History of sheet metal fabrication

Metal fabrication has a long history dating all the way back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Sheet metal fabrication, however, didn’t come into play until much later. In this article, we’ll be exploring the history of metal fabrication and how it eventually formed into the methods of sheet metal fabrication UK we recognise today.

Iron working and the early days of metal

The introduction of ironworking in Greece back in the late 10th century BC kicked off the Iron Age in Europe. The Ancient Greeks made basic armour and weapons by hammering iron ore. By contrast, the Roman Empire increased mining for iron and started producing spoons, saucepans, door fittings, and several other items that still use sheet metal today.

Even though the Greeks and Romans propelled the production of iron forward, it was in India where steel manufacturing began in small amounts. This was perceived as a highly-skilled art and very labour intensive – so much so that steel was prized and sought after for several centuries.

Damascus steel swords in particular, were considered to be the best on the market as they were strong and could be sharpened to a fine but durable edge. The skill of making Damascus steel was lost, and even with modern technology and advanced manufacturing techniques, recent attempts to recreate it have failed.

Skipping ahead a bit to the medieval era reveals the production of cast iron in Europe (it has been made in China since the 5th century BC but not very much of it). It was during the medieval period that production techniques became more refined, and it saw the manufacturing of wrought iron in big quantities using water-powered bellows.

Towards the tail end of this time period and at the beginning of the Renaissance, the theories that have influenced modern processes of sheet metal fabrication started to fall into place, the main one being the rolling mill.

The cold rolling mill and Leonardo da Vinci

There is no evidence that Leonardo da Vinci ever built the rolling mill he designed, despite records of his sketches for such a project. The idea for the mill was introduced in the early 16th century as a way to smooth metal to a consistent depth. However, it’s not until the 17th century that we see proof of a rolling mill being used to manufacture thinner precision sheet metal than what could be made with hammers.

There is written evidence that in the late 17th century, sheet metal was produced in a way that sheet metal fabricators would recognise today. This being a cold bar being rolled and made into thin sheet metal parts.

The Industrial Revolution

The industrial revolution was the key turning point for metal history in the 18th century. Abraham Darby initially started fabricating iron using coke for the smelting process and achieved his aim of making thin, durable, and cheap cast iron. The introduction of the new process led to a major increase in cast-iron production in Europe and was a key factor in the onset of the industrial revolution.

It was during the industrial revolution when the production of steel began to dominate the sector. Henry Bessemer developed a process that made it possible to mass-produce steel cheaply. This steel was used extensively during the industrial revolution for things like railway tracks and ships. It was quickly understood that steel offered better strength and durability.

Manufacturing sheet metal became self-fulfilling during the industrial revolution. As engineering and machinery soared it was essential that metal could be easily formed, cut, and joined to create steam engines for a wide variety of uses. Steam engines were then used to produce increasingly bigger and thinner metal and the cycle continued.

Inexpensive sheet metal fabrication

After the industrial revolution, sheet metal could easily be made at a low cost. Different types of sheet metal were introduced, with varying levels of carbon, alloys, and other additions. All of this led to a surge in the use of sheet metal that steel fabricators still see today.

The sheet metal industry started to see new ways of working with metal, with the abundance of different, inexpensive metals. Whilst the basics like forming and punching have been adapted over time to offer impressive accuracy and quality, there have also been a lot of modern advancements such as laser-cutting and rapid prototyping.

Modern techniques

Now we’ve reached the modern day and the evolution of sheet metal fabrication continues to grow from its humble beginnings, playing a key role in our everyday lives. New methods and processes are being discovered and tools are becoming more precise to improve accuracy and quality.

For efficient and high-quality sheet metal fabrication in Sheffield and other fabrication services, contact FEM today.

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Why apprenticeships are important in fabrication

Apprenticeships provide an exciting and beneficial opportunity both for employers and employees. In industries and roles like steel fabrication, that are very hands on, an apprenticeship is an ideal way for those starting out to gain the key knowledge, skills, and training that will stay with them throughout the rest of their working life.

What a fabrication apprenticeship could involve

The fabrication and welding industry are naturally woven into each aspect of our lives, from the cars we drive to the construction of the buildings we visit and work in. Steel fabrication, welding, and engineering job roles require well-trained individuals who are able to operate various pieces of technical equipment and apply a range of techniques.

Metal fabrication apprenticeships often involve helping to make products and parts from raw or partially finished materials by cutting, shaping, and joining sections of metal together. You might also carry out repairs on equipment and machinery, which will be an invaluable skill for your career as a fabricator.

What are the benefits of an apprenticeship in fabrication?

If you like working with your hands and want a rewarding career, fabrication and welding could be for you. Below are just a few examples of the benefits you’ll experience when you start a fabrication apprenticeship.

