Sheet metal processing - possibilities and variants

Sheet metal processing is of crucial importance in many industrial sectors. Machined sheet metal is found in the construction of household appliances as well as in the automotive industry, in toy manufacturing or in switch cabinet construction. Depending on the individual objective, sheet metal processing is carried out with various machines or manually. Depending on how the sheet metal is to be processed, different techniques play a role. The possibilities and variants of sheet metal processing and where the individual advantages and disadvantages lie are explained below.




Sheet metal: metal product with many applications

Sheet metal is a flat rolled product that is often also known as semi-finished product and is made from various materials. In earlier times, sheet metal was forged, but today various rollers are used for its production. A distinction is made between hot and cold rolled sheet. Normally, it is mainly thick sheets that are hot rolled, while thin sheets are produced without the application of heat. The basis in sheet metal production is a more or less thick metal block, also called a slab. Slabs can be made of steel, aluminium or copper, for example. They are passed through the rollers and their thickness is reduced by up to 30% in each case. However, rolling not only affects the thickness of the sheet, but also the internal crystal structure in the metal. The change in this structure also alters the processing properties.

There are different types of sheet metal, which are not only distinguished by their material. As a rule, the exact designation or categorisation depends not least on the thickness of the sheet. With very thin sheets, for example, one no longer speaks of sheet metal, but of foil. Aluminium foil and gold leaf are classic examples of this.

In the past, there was a standardised distinction between:


  • Thin sheet
  • Medium sheet metal
  • Heavy plate

Today, the term "medium plate" is no longer used because there is no longer a standard for it. A distinction is now made between thin sheet, which is less than three millimetres thick, and heavy sheet, which is more than three millimetres thick. Sheet metal formats are usually standardised and in Germany have a maximum size of 4,700 mm x 24,000 mm. Producing larger sheet metal would prove uneconomical.

Sheet metal processing

Sheet metal processing: What types of sheet metal processing are there?

Ordering sheet metal panels for the production of household appliances, switch cabinets or for automotive construction is easy. However, these sheets are usually not yet machined, but merely correspond to blank, flat metal plates. In order to use them for individual projects, sheet metal processing is usually necessary. Sheet metal processing can be divided into several different phases and can be carried out both on the raw sheets or as downstream sheet metal processing. In the latter case, bending, drilling or round rolling play a particularly important role.

Sheet metal processing, which deals directly with the unprocessed sheet, primarily revolves around the cutting and trimming of the metal plates. With the help of various processes, tools and techniques, the metal sheets can be brought into shape. The simplest variant is certainly manual sheet metal processing with sheet metal shears. However, this form of sheet metal processing is very time-consuming and in many cases imprecise, which is why it is not actually used in the industrial sector. Instead, the following techniques are used:


  • Laser cutting
  • Water jet cutting
  • Nibbling (punching)
  • Flame cutting
  • Plasma fusion cutting
  • Sawing
  • Shear cutting

For a better overview, the different possibilities of sheet metal processing are briefly explained below.

Sheet metal working: sawing


Sawing is a method of sheet metal working performed either manually or mechanically. Different types of sheet metal saws each allow for different processing methods.


Sheet metal working: Shear cutting

In shear cutting in sheet metal processing, the sheet metal is cut with the help of two shears that move past each other. This process is primarily used to reduce the size of sheet metal or to give it an external shape. Punching is also possible.

Sheet metal working: Flame cutting

In flame cutting or autogenous flame cutting, the sheet metal is heated with the help of a flame to such an extent that the metal burns at the corresponding point. Since various conditions must be met on the material to be processed for flame cutting to work, this form of sheet metal processing is not suitable for all types of sheet metal.

Sheet metal working: Plasma fusion cutting

Like flame cutting, plasma fusion cutting belongs to the thermal methods of sheet metal working. The most important elements in this process are the so-called arc and the plasma, which is an electrically conductive gas. The bundled energy enables the sheet metal to be cut. This process can only be used for sheet metal processing if the materials to be processed are electrically conductive. In addition, the process is limited in terms of small shapes and dimensions.

Sheet metal processing: Laser cutting

In laser cutting, sheet metal is processed by means of the laser beam that gives it its name. This enables fast, versatile and flexible processing. In some cases, thanks to complex machines, laser cutting can also be combined with other methods of sheet metal processing such as nibbling or punching.

Sheet metal processing Water jet cutting

In the course of sheet metal processing, abrasive cutting is primarily used. In this process, a jet of water containing an abrasive, a hard powdery material, is directed at the material to be processed at high pressure, causing microscopically small particles to be separated from the surface. This allows for fast, environmentally friendly and, most importantly, non-thermal sheet metal working that prevents deformation or other interference.

Sheet metal working Nibbling (punching)

Nibbling or punching is a fairly simple method of sheet metal working: a simply constructed punching or pressing machine enables simple shapes to be cut out of a sheet. The process has been revolutionised again and again over the years. In the meantime, thanks to CNC-controlled machines, even complex variations of sheet metal processing can be realised with the help of the nibbling or punching method.

Sheet metal working in switch cabinet construction


In order for industrial systems to function smoothly, the electrics behind them often have to be housed in an individualised control cabinet. Sheet metal processing plays a role in this context insofar as the enclosures of the control cabinets are made of sheet metal. Various openings in the form of holes have to be made in these in order to be able to install the electrics accordingly. Placing the holes in exactly the right place is the task of sheet metal processing, which we carry out with the help of the Steinhauer machining centre and modern CNC machines. In the context of this sheet metal processing, however, it is not only the machine processing of the sheet metal panels that is important, but also the creation of the associated machine-readable planning documents. Do you have any questions on the subject of sheet metal processing or on the possibilities of related contract manufacturing? Feel free to contact us