in both residential and commercial purposes. Metal railings when made out of galvanized, painted, or stainless steel fabrication can be expected to last a lifetime with little to no maintenance.

Strength, low to no maintenance.Long lasting. That’s the beauty of metal. That’s why so many products are made with metal. Metal fabricators have the machinery and knowledge of how to take base metals that are melted and manufactured by steel factories, and turn them in to very useful products that can last a lifetime.

B2B Online Trading Tips for Apparel and Fashion Buyers

The apparel and fashion industry is one of the most growing industries in the world. Be it kid’s, men, or women apparels, uniforms and unisex apparels, fashion and apparel segment rules the industry. Apart from being fashionable and glamorous this industry requires all types of online and offline skills to keep going and to stay on top.

Nowadays, presence on the B2B marketplace helps the fashion and wholesale clothing to reach different segments of society irrespective of the geographical limitations and bridge a gap between clothing manufacturers and a potential buyer.

In order to have a smooth sailing through a B2B channel, here are some security tips that every buyer should keep in mind while conducting a trade with a supplier:

Identification check of the Supplier And Company:

The best way to check the authenticity and to reduce the risk of fraud while trading online is to conduct proper due-diligence before entering into any transaction. Although B2B marketplace is an easy medium to get connected with the relevant suppliers, lack of in person meetings to carry out business makes it necessary to conduct proper research before setting up any trading relations with the supplier.

Here are some steps to reduce the risk of supplier’s fraud:

A complete company profile consists of information which can be both verified and unverified. Here are few must follow steps to know the authenticity of a supplier:

Company Name along with city and province

Business type: If its manufacturer it means that the supplier is only selling products it manufactures. Manufactures are equipped and trained in specific production lines because of which they are highly specialized in their specific product line.

Trading Companies: There are some trading companies, which are independent while others own, or are owned by a manufacturing company. Although everybody tries to avoid the middleman, there are many companies in world which export their produce using Trading companies. Here is where trading companies play an important role. There can be some companies which offer no added value and dealing with those suppliers will only raise your costs.

Checking the quality of the product

It is said that a good manufacturer is not the one who is completely free of quality issues but the one who is constantly monitoring the quality during productions. Make sure that the supplier guarantees you to get back to you on time if the clothing purchase turns out to be defective and should have a proper system in place for how to manage the quality issues of clothing material. According to ISO compliance a product requires more than having a quick check before they are packed and shipped. Every supplier is required to inspect the raw materials and components before production, set up inspections during production and does a final supervision after production.

Garment Sampling

Apparel and clothing samples are very important and are meant to be developed, tested before starting the bulk production. Sampling is one of the main processes in apparel and fashion industry and plays a vital role when doing business online. As buyer place the final orders only after verifying the quality of samples.

The sample decides the ability and perfection of an exporter on how he carries out the business. It helps the buyer to judge the exporter and the organisation he belongs. If the samples are of good quality and at a reasonable price, it will naturally attract the buyers to place the order.

Doing business on a B2B portal can be a relatively new frontier but if not negotiated strategically can result in added costs and extra work hours for both a manufacturer as well as a buyer.

Why Are MEP Projects Late and Over Budget?

MEP (M&E) design and installation is a fundamental element of overall building design process as it directly impacts and influences the use and ongoing costs of the building. Sustainability and conservation issues are important additional factors influencing MEP (M&E) design and place further pressure on effective design while also operating in a profitable environment.

It is common knowledge that the margins involved in MEP (M&E) projects are precariously tight, however instead of managing risk to manage margins, the pressure (from General Contractors and Clients) to act quickly has meant that margins have been squeezed – to the point of loss in many cases. The industry has found it difficult to move from a “reactive site-based position” to a more balanced “pro-active” position that involves greater foresight and planning.

To understand why MEP (M&E) projects are continually over budget, one may find it easier to look first at a different industry entirely. So for example, one could look at anything ranging from manufacturing IT equipment to developing and launching a new software tool to motor vehicle manufacturing. In all of these examples there is a fundamental project cycle that is followed every time. This involves a series of stages which ensure that the output is understood and “tested” before something is built or put into a live environment. The testing, which is fundamental, includes comprehensive risk assessments at several stages and mitigating action to manage such risks.

