Sheet metal is one of the most widely used materials in the world today. You can find them in your cars, houses, furniture, appliances, basically everywhere you look you will find one application or another of sheet metal. This versatile building material comes in different types and in different thicknesses, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of different kinds of sheet metal gauges or thickness, and every one of them has their own specific uses.
Sheet Metal Definition
By definition the term sheet metal refers to rolled and flattened sheets made of either aluminum or stainless steel. Sheet metal comes in a wide variety of thicknesses, though the extremely thin types are not referred to as sheets but as foil or leaf, while those that are more than 6mm thick are called plates. Basically, sheet metal, in the usual sense of the word, is all of the ones that are in between plates and foils.
Types of Sheet Metal
If you say sheet metal nowadays you are basically referring to either galvanized iron, aluminum or stainless steel sheet metal, though sheet metal can basically be made from any kind of metal, these three are the most widely used. Though they look similar these two types of sheet metal have their own specific uses.
Stainless Steel Sheet Metal – This kind of sheet metal high tensile strength, it is also very hard and durable. But this hardness of stainless steel sheet metal means that it is not that easy to shape or bend, it can only be formed up to a certain degree, before it will show signs of stress and eventually crack. Because stainless steel sheet metal is highly corrosion resistant it is usually used in making water tanks and kitchen utensils.
Aluminum Sheet Metal – Sheet metal made from aluminum is a lot more flexible and malleable than its stainless steel counterpart. You can stretch aluminum sheet metal into various shapes and it will not crack so easily. You can deep draw (press the metal into shape) or hammer aluminum into any shape you can imagine, and it is also lighter than stainless steel, making it the perfect material for making automobile parts.
Galvanized Iron – This type of sheet metal is often used in the construction industry. Galvanized steel sheet metal is usually used in manufacturing roofing materials, gutters, downspouts, and others. It is highly weather resistant and does not corrode easily, which is why it is the sheet metal of choice in construction sites. But like stainless steel, galvanized iron sheets cannot be shaped easily, even the thinner sheet metal gauges easily break when bent.
Understanding Sheet Metal Gauge
Unlike lumber, which is measured in feet and inches, the standard way to measure sheet metal is through sheet metal gauge. Sometimes spelled as gage, sheet metal gauge is the thickness of one panel of sheet metal as compared to its weight, this makes it easier to estimate the amount of material used.
Sheet metal gauge will depend on the type of material used, the higher the gauge number the thinner the sheet metal gets.
Applications of Sheet Metal
You can find sheet metal used in almost every factory or manufacturing plant you visit, they are used in storage tanks, the metal workbenches, steel cabinets, lockers, even the manufacturing tools and equipment all have sheet metal in them.
Almost the entire body of your car or SUV is made of sheet metal. The hood, roof, trunk and doors, almost everything in your car started out as a flat piece of sheet metal. Car sheet metal gauge is usually thin enough that it can easily be formed into different shapes, but thick enough that it can be welded without burning a hole through the sheet metal. Because of the versatility of sheet metal (specifically aluminum sheet metal) even thick sheet metal gauges can be formed into virtually any shape that car designers can imagine.
Most steel pipes are rolled pieces of sheet metal. The larger capacity pipes are made from thicker sheet metal gauge, usually galvanized iron, and the smaller ones from the thinner sheet metal gauge because they are easier to roll into smaller diameters.
Sheet metal is one of the primary components in almost every HVAC system, the most noticeable of which are the air conditioning ducts, which are basically pieces of sheet metal welded and crimped together. Aluminum sheet metal is the medium of choice here because it is light enough that it can be hung from the rafters, it's also flexible so it can be formed to go around even the tightest corners.
Sheet metal can also be found in your home. Wood is not a really viable construction material these days; you need to use a lot to make a sturdy enough frame, and it's also very expensive. Sheet metal on the other hand is light, easier to form, and costs less than lumber. Sheet metal can be formed into deckings, purlins, beams, and other construction materials; you can actually build a house using mostly sheet metal if you wanted to.
Your knives, spoons, and forks, all of them are actually made from sheet metal. In the old days cutlery used to be forged and hammered into shape one at a time, which makes manufacturing them very time consuming. But now, they are all just stamped out of slightly thick stainless steel sheet metal and pressed into shape using large hydraulic presses, making it possible to manufacture thousands of pieces in a day.
The entire world is practically dependent on sheet metal in one form or another. Sheet metal made the manufacturing process faster and more efficient by providing a versatile material that can be turned into practically anything. If you think about it, sheet metal actually made modern living possible.