How to Choose Sheet Metals for Rapid Prototyping Applications

Sheet metals play a vital role in many industrial operations. They serve both rapid prototyping and direct manufacturing needs, making them highly rated materials in making different types of products. When it comes to sheet metals, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. This article will take a closer look at the types of sheet metals, their various applications and everything to consider when choosing sheet metals for rapid prototyping applications. 

Types of Sheet Metals

Sheet metals may be distinguished from one another based on parameters like material type and thickness. Based on types, there are stainless steel, aluminum, copper, galvanized and mild steel sheet metals. Let’s go into a little more detail on these materials. 

• Aluminum Sheet Metals 

Aluminum is one of the most naturally-abundant occurring sheet metals on the planet. Unlike stainless steel and copper, aluminum is soft with high strength-to-weight ratio. Its physical attributes like high malleability and easier machinability makes it one of the best fits for rapid prototyping. 

In some operations, aluminum sheet metals may be heat treated and blended with other materials to deliver increased strength. It is available in different grades and series, with each grade having some unique chemical and physical attributes. 

• Copper Sheet Metals 

Copper sheet metals are widely deployed in electrical applications. They contain zero additional metals, making them pure and very effective as conductors. Copper sheet metals are equally strong, corrosion-resistant and durable 

Copper sheet metals are occasionally deployed in sheet metal rapid prototyping for electronics, jewelry and ornaments. 

• Stainless Steel Sheet Metals 

Stainless steel is the most versatile sheet metal for all the right reasons. Stainless steel combines its versatility with the durability and strength to make a case as to why it should feature in every sheet metal project on the planet. 

Sheet metal comprises of Nickel, Chromium and Molybdenum up to 13 percent. It is resistant to moisture, easy to clean and corrosion resistant. Because of these properties, stainless steel is widely deployed in engineering and construction works.

• Mild Steel Sheet Metals 

Mild steel sheets are alternatives to stainless steel. The material is easy to machine, versatile and more affordable than stainless. Mild steel is great for automobile and construction applications. 

• Galvanized Sheet Metals 

Galvanized sheet metals maybe hot-dipped or electro-galvanized sheet metals. Hot dipped galvanized sheet metals are dipped in quality zinc to improve the strength and durability of the sheet metal. 

Electro-galvanized sheet metals are achieved by electroplating the base steel of cold-rolled annealed steel with thick zinc coating. Electro-galvanized sheet metals are more expensive than hot-dipped ones. They are widely preferred in mechanical applications, and are ideal for insulation purposes. They also have good heat resistance and enhanced durability.

What to Consider Before Choosing a Sheet Metal

There are many factors to look at when considering sheet metal for rapid prototyping. Depending on what stage of the prototype and its end use, factors such as hardness, malleability, cost, tensile strength and temperature. 

• Hardness 

Usually denoted in Rockwell, hardness refers to the capacity of force a sheet metal can withstand before pressing into its surface 

• Tensile strength 

In simple terms, this refers to the maximum tension that the sheet metal can resist. It determines the maximum load the sheet metal can carry before breaking or fracturing. 

• Max Temperature

The maximum temperature a sheet metal can withstand is a key criterion in processing environments were heat and temperature are crucial. Sheet metals may gain or lose some properties at high temperature, and as such, it is important to factor this into your prototyping requirements. 

• Cost 

Sheet metals differ in cost per unit. For early stage prototyping, you may consider more affordable options, and proceed to higher grade materials when functional testing become crucial. 

• Malleability 

Malleability refers to the ease of processing, shaping or fabricating a sheet metal. Depending on what you need the part for, the ideal sheet metal should be easy to flattened or stiffened when required. If higher malleability is your need, consider aluminum and mild steel sheet metals. 

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