What’s the Difference Between Forming, Bending and Fabrication?

Metal manufacturing comes in many forms. Terms are tossed around like footballs, and sometimes one is incorrectly used in place of another.

To communicate as effectively as possible with a potential vendor, it helps to know the difference between bending and forming, bending and fabrication, and so on. There are a million ways to reach the end zone in manufacturing, but we’ll just focus on these crucial basics today.

Bending and Fabrication … Bending and Forming … How’s It All Related!?

Just like it matters which score you say first (Don’t be that guy who says, “We’re winning 14-27!), there’s a specific flow chart to what falls under “bending,” “forming,” and “fabrication.”

What Is Metal Fabrication?

Metal fabrication is an umbrella term that covers a huge range of processes. If it involves building a structure or machine from metal, it’s considered metal fabrication. You can reach this goal by:

  • Cutting
  • Bending
  • Assembling

The metal handrails on staircases were made using tube fabrication processes. The engine in your car was also created through tubular steel fabrication. 

Metal fabrication can include:

  • Sheet metal fabrication
  • Spring manufacturing
  • Bolt, nut, and screw manufacturing
  • Forging and stamping
  • Hand tool manufacturing
  • Cutlery manufacturing
  • Custom steel tubing fabrication
  • Many, many other products

What Is Metal Forming?

Metal forming is the process of reshaping a workpiece while it’s still in its solid state. That makes it a subdivision of fabrication.

For example, custom metal tube fabrication requires using metal forming techniques to create a tubular shape. Metal forming may use operations that are cold, warm, or hot, depending on the application. Which type of process a manufacturer uses will depend on the properties of the metal and the outcome you want.

Metal forming is used to create numerous shapes you see every day:

There are a variety of processes that can be used to form metal, including:

  • Roll forming: Uses rollers to shape metal
  • Extrusion: Pushes metal through dies to achieve a shape, usually made from aluminum
  • Forging: Forms raw material into your desired shape and uses high-tonnage presses to create a tougher product
  • Stamping: Uses high-tonnage presses to stamp out shapes in metal
  • Casting: Pours molten metal into cases to achieve the desired shape
  • Press braking: Uses presses to shape parts with less stress than roll forming

Each of these processes uses a different playbook to form metal into a specific shape. Some processes are better than others for specific needs. A metal fabrication shop may employ multiple processes to meet the needs of its customers.

What Is Metal Bending?

Metal bending is a subset of metal forming. In this process, your supplier is deforming the metal by applying force.

One of the great things about metal is that, in the right circumstances, manufacturers can bend it without losing what makes it awesome. Now, you can’t just use a machine to bend any old piece of metal. You need to know the properties of the metal to determine how to bend it, at what temperature, what its stress limits are, and so on. 

As long as the manufacturer is well-versed in proper metal forming techniques and procedures, you can create a variety of complex bends.

Tube forming is an excellent example of how metal bending works. The metal starts in strips and is run through a series of rollers to steadily bend the metal into a lovely shape before it’s welded to create solid tubing. Then the finished tube can be bent as well (within limits) to achieve an even more complex shape.

All that from a flat, boring strip of metal!

Specify Your Specifics

Bending and forming are related, just as bending and fabrication are. Bending is a type of metal forming, and forming is a type of metal fabrication.

Got all that? If not, that’s OK. We encourage communication early and often with a metal manufacturer to make sure it’s executing the play call you made. This’ll smooth out any misunderstandings about what metal manufacturing process is best for your project.