One of the most versatile materials out there is sheetmetal. Every day millions of household objects are manufactured out of it. Your car body is made of it. The wings of the airplane you rode in are made of it. Surgery tables, washing machines, file cabinets, countertops- really, the list of items made from sheetmetal can go on and on and still not cover everything. Many roofs are now metal, sheetmetal, to be precise. The sheetmetal industry is worth tens of billions of dollars and employs well over one-hundred-thousand people. It is a thriving industry that isn’t going anywhere any time soon and the “tin bashers” certainly wouldn’t allow that.
Sheetmetal is primarily made of either aluminum or stainless steel but that certainly doesn’t mean that other metals can’t be used to make it as well. Silver, gold and platinum can be produced in a fine sheet form, or foil, for decorative uses. Stainless steel and aluminum are the most commonly used in many facets of our lives so they will be the main focus.
Stainless steel comes in three main grades. Grade 304, 316, and 410. Grade 304 is the most frequently used because it is easily welded and maintains its formability while also offering good corrosion protection. Grade 316 stainless steel sheetmetal is often used in valves, chemical equipment, and marine applications because it offers even more corrosion resistance than Grade 304 steel and maintains its strength at higher temperatures as well. Both grades 304 and 316 come in a few finishes to choose from. However, Grade 410 only comes in one finish, which is dull. It is heat treatable, but has a lower corrosion threshold. This grade is often used for your cutlery.
Aluminum is also quite popular in the sheetmetal world. It is flexible, has a gigantic variety of uses, from daily household items to building material, and is extremely cost effective. Aluminum sheetmetal comes in four main grades; 1100-H14, 3003-H14, 5052-H32, and 6061-T6. 1100-H14 is considered commercially pure as well as weather resistant and highly chemical. It is pliable enough to be used in the deep drawing process and is weld able, however, it is not very strong. 100-H14 aluminum sheetmetal is routinely used in chemical processing equipment, light reflectors, and surprisingly, jewelry. Grade 3003-H14 is stronger than 1100-H14 and is still corrosion resistant and maintains its formability as well as the low cost. It is also weld able which makes it perfect for uses in stamping, spun and drawn parts, storage tanks, and common things like mailboxes, cabinets, and fan blades. 5052-H32 is flexible, corrosion resistant, and is weld able but it stronger than Grade 3003-H14. It is often used for storage tanks, pressure vessels and electronic chassis. The final most typical Grade is 6061-T6. This is a heat-treated aluminum alloy. It is stronger than the other three common types used and is weld able and maintains corrosion resistance, but it is not as formable. It also tends to lose some of its strength when welded. Often times this grade is used in modern aircraft structures, bicycle frames and components, and even some firearm parts.
Sheetmetal plays an important role in our lives, even though most of us don’t think about it on a regular basis. A lot of work goes into trivial things in our lives and we need to remember that. Next time you are in a plane you can thank the “tin bashers” for their hard work and dedication. The sheetmetal industry is incredibly important for our economy because it employs so many of our fellow Americans and produces billions of dollars. We must continue to support this industry because it plays a big part in our lives.