Interested in working in the metal fabrications industry? It can be a great career path for those who enjoy working with their hands, manufacturing high-quality products while paying close attention to detail. This industry offers some of the best-paying career options with plenty of room for growth and career advancement.
This article looks at some of the best-paying jobs in metal fabrication and the educational requirements needed for each job.
What Is Metal Fabrication?
Metal Fabrication is the process of using raw materials to build machines and structures.
Raw materials include epoxies, molten metal, concrete, and clay. Different processes, including welding and machining, make a final product.
Epoxy can be used in many applications, such as electronics, high-tension electrical insulators, or paint brush manufacturing.
Epoxy is named after two Greek prefixes, ‘epi’ and ‘oxy.’ The prefix epi means ‘upon,’ while the word epi means acidic or even sharp. It could also be an adhesive or composed of plastic or some other type of material from a class of synthetic thermosetting polymers containing epoxide groups.
In steel, epoxy can be used as an adhesive to repair or fill gaps, and it can also be used to rebuild metal and concrete surfaces. In addition, electrical components can be sealed if the epoxy does not conduct electricity.
There have been technological advances in adhesives whereby structural products can be strengthened, and products can be made more durable. In addition, with more flexibility of the adhesives, there is less stress applied, and the risk of corrosion is also reduced.
Therefore, epoxy can be high strength and resist high temperatures, and have the capability to be used to fill in gaps effectively.
Molten clay is usually poured into a mold to create a 3D metal part. This is defined as a manufacturing process of metal casting.
Concrete can be compressed to give it strength, but it can also fracture under tension. So instead, concrete can be reinforced using steel bars constructed into a cage structure, defined as reinforcement fabrication.
Metal clay refers to any clay that is not precious such as bronze, steel, or copper. These can be manipulated or sculptured easily into other objects by being hammered, drilled, or soldered.
There are many projects that take place to create different products, such as manufacturing hand tools and the manufacturing of screws, nuts, and bolts. Pieces of iron can also be used in fabrication projects.
Types Of Products
Sheet metal products can be constructed from sheet metal which is a thin and flat sheet of metal. It is usually used in metal fabrication work for metalwork processes. In addition, it can be constructed and shaped into automotive parts or components for objects commonly used daily.
Alloys of precious metals such as gold, silver, or platinum can be useful in applications with high electrical conductivity. They are also resistant to high temperatures and resistant to oxidation. They can also have good mechanical properties.
Sheet metal can be made from aluminum, titanium, or steel, and it can be up to 3mm thick. However, thicker pieces are available that are more suited for larger structural products and still usable with sheet metal equipment.
Pieces Of Metal
Many pieces of metal can be used in metal fabrication, but carbon steel is the most available and versatile. It has a higher carbon content and a lower melting point, making it more durable and easier to use.
Metal products can be constructed from sheet metal fabrication. Designs and plans will be made available in the form of technical drawings, and they will be transferred over to computer-aided design applications into production. A 3D graphic simulation is then generated to show how the final product will look.
The final CAD files are converted into a code for the machine, which will then be used to process the precise cut of the sheets required for the final product. Modeling software is useful to represent what the final product will be.
Sheet metal fabrication requires operation by skilled engineers. They adhere to the customer’s requirements to create and design a product constructed using bespoke sheet metal on a fixed budget and agreement.
Metal fabricators fabricate industrial ductwork.
The Types Of Processes For Using Sheet Metal
The metal sheeting is re-shaped without changing its size or its volume. This can often be achieved by bending, stretching, or rolling out the original piece so that it can be formed into the required shape.
The shape of the piece is altered without making any changes to its volume. The metal can be made into a shape such as a U shape. A press brake is commonly used to force the metal between tools to shape the material to the required angle. This is a versatile method as bending techniques can apply to small fixings such as brackets that need to be manipulated into place.
Metal coating can be applied to steel surfaces for steel construction, including thermal spraying.
Metals can be fused by being heated to high temperatures and then allowed to solidify and cool to form their new shape for metal objects.
An example of a type of welding is called Tungsten Inert Gas, a technique where most metals can be joined.
Soldering irons are used to melt the solder, which can join two workpieces.
Roll-forming techniques are applied to cylindrical shapes and architectural features that are rounded. It requires a smooth curved surface to the metal. It is rolled repeatedly until the desired result is shown. Iron beams or drainage pipes are an example where the roll forming technique could be applied.
If the final finish requires holes, punching can be applied to make a hole in the metal of varied shapes and sizes. Then, pressure is applied to either side of the material with the hole made in the metal structures.
This type of process for metal forming allows a sheet of metal to be passed between rolls of a specific pattern. This would then result in a patterned finish.
Metal cutting can be achieved by using lasers or plasma torches, although it would depend on the specifications of the final product required. In addition, there would need to be some structural integrity to the cutting process to ensure it is safe.
A tooling mold usually needs to be designed and then implemented by the company using it.
