What’s the Difference Between Welding and Metal Fabrication?

If you are a part of the metalworking industry, you may hear terms like fabrications and welding. While people may assume the two to be one and the same, they are actually quite different from one another. Simply put, fabrication involves manufacturing metal, and welding is just a part of the fabrication process.

Fabrication could involve welding, but welding will always be a part of the fabrication process. You could fabricate metal without welding, but you are definitely indulging in the fabrication process if you are welding. If you are not satisfied with this answer and wish to learn more about the difference between welding and metal fabrication, read on.

Understanding Welding and Fabrication

Welding is a process by which pieces of metal are joined together. Welding can also be used for thermoplastics and glass, but it is often associated with metals.

Fabrication is like looking at the bigger picture, where the end goal is to create metal products. It can include everything from planning to the manufacturing process itself. Fabricators work with product concepts and use complex procedures to turn conceptualized ideas into finished products.

Most fabricators are experienced welders, and many welders are fabricators. The roles of these specialists can change depending on their workplace and the job they are doing.

For example, a welder may also be employed to shape, bend, and cut a project. Or, a metal fabricator may do a bit of welding to get a job done.

A Quick Summary of the Metal Fabrication Process

The metal fabrication process involves a lot of steps. Each step depends on the other resulting in a successful final product. The process involves the following parts:

1. Bidding

Every project starts with bidding, and so does metal fabrication. The end-user will have a plan for the product, what it is for, and how many units need to be produced. The plan could be extremely detailed, or it could be a general concept.

Companies bidding on metal fabrication projects will verify whether they can take on a project based on their resources. Some companies can cater to all kinds of metal fabrication projects in-house, but others will have to hire specialized services like welding.

2. Planning

This stage is critical for the final product. Even though there isn’t any welding, bending, or cutting taking place, it still takes a lot of time and effort to make a project a success.

Planning leads to other steps in the metal fabrication process. Engineers and designers understand the concept as best as they can from the client. This way, said engineers and designers could develop a combination of techniques and materials to complete the project.

3. Production

A typical metal fabrication process involves selecting and cutting the metal into component sizes. The process utilizes equipment like shears or something more sophisticated like water cutting and laser cutting. After the critical components have been shaped by metal fabricators, they are ready for assembly.

Most fabrication projects require extensive welding, and this is where the primary difference between fabrication and welding comes into play. Welding is just one step of a more significant process, but it is a crucial step nonetheless.

An Overview of the Welding Process

Welding is a process by which pieces of metal are joined together, also referred to as fusion. This process requires a lot of heat and pressure and numerous specialized tools. Welding may be a small part of the metal fabrication process, but it is a highly skilled trade that requires a lot of training and experience to master.

Most welders start as apprentices and progress until they finally reach their goal as journeymen. This can take years because of the variety of welding methods and metals used during metal fabrication. The metal fabrication industry commonly uses two main welding processes, i.e., fusion welding and solid-state welding.

Fusion welding utilizes heat on metal parts and fuses them using a filler, while solid-state welding is similar to fusion welding but does not require a filler. The metal welding industry also utilizes the following welding processes:

SMAW – Shielded Metal Arc Welding

This form of welding is popular and commonly used. It is a fusion method that is also known as stick welding. SMAW involves using an electric current and welding rods that act as fillers between metals being joined.

OA – Oxy-Acetylene Welding

This is another common welding method that involves a tank of acetylene and a tank of oxygen via a torch nozzle. The flame creates heat that melts the filler rod to fuse metal pieces.

TIG – Tungsten Inert Gas Welding

This is the most refined form of welding because it yields high-quality results. TIG is a two-hand procedure that uses tungsten electrodes to create welds.

MIG – Gas Metal Arc Welding

This welding method is wire-fed through a spool of the electrode wire. This method is suited explicitly for thin sheet and stock welds.

It is worth noting there are many other welding processes, but the ones mentioned above are the most popular and commonly used during metal fabrications. Some welders may use different techniques or variations, like using SMAW underwater or using thermite with an aluminum-based charge to weld metals.

Common Tools Used in Welding and Metal Fabrication

Specialists that identify as metal fabricators mostly deal with metal bending, machining, or cutting. The fabrication process starts with sheets of metal are cut in the right size. To make this possible, fabricators use various tools, including and not limited to plasma torches, laser cutters, and mechanical saws. Portions of metal are removed using a lathe to create holes for bolts and so on. Bending machines like shears and stretchers add required angles to metals.

On the flip side, welding uses completely different tools. The tools used include consumable electrodes, power sources, torches, and welding clamps. Moreover, welding requires safety equipment like auto-darkening welding helmets to protect workers from ultraviolet rays and respirators to protect workers from breathing dangerous fumes.

Here’s a list of the most common tools used in metal fabrication and welding:

  • Abrasives
  • Adjustable wrenches
  • Angle grinders
  • Arc welders
  • Benders and breaks
  • Chipping hammers
  • Computers and CAD software
  • Consumable electrodes
  • Laser and water cutters
  • Oxygen and acetylene tanks
  • Shears
  • Soapstone
  • Vices and vice grips
  • Welding clamps

Welding and Metal Fabrication Safety Precautions

The welding and metal fabrication industry can be more dangerous than others since it involves working with heavy machinery and hot metal. For this reason, metal fabricators and welders need to know about safety guidelines in their workplaces.

To prevent injury, metal fabricators and welders should be provided with the following items:

• Hearing protection
• Leather apron or coveralls
• Protective pants
• Safety goggles
• Dust mask or respirator
• Protective jacket
• Steel toe or non-slip working boots
• Auto-darkening helmet with a visor

Final Thoughts

Welding and metal fabrication are related but different concepts. A crucial distinction between the two is that metal fabrication usually involves a considerable amount of welding to fuse different parts of metals together. Welding is only a small but essential part of all metal fabrication processes, and it may be used to repair metal parts outside of a fabrication setting.

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Jon R Marler

Marler is US Air Force Veteran with a career spanning 38 years owning and operating a commercial, multi-state real estate development company, material handling distribution network, and a management consulting firm.

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