Using huge machines to bend and cut metal sounds like it requires physical strength and a high tolerance for noise, heat, and grime. While physical fitness and the ability to work on your feet for long stretches of time are necessary, modern metal fabrication requires a more diverse set of skills. If you’re wondering what skills you need to be a metal fabricator, you should be thinking about computers, engineering, and math.

Attention to Detail

The metal fabrication industry works with tiny measurements often applied to very large pieces of metal. Settling for “good enough” doesn’t work in metalworking: producing work according to precise measurements can mean the difference between a part fitting into its place in an auto engine, that engine breaking down, a piece of structural steel attaching securely to another, or missing its mark, rendering it useless in construction.

Modern metalworking shops can look like clean rooms for manufacturing delicate scientific or electronic equipment, but they can also be dangerous places. They may house large machinery that can create sparks, dangerous fumes, and high temperatures. All these things require attention to detail, both to turn out workpieces that meet client specifications and stay safe while you do it.

Reading Blueprints

Work that enters a metal shop may come with detailed blueprints defining the expected outcomes. Metalworkers must read and interpret blueprints in order to produce quality work, including parts that will fit a larger machine, beams that hold up a building, or components that complete an enormous public sculpture according to the artist’s vision.

Mechanical Skills

Understanding how machines work is a critical metalworking skill. Metalworking machines need periodic maintenance and lubrication. They may run on hydraulic and electric power, and metalworkers should understand how that power is delivered to the working parts of the machine that bend, roll, or cut metal.

Metalworkers also need a healthy respect for the power of a machine that can bend a piece of sheet metal half an inch thick, or structural steel cutting machines that can create precise cuts in thick steel so beams fit together correctly. There’s absolutely no place for goofing around or losing focus near machines like that.

Computer Skills

Most metalworking machines are now guided by a computer and may employ robots to do the actual work. Still, metalworkers are responsible for ensuring the machine receives the right instructions and for inspecting the work robots do to ensure accurate cuts. Workpieces must be finished properly, free of burrs, and have smooth edges. Workers must also keep themselves safe and the machines running according to specifications.

A Basic Understanding of Chemistry

Some metal cutting machines use combustible gases to create extremely high heat to cut metal. Some of these machines only work with certain types of metal. Understanding how metal reacts to different substances, what happens to metal when it is heated or bent, and what metalworking processes do to metals’ molecular structure are essential to comprehending metalwork quality.

You can acquire the skills needed to become a metal fabricator through an apprenticeship program, a metalworking certificate, or a degree program from a community college. Good luck in your metalworking career!

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