The Future of Metal Fabrication

Metal Fabrication Student Training

Metal fabrication is the process of creating parts and machinery from raw plate metal, welding wire, castings, fittings and other materials. Some of the items created by metal fabricators include components for engines, ships, aircraft, control panels, computers, electronic devices and even toys. Metal fabricators create and fit parts using drawings and schematics on blueprints as a guide. They may make just the components of an item as well as fully assembled, finished products.

The metal fabrication industry is facing a bright future. Changes and advances in technology are transforming the manufacturing, metal fabrication and assembly processes and continue to do so at a rapid pace. Modern innovations now allow for the use of computers, robotics, sensing technologies and programmable motion-control devices to accomplish repetitive metal fabrication duties that were once done entirely by human hands. Furthermore, there will be demand for metal fabricators, welders, and sheet workers as emerging energy industries need metal for their structures; this country’s aging infrastructure is in need of massive overhauls.

3D Printing

3D printing shows great promise in the field of metal fabrication. Additive manufacturing involves a printer that works from a computer-generated model that puts down (“prints”) layer upon layer of material one by one until the desired part is formed.

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The Penn State Center for Innovative Materials Processing is one of the leaders in additive printing technology for metal fabrication and other applications. In a recent StateCollege.com article, director Rich Martukanitz stated that components were literally being re-imagined through a process called Direct Digital Deposition, or CIMP-3D. The technology allows for the creation of parts with levels of detail very difficult to achieve using conventional fabrication processes. Manufacturing time and costs are also cut dramatically. The medical, aerospace and oil and gas industries all stand to benefit. Martukanitz believes this technology is behind the recent manufacturing surge in the United States.

CIMP-3D brings it all together, and this process will no doubt influence the metal fabrication field going forward. The precise nature of 3D technology will allow design engineers to have greater flexibility and freedom to design increasingly complex parts and components. Those who work in metal fabrication must be able to adapt to these new changes and technologies, as the machines will require skilled workers at the helm.

Energy and Construction

While many other fields have been sluggish after the recession, the energy and construction industries boast job growth rates in the two-digits. Whereas the energy sector increased by 12% this year, the construction industry grew by an impressive 20% during the first months of 2014. This has a tremendous effect on professionals working in these fields. For example, 46% of those who work in the ethanol industry report annual incomes of $75,000 or more, while 45% reported annual salaries between $40,000 and $75,000. Even more impressive, welders in electrical power had an average salary of $62,850 in 2012. For comparison, median annual pay for welders is about $36,720 per year.

The growth of the energy and the construction sector is compounded even further as both industries become increasingly intertwined. Oil and gas extraction requires facilities construction, road construction, pipe system fabrication and installation, system monitoring implementation, security patrols, pipeline construction, and so on. According to an FMI report, “more than $330 billion will be spent on oil- and gas-related construction during the next four years, nearly double the amount that has been spent in the past four years.”

In addition, the report by FMI states that the growth rate for oil- and gas-related construction will be double that of other structures. The report cites an executive of a large global EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) company who claims that open-shop-certified welders can now demand rates up to $35 per hour and $70 per diem, as opposed to $28 per hour a year or two ago. This is especially true for welders employed in the Gulf Coast area, as the report maintains.

Skills & Education

The most qualified, prepared applicants will have the best chance for employment in this field. An awareness of the latest innovations will also be essential to a successful metal fabrication career going forward. Those who receive a technical education and vocational skills training from a facility like Tulsa Welding School of Tulsa, OK, or Jacksonville, FL, will have an advantage over other applicants and a higher chance to succeed and thrive in the field. Jobs in high-tech industries like aerospace and the electro-medical equipment field will also be more accessible to candidates with a solid educational foundation.