What is the difference between welding and fabrication?
Anyone involved in the UK metalworking industry will be familiar with the terms welding and fabrication. Out in the wider world people can sometimes use the two words interchangeably, but there are very distinct differences between them.
So, what are the differences between fabrication and welding? Well, the best description is that fabrication refers to the wider, overall process of manufacturing all kinds of metal, while welding is merely a part of that fabricating process.
Put even more simply, fabrication can include welding, but welding is always a part of fabrication.
Specialists like Yorkshire Laser and Fabrication can fabricate metal items without using welding – but if you’re welding then you’re fabricating your end product.
There are differing skill sets needed across the welding trade and the fabrication process. Both metal fabricators and welders are highly-trained craftspeople whose tasks often overlap in the wider metal manufacturing sector.
What are welding and fabrication?
The most straightforward definition of welding is that it’s the process of joining together metal pieces. Welding can also be used with thermoplastics and glass, but people mostly associate welding with metal.
Fabrication relates to the broader set of techniques and tasks required in making metal products. It covers the entire manufacturing process, from product design through to finishing. Fabricators like Yorkshire Laser take product concepts and then utilise any number of processes to bring it to life.
And among those many highly-skilled procedures is welding.
A lot of metal fabricators are also trained welders, while many welders can also work as fabricators. The interchanging of the roles can depend on where they’re working as well as the particular job they’re assigned to.
The metal fabrication process
The sheet metal fabrication process usually starts with the end product in mind. There are many smaller sub-tasks involved in every larger fabrication job – and each depends on the others for the job to be completed successfully.
Planning is a critical part of the metal fabrication process. Although there is no actual metal punching, cutting, bending, forming or welding going on yet, the initial effort that’s put into project planning can make or break the finished project.
In the planning stage highly-skilled engineers and designers will work with the client to get to grips with their concept, its purpose and specifications. By accurately calculating what will be required to produce the item, the planning team can work out the ideal combination of techniques and materials necessary to complete it.
Good project managers always ensure they have sought input from everyone likely to be involved in the fabrication process, with professionals contributing their experience-based knowledge and skills. So if welding is expected to be involved in the job, then welders will be part of the planning process.
Once the client decides to proceed with the metal fabrication company and plans have been agreed, then the production phase begins – and things get built.
During production, raw materials from either standard stock or specialised sources start to be transformed into a useful product. In a standard fabrication process, sheets of metal such as stainless steel are selected and cut to size for the required components. This can involve basic engineering tools such as shears, or might include high-tech procedures such as laser cutting, CNC punching and folding and water cutting.
Once the metal fabricators have the components shaped after bending, cutting, punching or forming, then it’s time for assembly. In many fabrication projects this could involve welding, and here’s where the difference between welding and fabrication is evident. Welding might be just one part of the fabrication industry, but it still plays a key role in the finished fabrication job.
Many different techniques come together to help successfully complete metal fabrication projects, but they would often be inadequate without welding support. Welders play a vital role and have their own complex welding process.
The welding process
Put simply, welding is the process of joining materials together using a technique called fusion – a complex technique that involves pressure and heat. There are many individual processes used in the welding field, and many specialised tools.
Welding experts are able to permanently join together two pieces of metal, glass or thermoplastic (though it’s usually metal), and the only real limitations are the need for similar melting points.
Although we recognise that welding is just one part of the metal fabrication process, it’s a still highly-skilled professional trade and requires a lot of training, practice and experience to master.
Fabrication and welding tools
Because metal fabrication and welding are specialist occupations, it’s only natural that the tools of the trade are equally specialised. There is something of an overlap between welding and fabrication tools, but there are still plenty of differences between some of them. Generally, welders operate using tools to facilitate joining whereas fabricators utilise a set of tools that bend, cut and shape metals.
Welding uses a set of tools that includes welding clamps, stud welders, consumable electrodes, torches, power sources and abrasives.
Welders depend on extreme levels of heat to get the job done, but that’s not necessarily the case with fabricators, who operate using techniques such as cold rolling and dry bending.
Metal shaping needs many different skills and specialist pieces of equipment – so there’s more to metal fabrication than simply joining two pieces together to form one solid shape.
The shaping process usually begins with fabricators selecting and cutting metal sheets to the required size using machines including laser cutters, mechanical saws and plasma torches.
A specialised fabricator can also use a lathe to remove areas of the metal sheet, making holes through which bolts can be passed and fixed. CNC bending machines can add the required angles to the metal piece.
Many metal fabrication tools are of a tabletop nature, where the metal part is placed on the tool and carefully manipulated to give it form. By contrast, welding tools are usually designed so that the job can be done ‘by hand’ in a variety of settings and spaces.
One important point to end on – if you hire a welder, you need to be aware that you are potentially hiring someone that can ‘just’ join together two pieces of metal using heat – they don’t necessarily know anything about other metal fabrication processes that you might require.
It’s always best to work with trusted professionals who are qualified, trained and experienced in the entire spectrum of metal fabrication techniques.
Yorkshire Laser and Fabrication prides itself on providing exceptional quality, exceptional service and exceptional value across a wide range of metal fabrication processes. Give us a call on 01924 220236, email firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to get in touch.