A thin patina finish is a thin layer that forms on the surface of the metal body. This can provide a more aged appearance that is stylistic and in fashion. It is ideal for the use of metal wall panels for metal finishers.
What Do People Working In Metal Fabrication Do?
There are many jobs in metal fabrication. People who work in metal fabrication are required to manufacture different types of products by using their hands or tools. They are also responsible for reading assembly instructions and constructing products based on product requirements while adhering to safety and quality control standards.
Assembly instructions are used in fabrication so the same assembly method can be applied repeatedly to achieve the same standard or result. Assembly instructions should be easy to follow and effective in their delivery for the finished products to be possible from the metal components.
How Much Money Can Metal Fabricators Make?
In the US, metal fabricators can make $21.40 as their average salary, with the annual wage reaching more than $50,461 per year in some cases.
A college degree is optional for this career path as a high school diploma will suffice, although it depends on the specific role being applied for in a specialized area.
There are opportunities to embark on a career in construction or use heavy machinery. Some employees may like to study metallurgy. Metallurgy is a combination of the science and technology of metals. This is a specific term for metalworking craft that is used in this type of work.
Requirements And Skills For The Metal Fabrication Industry
- Ideally, a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering
- Metal fabricator work experience
- Certification in advanced welding
- Knowledge in engineering design and manufacturing
- Work experience as a fabricator or work experience in a similar role
- Have attention to detail and highly organized
- Proficiency in operating machinery, including heavy machinery
- Relevant training as a fabricator from a previous role or willingness to embark on a training program.
- Safety training
Educational Requirements Needed For Each Job
The metal fabrication industry has fierce competition for jobs, so it is vital to have the proper training, skills, and experience. Here are the educational requirements needed for each job.
4-year bachelor’s degree in a discipline and certification as a certified apprentice millwright.
- High school diploma or equivalent
- Training through an apprenticeship program
- Licenses and certifications pertaining to metal fabrication
Sheet Metal Mechanic
High school diploma or equivalent.
A high school diploma or GED is required for entry-level positions and above.
A bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering is required. In addition, industrial engineers would usually have a degree in a specialism of engineering, such as mechanical engineering.
Mathematics is beneficial as vocational training in subjects such as welding. Ironworkers can embark on a 3-4 year apprenticeship.
High school diploma. Post-secondary training in CNC programming or related field is beneficial.
- Degree from an accredited engineering program.
- A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering exam.
- Work experience that is relevant over the past four years.
- A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam.
Construction superintendents require a bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject such as engineering. Without a degree, extensive work experience is required to be considered for this role.
A college education from a community college is required, with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, to become a production manager. In addition, a degree in a related field would be helpful such as in business administration or supply chain management.
High school diploma or GED. Work experience as a CNC programmer. The ability to read and make interpretations of design blueprints. Computer modeling software experience. Knowledge of science and technology and the ability to repair machines, power tools, and tools. A working knowledge of manufacturing production, CNC machine, and processes with analytical skills.
High school diploma or equivalent and relevant licensing and training.
Study Chemistry or science such as biology or environmental science. Hold a bachelor’s degree and an associate degree in education relevant.
High school diploma or equivalent and a 2-year degree in a technical field such as industrial maintenance technology for a more precise study of the industry.
A welder can complete training at a vocational school or on-the-job training. However, they usually require at least a high school degree or equivalent. It is imperative for high school students to focus on mathematics and science if they wish to develop relevant skills for their further training programs.
These roles should be researched online to determine the specific requirements for education and work-based skills and training.
Sheet Metal Mechanic
A sheet metal mechanic is also required to have a high school diploma or equivalent, and it would be helpful to study algebra and geometry in high school. Vocational educational courses would also be beneficial in welding, for example.
Sheet Metal Installer
Installer of architectural sheet installs panels, for example. They are used to protect and preserve structures on buildings.
Construction supervisors who work on construction projects will often have many years of experience in their field.
An ironworker is different from a welder because an ironworker’s primary tool is an arc welder. They are used to using tools of the trade that are specific for welding on projects.
Plastic Machine Worker
Plastic machine workers are responsible for setting up the machines to cut, shape, and form plastic materials or pieces that are specifically required.
Pros and Cons Of A Career In Metal Fabrication
A metal fabricator is classed as a skilled worker. The primary duty of a metal fabricator is to make sure that metal is made into the desired shape using various methods and tools. This requires knowledge and applied skills.
They can work in several skilled areas, as referenced in the list of possible roles, some offering some specialism.
There are many specialist companies, such as those that handle air conditioning systems. They can handle the heating, ventilation, and air condition fabrication required for specialist industrial applications. Being a metal fabricator enables a vast number of production techniques to be used, which can be customized.
It requires work in manufacturing plants and using industrial machinery on a regular basis. Some of the machinery that needs to be operated is heavy machinery, so specific experience is necessary. Metal pieces and metal fabrications need to be utilized effectively. Knowledge and understanding of using a variety of tools are required.
Safety standards, quality control methods, and requirements must also be applied. Therefore, the role requires many different responsibilities and critical control where program instructions must be followed carefully with attention to detail.
