Inside a Custom Stainless Manufacturer
Stainless steel is widely used in the food, pharmaceutical, and medical fields. A competent stainless steel fabricator therefore must provide solutions for these industries. These solutions should be designed for use in clean and sanitized locations. Experience with materials such as stainless steel, Teflon (PTFE), Delrin (Acetal), and polycarbonate (Lexan) is necessary for such fabrication companies. These companies need to provide custom fabrication of such materials and posses the flexibility to manufacture custom designs.
Custom Fabrication and Design Flexibility
One important element is the flexibility to adjust designs and manufacturing processes to accommodate a customers specifications and ongoing input in the design process. To accomplish this the manufacturer must own the necessary equipment to create the custom designs of the customer. This equipment is highly specialized and not easily found in the industry. Some common pieces of equipment that are used in custom stainless fabrication can include waterjets, milling machines, TIG welders, press brakes, 3D design software, and stainless passivation.
- Waterjet Cutting
This form of material cutting works in tandem with a well planned 3D design. Many features are easily added in a flat pattern cut file. This file is then quickly cut on the waterjet. Waterjet cutting gives is perfect for providing the squarest edge on thicker materials as well as excellent edge quality. It is superb for cutting stainless since stainless steel can be distorted by high heat cutting methods (i.e. laser and plasma cutters). A waterjet does not distort the material in any way caused by heat because a waterjet has a zero HAZ (Heat Affected Zone).
- Multi Axis Milling and Machining
This process is best for removing material in pockets, slots and tapped holes or any three dimensional features. It also keeps the edges true and square which leaves a smooth finish. This is particularly important when making stainless steel parts since the machining process is often producing a finished product.
- TIG Welding
This method of welding is ideal for stainless steel fabrication because it produces a strong weld that can be ground down and polished smooth for cleanability purposes. It is a very controlled and precise method of welding that prevents excess heat and therefore unwanted distortion. There is zero slag or unwanted bi-products which makes the entire process cleaner than other forms of welding.
- Polishing & Surface Finishing
High performance abrasives are needed to polish and finish stainless steel. It’s also important to use only certain abrasives on stainless and not on other materials. This keeps the stainless clean and free from impurities. The use of specialty abrasives further protects stainless from unnecessary heat and distortion by more quickly removing material. A very complex procedure of polishing specific to stainless steel is electropolishing. This method produces an extremely high polish by using electricity and a specially formulated chemical solution. Due to it’s complexity this form of polishing is usually reserved for smaller stainless parts only.
- 3D Design Software
This piece of the stainless manufacturing process brings all the necessary pieces together as a whole. It collects the input from our customers and conceptualizes it for them. It aids in design approval by providing a scaled picture for a customer. The 3D design keeps all manufacturing data in one place. This ensures a quick and accurate retrieval of all manufacturing data for future orders.
- Press Brake Sheet Metal Forming
Stainless steel is commonly used for guards, covers and enclosures because of it’s corrosion resistant nature. Most of these items are formed or bent out of sheet metal and requires a precision CNC controlled press brake. The 3D design works well with the press brake. A properly designed and flattened sheet metal part can then be precision formed.
- Passivation Surface Treatment
Passivation is a typical requirement for pharmaceutical companies. This process reintroduces a passive film on the surface of stainless steel that has been either machined, cut, polished, welded or otherwise altered in someway. The stainless parts are immersed in a specialized solution for a specified amount of time to produce a passivated part.
Many companies may only specialize in just one of these areas listed above. However a competent custom stainless manufacturer specializes in the use of all these areas and not just one. A fabrication company should not subcontract or outsource any of the above mentioned functions. They should possess all of these abilities in house. After looking at the complete custom manufacturing process it is difficult to picture it without one of these elements. Each process assists the next. Starting with the 3D design all the parts are expertly fitted and laid out with all necessary information to be created in all later steps. Next the waterjet cuts all the parts from raw materials for all later processes.