Guide to Common Materials in Sheet Metal Fabrication
Do you know the ideal material for your custom fabrication?
With thousands of different alloys to choose from, making the right selection can be overwhelming. So allow us to make things simpler for you.
In this guide, we’ll explore some of the most common materials we fabricate here at Ameritex and considerations to keep in mind about each one.
What to Know about Stainless Steel, Aluminum, and Carbon Steel
Let’s do a deep dive into popular stainless steel, aluminum, and carbon steel options.
1. Stainless steel
There are five types of stainless steel: austenitic, martensitic, ferritic, duplex, and precipitation hardening. We primarily stick to 304, 316, and 430 stainless steel (the first two are austenitic, and the third one is ferritic).
These three corrosion-resistant alloys are made of chromium and nickel in combination with fairly low carbon content.
- 304 stainless steel is the best general-purpose stainless steel for custom fabrications that will be placed on land and away from extreme environments. We use 304 stainless steel for 90% of the enclosures we build, as it is a cost-effective option that reliably protects the items inside.
- 316 stainless steel is an excellent pick for custom fabrications that will be placed in caustic environments due to the addition of molybdenum (about 2%), a chemical element that provides enhanced corrosion resistance.
- 430 stainless steel is the least corrosion-resistant of the three listed here due to the shortage of nickel in its chemical makeup. It’s commonly used for kitchen equipment and utensils. If you have a stainless steel fridge with magnets stuck to it, chances are it’s made from 430 stainless steel or a similar alloy. In fact, we typically only use this grade of stainless steel for its magnetic properties because its propensity to rust easily can decrease the overall lifespan of a custom fabrication.
There are hundreds of aluminum alloys out there! While all aluminum alloys provide some corrosion resistance, certain alloys are stronger and more corrosion-resistant depending on the alloying element.
- 6061 aluminum is the primary alloy we use for plate measuring 3/16” and thicker, extruded structural shapes, and precision machined parts. It can be heat treated to increase strength but is more brittle than other alloys we use, so we try to avoid forming it.
- 5052 and 3003 aluminum are used fairly interchangeably in sheet metal fabrication, and both alloys are easy to form and weld. 5052 is stronger and offers better corrosion resistance in marine environments, so if we’re fabricating a structural part to be placed in or near salt water, that’s the alloy we recommend.
- 5083 aluminum is used primarily in marine applications where weldability and formability are required. The strongest of the non-heat treatable aluminum alloys, 5083 can be used to fabricate items of all shapes and sizes and provides exceptional corrosion resistance.5083 Aluminum is not as readily available as 5052 or 3003 but when the added strength is required it’s an excellent option.
It’s worth noting that all of these aluminum alloys will develop an oxide layer on the surface if left unprotected. We recommend a finishing process like powder coating if you have strict cosmetic requirements for your custom fabrication.
3. Carbon steel
Carbon steel gets its name from its carbon content, which ranges from 0.05 to 2.1%. Prone to rusting, this material must be oiled or coated with a rust inhibitor.
- A36, A1011 and A1008 carbon steels are our go-to choices for metal fabrication services. A36 and A1011 are hot-rolled steel, meaning it has a rougher appearance with more mill scale and surface imperfections compared to the pristine look of a cold-rolled steel like A1008. A36 typically requires blasting or excessive sanding prior to coating. Our rule of thumb is to use A36 for plate measuring ¼” and thicker and A1008 for sheet measuring up to 3/16” thick.
- A572 carbon steel in grade 50 or higher has a high yield strength due to the addition of manganese and silicone and is ideal for high-strength applications. We can easily interchange the various grades of A572 carbon steel, though we experience a slight decrease in our bending capacity with the higher strength grades.
If you need help selecting the right material for your next custom fabrication, Ameritex is here to help. Request a quote to get started!