What’s the difference between structural and architectural steel fabrication?

Structural and architectural steel fabrication sound exactly the same and there’s no denying that they are similar. However, there are a few key differences worth noting that we’re going to cover in this guide. Before we get into that though, we need to explain what both of these fabrications are…


What is structural steel fabrication? 

Structural steel fabrication is the process of creating metal products with the intended purpose of being used for projects that require a reliable structure. It often involves cutting, bending, and assembling steel parts with exact precision to ensure the quality and longevity of the structure. You can see a more detailed look at these steps below: 

  • Cutting – fabricators must take a lot of care when cutting the steel parts to the exact sizes needed. Different methods of cutting can be used depending on the desired final product. 
  • Bending – sheet metal pieces can be bent to fit the requirements of bespoke projects using the best and most advanced technology. 
  • Assembling – when the parts have all been through strict quality checks, they are ready to be assembled into the final product. This will often involve welding and/or bolting. 
  • Cleaning and painting – the final steps are making sure the product is free of dirt or debris from the other steps in the process. And adding the finishing touches like protective paints and coatings that make the steel look how the client wants and adds additional corrosion prevention and protection from the weather for outdoor projects. 

Structural steel is often found in industrial equipment, high-rise buildings, construction tools, and much more. It is an essential part of our society and features in a wide range of big and small construction projects. In many cases, the look of the structural steel is not as important or the main focus of the project unlike in architectural fabrication. 


What is architectural steel fabrication? 

Whilst the process of architectural and structural steel is pretty much the same, architectural steel places much more importance on the visual aesthetic of the final product. Architectural steel normally has to be just as functional and reliable as structural steel with the added element of making it look as good as possible. Especially if it’s going to be on a public building that a lot of people will be seeing and using. 

An example of this is decorative railing, it often has to be designed to look nice and make an architectural statement, particularly on spiral staircases. But it is also highly functional and serves the purpose of protecting people from falling off stairs, landings, and walkways. Architectural metal normally brings together a support metal like steel and a finish metal to make its appearance more customisable for the required project. 

Sometimes though there doesn’t need to be a functional purpose. Architectural fabrication can be used for purely aesthetic reasons like art installations and other creative projects that don’t need to serve a functional purpose. 


What are the main differences between structural and architectural detailing? 

When examining the specifics of a project, the primary distinction between structural and architectural is that architectural detailing is used to illustrate the layout and aesthetics of a design. Whereas structural steel detailing is used to indicate the size, scale, and forces required. 

Architectural steel detailing is particularly useful for drafting more intricately detailed metal items like balconies, staircases, and balustrades. Structural steel engineers need to ensure that the foundations of the product are accurate so the end result will be functional and safe. 


How are structural and architectural fabrication similar? 

Both types of steel fabrication are often just as important as each other, depending on the specific needs of the client and the project. In many instances, fabricators can’t create steelwork based on solely structural or architectural detailing individually. Both areas of the process are needed for high quality steel products to be made safely and successfully. Whilst ensuring it has all the necessary features to make it efficient and long lasting for its intended use. 


Why choose FEM for your next metal fabrication project? 

FEM is a family-run business with specialists that have several years’ experience in creating bespoke steel fabrications for clients in a wide range of industries. We pride ourselves on providing the highest standard of metal fabrication services in a quick and efficient manner. Making the customer journey with us as smooth as possible. If you’ve got a fabrication project in mind, be sure to contact us today to discuss your requirements and see how we can help. 

A history of steel in Sheffield

FEM is proud to be based in Sheffield, which is still known to this day as the ‘steel city’. Looking back, it appears as though the city and its people were always destined to herald innovations in metalwork and fabrication. Sheffield was uniquely positioned to focus on this industry for several reasons though. Lets take a trip back in time and take a look at the history of steel in Sheffield.

Sheffield Geography

The city has always been well positioned to be a hub for steel production and manufacturing. The hills in Sheffield and the surrounding area contain coal, iron, and the other raw materials needed for create steel. This process involves combining iron ore with chromium, aluminium, cobalt, lead, copper, nickel, tin, magnesium and more to create steel alloys. The surrounding woodland also gave early metalworkers an abundance of fuel for smelting and blacksmithing.

