Kip Hanson is a freelance writer and manufacturing consultant. He has more than 600 published articles, including dozens of case studies and technical pieces on fabricating. He looks forward to continuing the work done in Machining For Dummies with this companion book, Fabricating For Dummies.
Step onto the front porch. Take a look around. There's the teenager across the street, patiently pounding the quarter panels on her 1969 Volkswagen Beetle into shape, then sanding the metal bare so she can apply a little primer paint. That bug's going to be a beauty when she's done.
The kids two houses over are constructing a treehouse, nailing and screwing together the stray bits of sheet metal and scrap lumber found at the housing development five blocks down. Their arboreal creation is sure to block what's left of your sunset views. Have to talk to their dad about that.
And then there's the bridge project on the interstate. It's been going on all summer - the endless, inexplicable welding and cutting and pouring that promises to lop fifteen minutes off your commute when finished.
These are a few of the everyday examples of fabricating. It's going on all the time, all around us, and it's an important part of our lives. Without fabricating, there'd be no central air conditioning in our homes, no kitchen appliances, no car in the garage. None of that would really matter though, because modern day conveniences like gas stations and food processing plants wouldn't exist, let alone windows and doors on the house.
You might be able to catch a chicken for dinner and club it with a rock, but you'd need a stone knife to prepare the thing before you could huddle around the fire with the family to eat it. Strip malls and skyscrapers, farm tractors and fryer baskets, prescription drugs and polyester ski jackets . fabricating makes it all possible.
Even the paper airplanes you made as a kid (and might still be making). That's fabricating (albeit of paper rather than metal). Sewn a dress or made an Iron Man-like suit of armor? Yep, both fabricating. Spent all weekend assembling and then reassembling a metal shed because you didn't read the instructions the first time? That is an example of fabricating followed by reworking, an unpopular term in any fab shop.
Still, what exactly does "fabricate" mean? A quick Google search says it's a transitive verb (I shouldn't have slept through English class, as I'm still unsure about the transitive part) used to describe the following acts:
- Inventing or concocting (something), typically with deceitful intent
- Constructing or manufacturing (something, especially an industrial product), especially from prepared components
Well, the first definition doesn't apply at all to the fabricating I'm talking about. Sorry, Merriam-Webster. The only deceitful intent you might find in a fab shop is someone sneaking out a few minutes early on Friday for happy hour with his or her coworkers. As for the second description, the fabricating I discuss in this book is more about actually making those "prepared components" than it is about bolting or gluing or welding them together (although assembly is certainly a familiar process at most fab shops).
Granted, it's a broad term. Civic construction projects, autobody repair, bridge building, and pipeline laying - technically speaking, these fall into the general category called fabricating, and are performed by companies with fabricating as part of their business name, but much of that work falls outside the context of this book.
For the purposes of this book, "fabricating" and "fabrication" and sometimes just plain old "fab" are meant to describe that subset of metalworking concerned with forming, bending, cutting, drilling, finishing, and otherwise manipulating sheets of metal (tubes and pipes pop up occasionally as well, as does welding and even machining).
Whether you're looking for a new profession (one with plenty of eager employers) or just want to know how the heck refrigerators and jungle gyms are made, this book is for you. You'll find out about the machines that shape metal, the tools that slice and form it, the robots that lift it, the software that figures out the best way to process it, along with a few mandatory historical tidbits you can share with your friends in your Thursday night bowling league. So get reading.
About This Book
To borrow a cliché, fabricating has a lot of moving pieces. That's why Fabricating For Dummies is broken up into bite-sized ones. Part 1 provides a high-level overview of the different fabricating processes, the metals used in those processes, along with a little bit of metalworking history (but don't let that scare you). Part 2 dives deeper into the specifics of punch presses, stampers, and other fabricating equipment, while Part 3 talks about auxiliary topics such as automation, welding, and software. And of course, no For Dummies book would be complete without a Part of Tens, which in this case offers advice and information on a variety of manufacturing areas.
All in all, Fabricating For Dummies covers half a dozen or so distinct metalworking processes, along with measuring, painting, grinding, toolmaking, and a little machine-tool programming. There's even a little history inside, but you can skip those parts if you really don't care about the accomplishments of others.
I hope that's not true, though, because where would we be without Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Alfred E. Neuman (What? Me worry?), and all the other important people without whom modern society wouldn't exist. The same goes for the men and women who work in our manufacturing plants every day, who bend, shape, cut, and assemble the products that make our lives safe and comfortable. You guys and gals are the best.
This book assumes you're interested in fabricating and metalworking. There are no prerequisite skills needed, such as being able to build a shed or having once straightened a dented fender on your lime green Kia Soul, to understand the concepts discussed herein. If you have been yelled at by your mom for using her manicure scissors to trim the dog's nails, you already have a leg up on fabricating (the first machine I ever ran was a shear, a 12-foot long version of mom's clippers). If you installed a garage door or cut and soldered some new pipes in the bathroom, better yet. Oh, and you should know the difference between metal and other everyday materials like plastic and wood (metal is the hard, shiny stuff).
And since the majority of all machines these days are controlled by computers, you hopefully know what one is, and understand that they are actually in charge of everything around us and will one day enslave all humanity. But that's years in the future. For now, knowing what I mean when I use geeky terms like "network" and "software" will see you through the book just fine.
Icons Used in This Book
My dad's full of good advice. Don't stand up in a canoe. Drink more water. If you can do something in less than five minutes, do it now. A fool who can keep his mouth shut is counted amongst the wise. You can outrun the cop, but not the radio (actually, I found this one out on my own). I can't compete with Dad's nine decades of wisdom, but once in a while I pull an anecdotal rabbit out of my hat like, "Write it down because you won't remember it in the morning." Keep an eye out for the Tip icon for more of these gems.
Manufacturing technology continues to become easier for us simple humans to master, but it's still pretty darn technical at times. For example, did you know that fiber lasers work best when nitrogen is used as an assist gas, or that the tools used in turret punches should be demagnetized before use? See? That's what I mean. It's important information. That's why there are all these Technical Stuff icons scattered throughout the book.
They say elephants never forget. If I were an elephant, all the other elephants in the herd would make fun of me, because I can't remember Jack (or Jill, for that matter). If you, too, suffer from CRS (can't remember . stuff), feel free to lean on the Remember icons you'll find in the coming chapters (assuming I don't forget to put them in).
Machines have moving parts, often moving up and down faster than a seamstress's needle. Visit the Old Fabricators' Retirement Villa and you're sure to see plenty of truncated thumbs and more eye patches than at a pirate convention. Fortunately, fabricating has become far safer over the years, but that doesn't mean you should be careless. Watch for the Warning icons if you want to retire with all your digits.
Stop for red lights. Tip the waiters if you want good service next time. Let sleeping dogs lie (that might have been one of my dad's tidbits). Whatever the case, these are a few examples of life's important details, some of which are explained to us by friends and family, while others are learned through trial and error. In this book, be sure to read the information in Important Details if you want to avoid finding things out the hard way.
Beyond the Book
Can't get enough of fabricating? I get it, really, which is why this book comes with a free access-anywhere Cheat Sheet that offers additional tips on laser cutting, press brakes, welding, and robots, and how to get to the Old Fabricators' Retirement Villa safely. To get your very own copy of this Cheat Sheet...