What the Heck Is Fabricating, Anyway?

By Kip Hanson

Part of Fabricating For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Fabricating is a broad term. If you make formed-metal parts for refrigerators and late-model Chevys, you’re a fabricator. If you climb tall buildings to weld together hunks of structural steel weighing more than a recreational vehicle, you’re a fabricator. Spend your days bending pipe for jungle gyms? Cutting anti-slip tread plates and expanded metal for screen doors? Stamping out electrical connectors for smart phones? Yep, fabricators all. It can be confusing, but simply put, fabricators are people (and companies) who fall into one of these categories:

  • Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who have their own product lines. Automakers are one obvious example, but there are also appliance makers, kiosk and cash machine manufacturers, food processing equipment producers . . . the list is endless.
  • Custom fabricators make parts for OEMs and their second- or third-tier suppliers. In industry parlance, these are called “job shops,” an important part of any manufacturing company’s supply chain.
  • Custom stampers focus on stamping work. This might mean “heavy stamping” of parts such as the hull of your aluminum fishing boat, but it could also be “progressive stamping,” which converts coils of flat metal into everything from spring clips to battery contacts.
  • Industrial fabricators are the folks responsible for cutting and joining heavy vessels, pipes, and tubing for big industrial projects — think oil and gas refineries or hydroelectric plants.
  • Architectural fabricators produce the decorative panels and facades that turn ugly office buildings into the aesthetically pleasing places where lawyers, doctors, and real-estate agents are happy to spend their days.
  • Structural fabricators are those brave souls who dangle from the sides of bridges and skyscrapers, patiently welding together plate steel and angle iron so the rest of us can go to work each day.
  • Metal service centers provide an important service. They receive bulky, unmanageable coils of metal from the mill then slit, shear, and flatten them for use by job shops and OEMs.

These are all neatly-defined categories — wouldn’t it be great if every fabricating company fit into one or the other? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Some shops offer multiple fabricating services, and many use the same or similar equipment to produce different products.