Earn while you learn

One of the biggest advantages to doing a fabrication apprenticeship is that you can earn money to support yourself whilst you gain the skills, qualifications, and experience you need to kickstart your career.

Support from trade professionals

An apprenticeship gives you invaluable insider access to years of experience that comes with working alongside fabrication specialists. Trade experts are there to answer questions and guide apprentices through on-the-job training so they will be set up for success going forward.

Gain valuable experience

Fabrication and welding are highly desirable skills and by doing an apprenticeship you’ll get a head start from other candidates who don’t have the level of experience that you’ve built up throughout your course. An apprenticeship involves more than just studying from books – you’ll also learn through hands-on experience. You’ll attend classes for a few hours each week to reinforce what you’ve learned and prepare for any new practical skills you’ll be starting next.

Achieve industry-recognised qualifications

A registered apprenticeship programme gives you valuable skills and industry-recognised training that you can take to any part of the country if you need to and be highly employable in the industry.

Our view on apprenticeships

At FEM, we are actively involved in giving apprenticeship opportunities to those who are interested in fabrication engineering careers. Once they have completed their training many apprentices stay with us and continue to grow and develop, working their way up to take on more responsibilities and senior roles within the business.

We work in a wide range of industries such as technology, automotive, and agricultural. This means apprentices with us can expect a varied and exciting career where they will learn cutting edge manufacturing practices using the most up to date and modern technology, acquiring a wealth of skills and experience.

As a family owned and run business, specialising in fabrication in Sheffield we understand the importance of having the right team by your side to produce high quality products and provide the best service. That’s why we feel having apprentices in the fabrication industry are so important to growth and development and creating a skilled team you can trust.

Why custom metal fabrication services are beneficial to you

If you need metal work for your business, whether it’s a new staircase, platform, safety guards, or mezzanine floors, you might be thinking about using a bespoke fabrication service. To help you make this decision, we’ve put together some of the most important and convincing reasons why custom metal fabrication services will be beneficial to you below. 

Ideal for many businesses 

Businesses across a wide range of industries and sectors can benefit from tailored products such as bespoke steel fabrications. This is because it helps them to differentiate themselves and stand out from other companies, rather than opting for standard metal fabrication metal work that everyone has seen before in other companies. 

As well as this your business will likely become more efficient in its operations and can ensure any specific standards are met. By having the exact custom fabrication requirements, you need you won’t need to compromise or try to make standard pre-built options fit that might not be right for you. 

Having customised metal products, all the way down to the smallest of details, can give your business the highest levels of convenience. You can offer optimum solutions to your customers, clients, and colleagues, boosting satisfaction levels for everyone and potentially boosting your profits if your bespoke metal work attracts new business. 

Meet your individual needs 

Not all projects and specifications are the same, so it makes sense that a one-size-fits-all approach would be difficult to apply to all industries and metal work products. If you have very specific and unique requirements for a metal project or need a one-off solution, taking advantage of custom services such as the bespoke stainless steel fabrication design service we can offer at FEM, will guarantee that you get precisely what you’re looking for from a particular project. 

Better quality 

By opting for custom fabrication services, you are getting access to materials, skills, and expertise that are a cut above the standard metal work products that haven’t been designed or manufactured with your business or needs in mind. This will make sure you receive high quality solutions from beginning to end. Specialist fabricators like us will take the time to listen and understand your requirements, to take care of every detail to the best standard. 

Durable products 

A lot of businesses may be tempted by prefabricated metal elements over a custom build because they’re cheaper. However, this won’t necessarily give you value for money over time. Prefabricated components might not be as good quality as custom made metal work, meaning you ultimately would spend more money replacing any products that aren’t durable and don’t last very long. 

Also, pre-built parts might not be designed to fit very well into the intended purpose of your project. This means if doesn’t fit for purpose you could need to replace it a lot sooner than you had planned. 

Bespoke metal fabrication will give you confidence and peace of mind that the product you are paying for is well-made, specifically designed to meet your requirements, and will be highly durable and long-lasting. 

Access to skilled services 

Bespoke metal fabrication is a highly specialised service that takes a lot of knowledge and experience. If you’re looking for professional fabrication in Sheffield, FEM can help. 

With us, you’ll have access to a passionate family run business with well-trained engineers and designers who are committed to creating quality products that perfectly meet your demands. Additionally, your products will be manufactured using the latest techniques, methods, and technologies, which you cannot be certain you would get if your purchased prefabricated metal work components. 

Looking for Bespoke Metal Fabrication?

If you’re looking for specialist steel fabrication in Sheffield or any other bespoke fabrication services, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Alternatively, you can request a free quote for your project through our website. 


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How beneficial is galvanisation in fabrication?

