Many industries utilize light and heavy fabrications including oil & gas, military, construction, and aerospace. In general, heavy steel fabrications are much larger and heavier than light steel fabrications. Examples of light steel fabrications include hand tools, OEM parts, grating, and small structures whereas examples of heavy steel fabrications are propellers and mining equipment.
Manufacturing Experience and Expertise
Not just any manufacturer can create quality heavy fabrications, thus, the expertise required varies between light and heavy steel fabrication. Due to their heavy and large nature, heavy steel projects typically require specific tools, equipment, and processes as well as personnel with the right skills and experience to handle the bulky structures. It is crucial that OEMs partner with a manufacturer like ABS, that has the proven experience, facilities, and know-how to safely and successfully perform both light steel and heavy steel fabrication projects.
Due to their size and weight, heavy fabrications are not easily transported and often require cranes or other equipment to move the structure throughout the shop. For this reason, processing steps, such as cutting, welding, and painting, often come to the heavy fabrication to minimize transport of the structure. Conversely, light steel fabrications are more mobile and are often able to be transported as necessary for each processing step. For the reasons noted above, heavy fabrication facilities must be large and spacious enough to accommodate the cranes and other equipment necessary whereas light fabrication projects do not require nearly as much space and specialized facilities.
Steel projects employ a variety of manufacturing processes to cut, bend, and join raw materials into finished products. Below are some of the most common fabrication methods.
- Cutting: fabrication projects start with a large piece of metal that needs to be cut into the desired shape. Cutting chunks of metal requires special tools and can be performed via several different methods such as laser, saw, gas, waterjet, or plasma cutting. Both light and heavy steel fabrication projects utilize cutting techniques, however, some cutting processes are better suited for light vs heavy projects. For example, notching and shearing are cutting techniques that are better for light fabrications since the steel is typically thinner.
- Forming: many light and heavy steel fabrication projects require some degree of forming, which is often accomplished by rolling or bending. During this step, the structure is bent to the desired shape using a variety of methods such as section, tube, press, or plate bending. Light fabrications often utilize a press to form the metal, but this technique is not as successful with heavy fabrications due to the metal thickness.
- Drilling and punching: these steps are necessary to prepare the fabrication for being bolted together during assembly. Light and heavy fabrications employ these techniques. Some methods, such as a turret punch, are best for light fabrications whereas CNC punch presses are often used for light and heavy steel projects.
- Welding: welding is a key part in any heavy fabrication project. Weld sizes are often a distinguishing factor between light and heavy steel fabrications. Heavy fabrication typically has a large prep area with full penetration/UT welding whereas light fabrication is more structural-single pass weld. All of which is performed by either robotic or manual welding practices depending on the client needs. Heavy fabrications may also require higher pre-heat and maintenance requirements due to the thickness of the metal.
- Blasting or Painting: once the structure is fabricated and welding is completed, many projects are sand blasted or painted. Similar to welding, the blasting or painting can be performed via a robotic cell. Blasting and painting operations can be completed on light and heavy steel projects, but are more common in heavy steel fabrications due to the harsh environmental conditions the steel will be exposed to once in the field.