What’s more, Sheffield contains five rivers – The Don, Loxley, Porter Brook, Sheaf, and Rivelin. Pre industrialisation, water power was used to operate equipment like blast furnace bellows and trip hammers. Furthermore, before railway networks were established, rivers were essential to transport goods/raw materials in and out of the city.

The Origins of Sheffield Steel

Sheffield steel had its humble origins in cutlery production, around 700 years ago. Probably the earliest mention of steel fabrication in Sheffield came from hearth tax records, which mention ‘Robert The Cutler’ in 1297. After this, a Sheffield-made knife was found at the Tower of London dating back to 1340. It was then mentioned in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, describing one character as a Sheffield steel knife maker.

Metalworking would continue to grow in popularity in Sheffield between the late 14th century and into the 17th century. The steel industry was beginning to take its first steps, however, it was only with the introduction of ‘crucible steel’ in 1740 that steelmaking in Sheffield would expand. Discovered by Sheffield local Benjamin Huntsman, the process created the temperatures needed to melt pig iron, sand, glass, ashes and other materials. The demand for Huntsman steel throughout Europe heralded the major expansion of steelmaking factories in Sheffield.

The Industrial Revolution

The widespread adoption of fossil fuels brought many technological innovations that would form the basis of modern steel fabrication work. This, coupled with the steelmaking reputation Huntsman had laid the foundations of, led to an explosion of Sheffield steel production. A few decades after Huntsman’s breakthrough, the city was responsible for 40% of the steel being produced in Europe at the time. By the mid-1800’s annual steel production in Britain was around 50,000 tonnes per year, 85% of which came from Sheffield. Demand was in part helped by the advent of the Crimean war in 1853 and the subsequent need for weapons.

During this period, many processes were developed and implemented to improve the efficiency of steel production. Steel fabrication methods were also expanded upon to aid in the manufacturing of infrastructure and weapons. Prior to inventions like the Bessemer process, steel was too expensive to produce on a large scale. With the availability of steel however, mechanisation and steel products were seen in all parts of society. A prime example in farming and agriculture.

At the turn of the 20th century, steel mainly found use in the production of ammunition, household appliances, bridges, rail tracks, and vehicle bodies. This showed the importance of the metal fabrication process, as it was instrumental in creating a huge range of strong and durable products. Read the history of sheet metal fabrication.

The massive demand for steel in the 20th century meant the Sheffield’s production experienced consistent growth until the city was heavily bombed during WWII. The Sheffield steelworks would then be hit by repeated market downturns and the destructive policies of the Thatcher years. Nevertheless, Sheffield still continues to produce a vast array of steel products to this day.

Steel in Sheffield Today

There are many fabrication companies in Sheffield today. As such, if you’re looking to source steel for manufacturing projects there are lots of options around the city. For excellence and precision, choose FEM. We’re a business that was born and bred in the area, meaning we know metal fabrication through and through. Our metal fabrication work services extend beyond just steel too. If your project requires sheet metal fabrication, stainless steel fabrication, or aluminium fabrication, we can help with that too.

Contact us today.

Why use sheet metal?

Everywhere you look in fabrication you’ll probably see ‘sheet metal this’ and ‘sheet metal that’. Why? What makes sheet metal so well suited for an industrial process like fabrication? Where other materials will be best for producing more niche products, sheet metal is a great all-rounder. This makes it a solid choice for any business looking to create sturdy objects in cost-effective ways. 

In this blog we’ll cover why you should consider sheet metal fabrication for your next project.


What is Sheet Metal?

Sheet metal is a term that refers to flat pieces of metal, usually between 0.5 and 6mm thick. While it can be made from any metal, sheet metal is typically formed from copper, steel, aluminium, and stainless steel. A metal formed into a sheet will retain its properties. Sheet metal is manufactured and can be purchased by businesses readymade. 

Steel metal fabricators will sometimes measure the thickness of sheet metal using gauges, which range from 3-26. Gauges use weight per square foot to determine the thickness of sheet metal. 