Metal fabrication jobs require at least a high school education and some training and work experience, which can be good for a long-lasting career. In addition, entry-level employment and on-the-job training for metal fabrication employees in selected specialist areas in metal fabrication are available.
Ultimately, there are many pros to working in this industry, as there is a large and steady workforce with job stability. It also professes to have one of the highest-paid workforces in the US due to a 15% increase in employment growth from 2021-2022. Hopefully, this will continue to increase.
This anticipated growth has been due to increased residential and commercial construction. As a result, work is buoyant, with workers consistently working in the construction industry and continuing with projects despite economic downturns. But, of course, this is a risk for any industry worldwide.
Therefore, the outlook for metal fabricators is generally good once they have attained their education and work-based training and development. However, this requires dedication, time, and long-term interest in the role for it to be a rewarding and developing career.
The downside is that experience in this field is required as most employers recognize this for acceptance on a work-based program such as an apprenticeship. This is then required to reach any advancement. However, careers in metal fabrication can be rewarding if the metal production activities can be fulfilled and the fabrication industry is buoyant.
Metal fabrication staff may have to work long hours if there are tight deadlines to be met on projects for the manufacturing process.
To advance fully in this career, becoming certified in a program with a metal fabrication specialty is recommended. Being a specialist requires expert certifications, such as a Precision Sheet Metal Operator (PSMO) certification offered by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association. To qualify, there needs to be proof of accreditation and training.
Other certifications include a CWF for a Certified Welding Fabricator offered by the American Welding Society (AWS).
Although training in this field may take some time, it is essential to be competitive and keep up to date with the latest technological developments.
Therefore, subscribing to the membership for FMA allows access to online courses in metal fabrication and provides sharing of vital information in the industry, such as new procedures and technological developments. An example would be whereby information about blueprint reading or tube bending information is shared and accessible online.
Other roles besides a metal fabricator can be pursued, such as a machinist. They ensure that large quantities of a specific metal part or parts are mass-produced. This is often completed using tools such as milling machines.
It may be preferable to use a more automated system that does not require the use of extensive tools. For example, a role as a machine setter, operator, or tender would allow the use of the production machines or operating machines for parts. Consumer appliances require parts, so these would be machined. A role such as this would require minimal training, with only a few weeks of training on the job needed and a decent salary of at least $32,000 annual salary.
Setting up a business in this industry is another option available. The industry rewards skilled workers, and the positive is that they are less likely to acquire student debt and more likely to be able to develop their skillset. It is something that can be considered for the future.
It is worth researching as it could be another way to stay in the industry and generate a steady income. There may also be schemes available to help to set up a business at the current time. The job of a metal fabricator can be demanding, and in terms of setting up a business in the industry, here are the pros and cons.
Pros And Cons Of Setting Up A Welding And Fabrication Business
You may have an entrepreneur side to you where you would like to set up your own welding and fabrication business someday. You may have worked your way up in your career path from an apprenticeship and developed the necessary skills and experience to advance in your career.
Setting up your own business is not for the faint of heart, although the start-up cost is low, and the work can be gratifying if customers are satisfied. This means you are more likely to retain your customers and enhance your customer base over time. You also have the flexibility to decide who your customers are and be able to pitch existing and unique ideas to them.
Your potential income can be enhanced, and you could also have more control over your working hours, as being a metal fabricator can demand long hours. Once you can develop your reputation and company, it will be advantageous for future career prospects for your staff and yourself.
If you love what you do, the industry will allow you to self-motivate and increase your opportunity to gain more customer experience.
Being your own boss would be the most significant benefit of all. It would allow you to create a limitless business in terms of its expansion model and the ability to generate more income.
You can expand your social circles and keep the business local so that it generates more interest and allows for a solid foundation of clients. These are likely to be retained long-term, and a business enables a workforce to excel by offering in-house training and development opportunities.
Some negatives may be that motivating employees could be challenging, so they may need to be offered work incentives regularly. As with any business, insurance and general running costs can be expensive and require a reliable and efficient workforce. Equipment may require repairs or not work due to wear and tear, or the equipment may even need to be replaced entirely if it is not working efficiently.
There is a high liability, and turnaround times for the completion of projects may be problematic at times with a stressful and pressured environment created, which may cause friction with customers with high expectations.
Being your own boss has so many pros and cons that it requires more research and development to consider setting up a business. It is also another way to give back to the community if it is a local business. It can earn a local reputation and offer young people or those who are unemployed the opportunity to work in the industry if apprenticeships are offered.
It would be a fantastic opportunity for all laborers and metal fabricators to work together if large projects were generated because of local demands. What an excellent way to develop skills and experience for all workers and to be able to have a business to be proud of in the local community. If the startup’s cost is low, consider it and produce a business model that could one day be realized.
Overall, generating a business concept and developing it is not for everyone. However, it would be a fantastic option for those who wish to use their entrepreneurial edge to develop their career further.