Many people use fabricating and welding as interchangeable verbs, but that’s not quite the case. In its most basic sense, fabrication is the process of creating a project out of metal, and welding can be a singular operation during that process.
Simply put, welding joins together two pieces of metal, glass, or thermoplastics with similar melting points and compositions using fusion. Fabrication is the evolutionary process of creating a metal product, from layout and design to formation and finishing. However, in this ever-evolving industry, it’s likely that many welders can fabricate, and it’s more likely that fabricators can weld.
So, what are the differences and similarities between the two? Before you fill out your next apprenticeship application, Kaempf and Harris takes a look at the tools, processes, and safety precautions that go into each trade:
A comprehensive list of familiar fabrication tools for beginners, including various angle grinder discs and a set of cleco fasteners, can be found here. Most metal fab tools can’t be used for welding because that process requires different, more specific instruments, including:
- Adjustable wrench
- Chipping hammers
- Consumable electrodes
- Cylinders with custom carts
- Electrode holders
- Hand file
- Tungsten inert gas (TIG) consumables
- Vice and vice grips
- Welding clamps
As for the similarities, both careers require cleaning supplies for disinfecting the metal. Experts use a wire brush and organic solvent, like acetone or a mild alkaline solution, or a citrus-based degreaser without butoxyethanol (a chemical compound that can cause breathing and liver problems) to scrub away any grease, oily deposits, and germs.
To clean the facility after a hard day’s work, welders and fabricators use normal mops and sweepers. For industry-specific cleaning techniques, these trade professionals often use surface protection films, floor finishes and coatings, and electro-cleaners.
Because welding is a metal forming technique, it goes hand-in-hand with sheet metal fabrication, and each trade uses similar processes, like assembling and bending, to get the final product. To clarify, there are different ways to weld, including oxy acetylene, TIG (the most common form in fab shops), and gas metal arc (GMAW) welding.
However, because sheet metal fabrication is the overarching process, it involves many different processes, including specialty techniques, which can involve:
- Die cutting
- Roll forming
Because this industry can be more dangerous than others due to working with hot metal and heavy machinery, every welder and sheet metal fabricator should be aware of the safety guidelines in their respective shops. To help prevent injury, each tradesperson should own or be provided (at least) the following:
Fume extraction equipment
Protective, flame-resistant pants
A sturdy, fitted, flame-resistant jacket
Coveralls or leather apron
Heavy, non-slip working boots or steel toe boots
Thick leather working gloves
An auto-darkening helmet with the proper visor
Respirator or dust mask
To help create a safe work environment, each trade’s shop should have strict equipment storage policies (whether handheld or automatic), and every apprentice must be trained before using machinery on their own. Also, all tools should be thoroughly and regularly inspected for any damage.
When it comes to sheet metal fabrication and welding, both careers are important. This trade is useful for every industry, from construction and housing to automotive and transportation.
At Kaempf and Harris, we deliver effective and efficient fabrication, installation, and design-build projects using stainless steel, galvanized steel, black iron steel, and aluminum. You can learn more about welding metal, metal fabrication and more by subscribing to our blog.