What does a metalworker do?

You’re driving down a stretch of highway in upstate New York, maybe you’re going for a trip to the Adirondacks. When you look to the edge of the road you may see a stretch of steel tubing along the side. That’s the result of safety requirements in that area to keep cars with sleepy drivers on the road instead of in a ditch or down an embankment, and they’re actually required by code in some places where there is a drop of 30 inches or higher.

Let’s use another example to put you in the right mindset. You’re at the park with your younger sibling, or your child, watching them tear around the wood chips running on the sugary fuel of youth. You see them run to the top of the highest slide and come slipping down the wide blanket-like metal ramp like a lightning bolt *whoosh!*, they’re having so much fun, they move onto the jungle gym, the see-saw, you hear the chains of the swings jingling gently in the breeze… These are all creations of modern day metalworkers.

The things we see and use every day that are made of metal can be practical, beautiful, enjoyable or horrific. But, they showcase our engineering minds as human beings. The idea that we can take a flat sheet of stainless steel and turn it into a transformer on a power pole just feet above your head carrying up to 1000 volts; engineers made it probable, and technicians made it possible.

The relationship between those who think up a project and those who execute on that project is fickle, but valuable. The misunderstanding of their mental firing order, their incompatible personalities, their ability to differentiate dream from reality is miles apart at times. But it works, and we’re constantly evolving and improving in this modern society.

In a manufacturing facility like the one I work at 40 hours a week or more, we enjoy the interaction with creative minds and mechanical minds. Together we are able to streamline a process, constantly improve and turn a customer’s vision into a tangible reality [sometimes a very large scale reality!].

The typical chain of production begin with the order pitched by the company and drafted up by their engineers or drafts person (this is basically a blueprint, or a drawing of the final product with dimensions and a scale to go by). From there it’s time to source the materials; there are A LOT of places you can get supplies these days.

Some companies only believe in “top quality” products made in their own Country, but to others it makes little difference. Does it make a difference? Well, naturally it depends on your personality; if you’re the type of person who would spend 40% more to purchase something with a “Made in [your county here]” sticker on it, then you’re going to feel that way as a business owner too I’d bet. But, regardless of where the material is originally sourced from, you’re going to order it from a local distributor because you will develop a relationship with a sales representative from that company through your network. People don’t buy from businesses, people buy from people.

So, you’ve sourced your materials and your order is placed. You’ll get your beginning product in 1-3 days (let’s say it’s only that long) since your supplier is less than 100 miles away. In that material order you’ll at least have some raw sheet metal if that fits your customer’s design needs, or you’ll have some type of flat stock/bar stock which is solid material used for machining purpose.

Since projects usually don’t get started immediately (if they’re entered into a queue behind other orders) you’ll have to find a space to store the material until it needs to be used. This might be the tricky part for some businesses that may be small and tight on space, since you can’t exactly store raw mild steel outdoors since it will rust!

Rust is an ugly word in this industry! There’s nothing worse that grabbing a nice piece of sheet steel (say 0.090 of an inch thick) and it is covered in an oxides orange dust… Now you’re going to have to spend some time prepping the material to get the surface clean before processing. But to avoid that you can do a couple of things when it comes to storage.

  • You can coat the material in a rust preventative agent that is oil based (such as WD-40). I know if you live in working class America you know what WD-40 is, it’s right next to your duct tape and craftsman wrench set. [That’s where I keep mine at least].
  • You could store your material indoors, and off any surface contacting the ground that holds moisture (like cement, wood, or fabric). So, you’re safe if you make a containment unit out of steel. Possibly a vertical rack where the material is stored horizontally (like a filing shelf). But this method takes up a lot of space when the sheets of material can easily be 10 feet long by 5 feet wide.
  • You could build a “vertical rack” out of wood with a plastic sheet on the base. The rack would be set up in a way that the material can be stored up on end in “slots” and separated by thickness.

Storing your material is very important, as you don’t want to add extra labor time for someone to clean up the oxidation/rust on the material. It’s just as important as sourcing quality material in the first place!

By spending the small amount of time by properly setting up your staging area, you’re potentially saving yourself hours of time in the prep stage which would hold up production. You can get through the process of cutting the sheet material, bending, welding, grinding and finishing in less time by setting up your storage properly and handling your raw materials in most efficient way possible.

Now, the title states “What does a metal worker do?”. I know the above explanation is not comprehensive or all-encompassing, but it’s my promise that over the course of this blog I will answer the question, and any other questions that may come up.

There should be a follow button around here somewhere so you can get an update emailed to you whenever I make another post!

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