If you know anything about welding the title above might have you scratching your head. There’s no choice to be made between the two, it’s not an either-or. Welding is part of fabrication, just as grilling is part of cooking. Sure, you can cook without grilling but if you’re grilling you’re also cooking.
So why does this need pointing out? Well some people use the terms interchangeably, so we’d like to set the record straight.
Specialists and Generalists
Your family physician is a doctor, and so too is the surgeon who can replace a defective heart valve, but you wouldn’t want them swapping roles. The surgeon is a specialist who’s spent many years perfecting his skills while the physician is more of a generalist. He or she knows a lot about the human body, including when to hand over to someone with specific expertise.
Welders and fabricators have a similar kind of relationship. A good welder is highly skilled at melting and fusing together pieces of metal. It demands expert knowledge, great hand-eye coordination and the support of a good team.
Fabricators are that team. They cut, drill, punch and bend metal into the shapes needed before handing them over to the welder. Then once the weld has cooled and the pieces are joined the fabricator takes care of cleaning, assembly and painting. The result is a fabrication that looks good and performs exactly as the customer wanted.
What Fabricators Do
Many fabricators can do a little welding if necessary, just as welders often have some fabrication skills. However, shops like ours find the best results are achieved when people specialize.
The fabricator’s job is broader and more varied than then welder’s. It sometimes even extends into design and machine programming. It benefits from knowing how metal deforms and behaves when cut. Fabricators will run machines like shears, saws, press brakes and perhaps punches. They’ll also assemble, clean and sometimes paint. People who enjoy variety can find it in fabrication work.
What Welders Do
The principle is very simple: melt two pieces of metal just where they touch. The liquid metal will flow together and when it cools two pieces are fused into one. In practice it’s a lot more complex.
First there’s the joint preparation. Edges must be clean and shaped in a way that optimizes melting and fusing. Then there’s the fit-up or arrangement of pieces before welding. It’s not just a case of putting them all together because the metal is going to expand and then contract. Plus, it’s important to have the right gaps to let metal flow as needed.
There are several ways of heating the workpieces. Electrical resistance welding is sometimes used for overlapping sheetmetal. There’s friction welding, (not something we do at Wiley,) oxy-acetylene welding, (gas torch,) and arc welding, among others. We’re mostly into arc welding. It’s very controllable, works with a wide range of materials and produces high-quality welds.
Arc parameters, (electrical controls like current, voltage, frequency, along with shielding gas flow,) must be optimized to suit the materials being welded. Thermal conductivity is one consideration, oxidation and melting point are others. Then there are factors like weld direction and torch orientation. A skilled welder knows how to adjust welding parameters and approach every type of joint and material.
Fabrication Takes a Team
A metal fabrication can be a single piece that’s been cut and shaped. More often though, it consists of multiple pieces, all cut, punched, drilled, notched, folded, bent and of course welded to create whatever the customer and designer wanted. All that’s required is a team of skilled designers, fabricators and welders.
Working together they can fabricate products as diverse as shelving, frames for manufacturing equipment, work platforms and stainless steel bumpers. Really, there’s no limit to what a good fabrication team can do, and at Wiley we have that team. And when they’re not working they like to grill!
We are hiring!