Before we go further, we need to just clear up the matter of etymology – where the word ‘fabrication’ comes from. Of course, the word is also used to mean that something is a lie, as in, “that story about Elvis living on the Moon was a complete fabrication.”
In the case of academic research, fabrication is the deliberate misrepresentation of results through invented facts or made-up data. In some instances, this can actually be against the law.
However, fabrication meaning manufacturing or construction entered the English language directly from Middle French in the fifteenth century, based on the Latin word ‘Fabricationem’ (a structure or construction). The meaning of fabrication as lying, forgery or falsehood didn’t enter the English language until some 300 years later, in the late eighteenth century.
So, the use of fabrication in manufacture came before deceit, but how does it actually work?
The fabrication process can involve a range of different steps, depending on what is being produced and from what materials. However, the first stage in any fabrication is design.
Although it is possible to use hand-drawn diagrams for simpler work, more complex or detailed designs can be created and tested with computer aided design (CAD) programs. More complex fabrications will also often involve prototyping, which helps with visualising and testing product iterations.
Fabricators use a range of different processes according to the product specification and materials.
There is more about the processes below, which include cutting (through chiselling, sawing, shearing, torching, or with lasers, mill bits or water jets), bending (with powered and manual hammers, press brakes, tube bending tools, etc.), and assembly (with adhesives, binding, threaded fasteners, rivets, crimping or welding).
Once a product has been formed, it will often have coatings or other finishing processes applied to improve appearance and improve durability. Many fabrication shops will offer associated processes such as casting, powder coating, powder metallurgy, machining and welding.
More complex or large-scale projects may need professional installation with the help of skilled engineers or welders. Of course, once installed, there may be a need for servicing and maintenance to keep items in working order.
As highlighted above, there are a range of different fabrication processes that can be used according to the materials being used and the desired outcome. Fabricating something from wood, for example, requires different processes from fabricating something from steel.
Some example fabrication processes include:
Burning and Cutting
Burning and cutting tools are used to cut through raw materials, with the most common method being shearing. Shearing is used to trim away unwanted material, using two blades either side of the metal to create long, straight cuts. Saws are also widely used for cutting, including band saws with hardened blades and feed mechanisms to ensure even cuts and abrasive cut off or chop saws. Burning is also used to cut sections of material, using natural gas CNC cutting torches, plasma and laser cutting. Other CNC cutting methods include water jet cutting.
This process involves using force to change a flat sheet metal into a 3D part without adding or subtracting material. Punches and dies can be used to control the forming as machines control the direction and amount of force that is applied. Machine controlled forming is easily repeatable, allowing it to find use in industries including aerospace, automotive, construction and architecture. Forming can be combined with welding (see below) to produce lengths of fabricated metal sheeting.
Another process frequently used with metal fabrication, machining involves the removal of material from a solid block to create a desired shape. Most fabrication shops have machining capabilities including the use of lathes, mills, drills and other machining tools. Solid items like bolts, screws and nuts are made through machining.
Punching and Stamping
Punching involves using a press to create holes in metals. The finished product created by punching could be an item with fastening holes punched out or the pieces of metal that are punched out themselves, known as blanks. Smaller fabrication shops may use hand powered or mechanical punch presses, but most large scale industrial facilities will use CNC programmed presses that can produce complex designs at high outputs.
Where punching creates a hole in the metal, stamping leaves an indentation that can allow shapes, letters or images to be imprinted into the workpiece. Operated hydraulically or mechanically, many stamping machines can also cast, cut, punch and shape metal sheets.
Being the main process used by steel fabricators, welding is part of many fabrication jobs. Whether it is joining formed and machined parts based on engineering drawings, or a highly skilled welder using experience to fabricate a unique part, welding will need to take account of the material and the desired finish, avoiding problems like warping or burn through.
Fabrication involves taking semi-finished or raw materials and applying processes to create an item or component, with different materials and products requiring different processes.
Fabrication processes can be done manually, mechanised or fully automated with the use of CAD systems and CNC technologies, which can speed up the process, reduce costs, lower material usage, and offer repeatability, accuracy and quality.
Fabrication often involves making items from manufactured components that can then be assembled into larger structures or items, or making component parts for machines, tools, or appliances.
What does fabrication mean?
While ‘fabrication’ can mean to lie (see ‘Etymology’ section above), in this case it means to construct an item, usually from standardised parts through a range of processes. Fabrication covers a broad range of applications, from fabricating a house from manufactured parts or fabricating components for a machine. For example, steel fabrication is the production of metal items or structures using processes like cutting, bending and assembling.
What is the difference between fabrication and manufacturing?
There is a lot of cross-over between fabrication and manufacturing, which can make it difficult to understand the difference between the two. Fabrication is using processes to create component parts that can be used to make a product or structure, as well as the process of constructing an item from standardised parts. Manufacturing, meanwhile, is the processing of raw materials into a finished product that can be sold to a consumer.
To find out more about the differences between fabrication and manufacturing, see our FAQ.
What are fabrication services?
Fabrication services tend to be offered by a fabrication shop to produce products and parts. These include processes such as cutting, stamping, punching and forming, and will tend to be related to working in metals such as mild steel, stainless steel or aluminium. The services may be aligned to design and engineering advice and can be provided for clients across a range of industries.
What are fabrication tools?
Fabrication tools are those that are used to fabricate parts or products. They will differ according to the material being fabricated but can include items such as metal cutting saws, bevelling tools, deburring tools, angle grinders, shears, wire cutters, drills, punches, stamps, sheet rolling equipment, and more.
What are fabrication techniques?
Fabrication techniques are the processes that are used to shape, cut or mould materials into items. Common fabrication techniques include cutting, forming, punching, stamping, shearing and welding – you can find out more about these techniques above.
Why is fabrication important?
Pretty much everything around you that is manufactured, from the chair you are sitting on to the device you are reading this on, has some level of fabrication involved. Without fabrication we wouldn’t be able to use electrical systems or create items for our kitchens, bathrooms, businesses, homes, vehicles and more. Fabricated items include screws and bolts, cutlery, pipe fittings, and even tools. It is hard to imagine modern society without these fabricated items, which can be produced quickly and efficiently by industry.
Is fabrication a good career?
Fabrication (and welding) is a good career choice for those who like to use their hands to make things that last and make a difference in people’s lives. It also offers an opportunity to innovate and work with advanced technologies.
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