The Benefits of Sheet Metal Fabrication

There are certain characteristics of sheet metal that make it ideal for use in the fabrication process. Using sheet metal has the following benefits: 

  •  Malleability – fabrication equipment can effortlessly mould sheet metal into a variety of shapes. Where other metals might crack under excessive bending, this isn’t an issue for sheet metal. 
  • Durability – sheet metal can have many uses due to its strength and resistance. Sheet metal is also ductile, meaning it doesn’t lose durability after it has been moulded. 
  • Ease of repair – structures created out of sheet metal can often have pieces removed compromising overall integrity. As a result, sheet metal repair can be done without dismantling the entire structure. 
  • Affordability – sheet metals typically use less raw materials than other fabrication methods. This means businesses can cut down on costs. Furthermore, the malleability of sheet metal means there isn’t a need for a casting mould. In the event of replacements being needed, creating a new mould can be expensive. 
  • Precision – due to its malleability, strength and ease of repair, sheet metal fabrication is often used in high precision projects. This is because the accuracy and low risk of sheet metal fabrication can reduce time investment without compromising quality. Read about the importance of precision in steel fabrication. 


Applications of Sheet Metal Fabrication

Sheet metal fabrication is a versatile process that can be used across many different projects, in a variety of industries. This is because sheet metal is used to manufacture objects with everyday applications. Here are just some of examples of things that can be created with sheet metal fabrication services: 

  •  Indoor and outdoor furniture 
  • Household appliances 
  • Food production equipment 
  • Storage solutions 
  • Retail infrastructure 
  • Kitchen accessories 
  • Surgical instruments  
  • Prototypes


Expert Sheet Metal Fabricators 

Looking for professional sheet metal fabrication near me? FEM is a Sheffield based sheet metal fabricator built on integrity, loyalty and efficiency. Our skilled team offers a range of fabrication services to ensure you get the best outcome for your project. 

Get in touch today and we’ll get you started with a free quote. 




What is the process of duct fabrication?

Duct fabrication for commercial and residential properties follows the same broad process. Most duct systems use sheet metal and as a result, require sheet metal fabrication processes. However, differences may arise when it comes to the scope of the metal fabrication. 

Review regulations 

Before any manufacturing processes begin, it’s necessary to review building regulation law for ventilation requirements in England. Depending on the project, this can dictate aspects of air ducts to ensure the proper levels of indoor air quality are being upheld. 

Measurements and conceptualisation

Measurements should be taken at the installation site so duct dimensions can be confirmed and double checked. This includes the length of the ventilation system, location of wall entrance-and-exit points and distance from the wall. From here, accurately detailed installation sketches can be created. 

Select materials

For air ducts there are four main types to choose from – sheet metal, fiberboard, fiberglass and flexible. The latter is made from a combination of plastic polymer and metal wiring. Sheet metal duct fabrication typically uses galvanised stainless steel or aluminium.

Duct construction

Once all preliminary checks, selections, considerations and calibrations have been made it’s time to do the fabrication work. How each of the following stages gets completed will depend on the duct system: 

  • Make and follow cutting lines. Cutting methods include Hydraulic (water jet cutting), Thermal (oxygen cutting, plasma, laser cutting) , Mechanical (machine operated shearing, cutting, drilling and punching). 
  • Chamfer metal edges. 
  • Fold the duct closed. 
  • Use appropriate joining techniques on necessary parts. 
  • Apply reinforcements where necessary. 

Quality checks

After construction, steps should be taken to ensure the duct system is functioning properly. All panels, grooves and openings should line up exactly. This is doubly important as some areas will be tested under government law, such as duct leakage testing. 


Common uses for ducts

Ducts can be used in commercial buildings by companies within a myriad of industries. An air duct system is an essential part of climate control. It helps commercial tenants save on energy costs and improve workforce comfort through the even distribution of air. 

  •  Air supply – some technical processes need access to an air supply to work properly. Combustion reactions for example, require oxygen as fuel. A low air supply in this case can pose a health risk through the production of carbon monoxide. 
  • Exhaust systems – similarly, processes that create potentially harmful waste-gases need to have exhaust systems. They work by extracting air from internal spaces. 
  • Air conditioning – allows for the cooling of individual rooms within a building or the entire structure. Air conditioning can help combat the heat that’s often given off by manufacturing processes. 
  • Air heating – in duct systems, air heating can be achieved with a heated coil that warms the air as it passes through from the outside. 


Get duct fabrication support with FEM 

Looking for metal fabrication Sheffield? FEM offers a wide range of services for application in fabrication projects. We’re amongst the most experienced fabrication companies in Sheffield, so you know we can be trusted. Plus, FEM has worked on duct projects before. 


Last of all, FEM offers free quote for fabrication work. Get started today.