Taking vehicle manufacturing as an example, at a very high level there are three key stages/elements involved. Firstly, there are individual components (or parts), secondly there is an initial assembly of parts (to make the vehicle) and thirdly there is a mass assembly process. Taking the components first, all components are designed and tested, in detail, in a virtual environment, usually with prototypes being developed for further testing before the finished component is ready. Turning to the “initial assembly of parts” that make up the vehicle. This is very detailed research and development process which utilises a process of virtually built and tested vehicles usually over a period of years. Only once testing is complete is a prototype started which is built, tested and re-built. The vehicle manufacturer will then move to mass manufacture in a production line environment. The production line itself is subject to extensive efficiency and accuracy improvement measures – on a constant and evolving basis. However, once the production line activity begins then there are NO SURPRISES in most cases and every element that is introduced to the line for a vehicle that is already tested is a) known, b) tested and c) works/fits.

In short, vehicle manufacturing utilises extensive planning, virtual testing, actual product/component testing and constant quality control during component manufacture and during the assembly process. There are no surprises or reactive responses during the production line phase of the projects and this is why profitability is in the hands of the manufacturer (and the market of course!).

Now, compare this with MEP (M&E) projects. Firstly, assuming that the engineering components (whether these are pipework, electrical or ductwork elements) are all tested and proven, the challenge for the engineer or sub-contractor is in the assembly of parts and then the installation process on a mass/large scale. As we know, most buildings (excluding new homes or similar repetitive designs) are unique so whilst the engineer is using components that are tested and is usually aware of how those components will work together, he/she will not usually be aware of all of the other factors that inhibit the ‘assembly’ and ‘arrangement’ of MEP (M&E) services. The challenge for MEP (M&E) projects therefore is not concerned with component testing and knowing how the components fit together but rather with site based component assembly, arrangement and installation.

To appreciate the challenge facing the MEP (M&E) industry one has to understand more about the building services design and detailing process. An MEP (M&E) design is completed by one party (the Consulting or Designing Engineer), this is usually a high level design and therefore cannot be easily tested at this stage as it has not taken into account several ‘other’ conditions such as, a) eventual procurement decisions that may lead to changes in sizes and specification of equipment and plant, b) position of other disciplines (e.g. any steel or structure), and; c) in some cases even other MEP (M&E) disciplines (so ductwork design may not have taken into account the plumbing design).

This high level design is then passed on to the next member of the supply chain (commonly referred to as the Building Services or MEP (M&E) Contractor/Trade) who is responsible for planning the site based assembly and installation. This ‘passing-on’ of a design obviously carries some risk but this process is commonly undertaken for MEP (M&E) projects due to contractual and financial reasons as well as technical expertise. As such, the Trade/Sub Contractor has responsibility for taking the design to a detailed level to allow the ‘other’ conditions to be assessed and risks to be mitigated. The Trade/Sub Contractor will detail the design to ensure that it is updated to include his/her preferred materials and plant, that it meets access requirements, it includes space or information for fixing and bracketing and be also to sure that it can be physically installed in the building. Once these elements are met and he/she is confident that the components in the design are not interfering with other disciplines (whether structural or other MEP (M&E) elements) then this first challenge for the Trade/Sub Contractor can be considered complete. This first stage is referred to as MEP Coordination (M&E Coordination) which is the term used to describe vertical and horizontal, interference free drawings.

The second challenge is to manage the installation (or assembly) work, this may involve a degree of pre-fabrication based on the design that has been detailed and the extent to which the building will allow pre-fabrication elements. Whether pre-fabrication is used or not the time and cost of the installation process is directly influenced by the accuracy of the drawings.

As well as using the detailed design for installation, the Trade/Sub Contractor will also use the detailed design output (usually a series of drawings) for creating a schedule or bill of quantities. This is a manual process that takes time and is subject to human error once again. However, it is vital to ensure that this is carried out correctly as it affects estimates and quotes – all of which affect the increasing accountability that MEP (M&E) Contractors/Trades are responsible for.