Galvanising is a process that is commonly used in the metal fabrication industry. This is mostly because it allows fabricators to properly protect their steel using an efficient and effective process. There are many reasons why galvanisation is used over other protective coating methods. Below is just a few of the benefits for galvanising in fabrication. 

Firstly, what is galvanising? 

The process of galvanising involves using a zinc coating to hot dip galvanise your steel. The zinc then reacts with the steel to create a protective seal around the metal with the aim of minimising corrosion over time. Coating the metal ensures there’s a sacrificial anode to protect it and that it can withstand any conditions for the longest time possible. When steel is galvanised, it prevents any corrosive materials from touching or damaging it. 

What are the benefits of galvanisation in fabrication? 

Saves time 

Galvanising is a fast process. The coating only needs to be dipped once and the metal will be protected. Other coatings need to be sprayed or painted which takes significantly longer. The time it takes for the coating to dry is also a lot quicker, galvanisation only takes around one day to set, whilst other methods can take much longer. 


Galvanised steel lasts considerably longer than other treatment processes. The steel will be covered and high-quality corrosion protection in place, meaning you won’t need to go through the hassle of replacing it further down the line. Steel that has been galvanised comes with a long-life guarantee, so it’s sure to last. 

Easy to maintain 

With galvanised steel, you won’t need any harsh chemicals in order to effectively maintain the steel or prevent corrosion. The steel already has a protective cover from the galvanisation process during steel fabrication. The only maintenance that will be required to keep the steel looking fresh and functioning as it should is the occasional wipe down a couple of times a year. 

Simple inspection process 

Galvanisation creates a covering that’s continuous and strong, so you don’t need to worry about what’s underneath it. Any flaws will be easy to see and therefore can quickly be addressed. The lack of flaws you will get from this coating will allow the inspection process to be streamlined, making overall fabrication faster and more efficient. 

Aesthetic appeal 

The coating comes in a matte-grey colour which means it can easily match its surroundings, so you can save time on painting it. Also, as the metal ages, the colour won’t fade which means it will always look aesthetically appealing. If you decide that you want to change the colour, it is simple to powder coat it, ensuring a smooth and seamless colour change. 

Cost efficiency 

Given that galvanisation is so quick and effective in streamlining, it’s a process that will save you time and money on labour hours. In addition, the products that are used for coating are a lot less expensive than other metal preservation products. Due to the coating having such good longevity, you will save money over time because you won’t need to replace the coating or the product itself. 

What are some common considerations in galvanised steel metal fabrication? 

As you can see galvanisation in fabrication is a cost effective and easily accessible process for producing a steel product that’s long-lasting with a significantly greater aesthetic appeal than bare metal. However, a number of considerations still need to be made when preparing metal to be galvanised: 

  • Bending steel- when bending the steel, careful thought must be put into when the steel should be bent. If the steel is bent after galvanisation, there is a greater risk of cracking. Usually though, this cracking can be fixed. 
  • Bolts, nails, and fasteners- because bolts, nails, and fasteners are essential to the integrity of a project, galvanisation is a considerably stronger option than just coating steel for this purpose. Galvanisation makes sure there is a full coverage coating that is crucial to the lifespan of steel fasteners. 
  • Dulling- one of the most appealing features of galvanisation is its initial shiny appearance. Even though this shine can dull as time passes, many people prefer the duller look of galvanised steel that has been weathered for a period of time. If it is wanted, this finish can be achieved as part of the initial design process. 
  • Masking- in some cases, you might not want to galvanise the entire surface of a steel part. This can easily be resolved through masking with special tapes, paints, pastes, and greases. Though it is simple, masking isn’t completely fool proof, and some grinding might be needed to get back to the original steel product. 
  • Material handling- checking if lifting points are needed in the design is an important consideration before galvanising steel. Lifting points enable coverage to be completed without leaving unwanted marks on the metal. 
  • Moving parts- when moving parts are involved in a project, each piece should be galvanised separately and then put together. If it is not done this way moving parts might freeze in place or bond to each other. 
  • Surface condition- starting with appropriately prepared steel is essential to the success of the metallurgical bond that is achieved during the galvanisation process. A common preparation method is to clean the steel by immersing it in a chemical pre-treatment bath. Abrasive blasting might also be required when sand, welding slag, or paints are present. 
  • Warping and steel distortion- design plays a key role in preventing warping and the distortion of the steel during galvanisation. Having surfaces with symmetrical designs and similar levels of thickness can lower the risk of warping. When galvanising steel that has asymmetrical or thin-walled designs, temporary bracing can help protect against warping and distortion. 
  • Welding- the best way to guarantee even galvanisation is to galvanise after welding. Sometimes though, this just isn’t possible. In those situations, all welding materials need to be well-monitored for compatibility with the base steel for a quality weld. 

Contact FEM today to discuss your fabrication engineering needs. Our team are experts in their field and always ensure the highest standard of fabrication service.