Traditionally, Trades/Sub Contractors created their detailed design (from which they also extract quantity information) using polyline software – a fairly primitive tool by today’s CAD (Computer Aided Design) standards, to create two dimensional, detailed, technical drawings. The key issues arising from use of polyline software tools are that, a) it takes a long time to produce the drawings – as they require a lot of overlaying and experienced insight, and; b) there is no easy or quick way of validating/testing the drawings – checking would require a manual review which is of course open to human error. Finally, due to the time taken to create and check the drawings, information such as bracketing, hanger locations and their sizes are typically omitted from the drawings – introducing further risk. Of course there are a series of other risks that are inherent in MEP (M&E) projects including the need to ensure the use of the latest set of constantly changing and re-issued design information from other disciplines.

As a result of these issues, MEP (M&E) projects are usually not designed in enough detail and certainly not tested to the degree that they should be. Compared with other industries such as IT development or vehicle manufacturing the acute lack of testing for the final stage (assembly at site level) has varying degrees of effects on the outcome of MEP (M&E) projects.

Working with the detailed design as it is means that any issues that do exist within the design (i.e. procurement or spatial clearance issues) will impact the Trade/Sub Contractor which will result in time delays and additional costs – both of which affect eventual profitability of the project. The reality is that in most cases contractors experience problems during the installation phase of projects which are caused by poor drawings standards and quality levels. Such problems result in spiraling costs and a complete lack of control in most cases. On site problems include:

1) Clashes of MEP (M&E) services with other MEP (M&E) services as well as architectural and structural elements – the resultant delays and on-the-spot fixes result in labour and equipment costs that have a critical impact on budgets.
2) Installers not being able to fully understand the drawings and therefore misinterpreting them – resulting in errors and then corrective work.
3) Bracketing and hangar locations being compromised due to ineffective layout drawings – requiring site-based planning and installation.
4) Lagging and insulation of services being affected – affecting MEP (M&E) service performance.
5) Service access areas and access locations being affected due to poor planning – requiring site based resolution and dealing with subsequent knock on effects.

Trade/Sub Contractors are used to this of course and they manage this eventuality by ensuring that adequate site based resources and budgets are in place to manage ‘on-the-spot’ issues at site. Although the cost of additional, site-based, manpower and equipment far outweighs the cost that may have been incurred during the detailed design phase this has not deterred Trade/Sub Contractors from working in a reactive manner. In actual fact higher site based costs are actually helping to cover up the real issue of a poorly detailed design that has failed to identify and address issues during the detailed design (or ‘detailed coordination’) phase of the project. Had the design been detailed before moving to site, then site based costs and time could be controlled and profitability, and even overall project costs, for customers could improve considerably.

Collectively, the failure by Trades/Sub Contractors to create a detailed design with the best tools available; the apparent need to rush to site and start work (as a result of pressure from General Contractors and Clients); and the need to bridge overall project delays during installation stage (as a result of pressure from Project Managers) are all factors working against the Trade/Sub Contractor. One would argue that the only element that the Trade/Sub Contractor can directly control is the “detailed design”. If this is ignored to the extent that is currently the case, then MEP (M&E) project profitability will remain challenging at best.

So as can be seen, compared to manufacturing or IT industries where a thorough and detailed design process exists, MEP (M&E) projects are ill-tested therefore there is a higher propensity for them to fail. By accepting the risk of a poorly designed project the Trade/Sub Contractor is compromising not just profit but also his reputation and future success.

Next: Look out for our next article ‘The Key to Making MEP (M&E) Projects Profitable” which will be released in the coming weeks.

Notes:

In writing this article we recognise that there are many reasons affecting profitability and performance including
a) choice of, and training of personnel,
b) choice of suppliers and partners
c) weak design execution,
d) unrealistic time frames for completion;
e) failing to detail the design and test appropriately.

This article is concerned with e) failing to detail the design and test appropriately. Our next article will feature more information about how to succeed in MEP (M&E) projects – including the approach now being taken and also how the industry has responded with lean methods and processes.

MEP (M&E) is short for Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing which are the three main trades and components of building services. MEP is the term used commonly in the US and India while the term M&E is commonly used in the UK, Australia and Canada. In the Middle East the term is commonly referred to as Electro Mechanical Services.