A Comprehensive Overview of Modern Metal and Steel Manufacturing Processes

Reading time: 5 minutes | 11 June 2024

The process of turning raw materials into a usable product is a lengthy but necessary one so that a strong, long-lasting, multifunctional metal is created. The modern steel industry dates back as far as the 1850s when steel became a key part of the world’s industrial economy and has been at the forefront of global growth.

This blog post will explain the significance of the industry and take the reader through the different fabrication processes, answering the question “What is metal manufacturing?”

The Metal & Steel Industry

Metal fabrication and manufacturing is a key component in many industries such as automotive, construction, energy, infrastructure, and transportation, to name a few. The amount of steel used worldwide has steadily risen from 150kg per capita in 2001 to 230kg in 2020 and it is expected that by 2050, its use will have increased by a further 20%.

Many advances in the way we live have been made possible as a result of steel and metal fabrication. From medical equipment to metal structures and jet engine combustion chambers, metal is the most influential and powerful industry in the world and has helped economies to grow.

The rise of steel and metal fabrication transformed the way we travelled which in turn fuelled the industrial revolution making it the industry it is today.

What Is Metal & Steel Manufacturing?

Steel manufacturing is essentially the process of turning the raw material into steel. It involves smelting molten metal, adding elements to it, and then casting it into a finished form. Each of the metal fabrication and manufacturing processes involves several techniques being used.

The Metal and Steel Manufacturing Process

The metal manufacturing process varies depending on what is being produced. However, the basic principles are the same with various processes and pieces of machinery being used to turn molten metal into a usable material.

The process will follow some or all of the following:

  • raw material selection
  • melting and alloying
  • casting
  • forming and shaping
  • heat treatment
  • machining and fabrication
  • surface finishing
  • quality and inspection

Raw Material Selection

Whatever type of final product you are manufacturing, using the best quality raw materials will ensure that you create something that is of the highest standard. It’s the same when it comes to metal fabrication. Using raw materials that are of the best quality and are sustainable is a key part of the steel manufacturing process.

Iron ore, coke, and either limestone or burnt lime are the essential materials required to start all metal fabrication processes, and sourcing quality supplies of them is key.

Melting and Alloying

Once the best quality raw materials have been selected, the next stage of the process is melting the liquid metal to turn it into steel. Once the melting part of the process is complete, alloying takes place as it is easy to mix when the metal is in a liquid state.

Alloying involves mixing several elements together as this makes a more superior material. The process of alloying can increase the strength, create more corrosion resistance in the final metal sheet, and reduce costs creating a quality material that can be used to create many different types of products.


Metal casting is essentially making objects from melted metal. Molten metal is poured into the desired shape, whether that’s a flat metal sheet or something else. As the metal cools and hardens, it creates the form given to it by the mold, so perhaps a cylindrical shape.

It is often easier and cheaper to create pieces of metal at this stage, compared with machining something out of a solid piece. However, this will depend on the types of metals used, whether it’s going to be mass production, and the complexity of the casting.

Forming and shaping

A crucial part of the metal manufacturing process is forming and shaping the material, allowing it to create metal products and parts of various shapes and sizes.

The process can be used to create large and small structural metal parts with a high level of accuracy making it an essential part of any metal fabrication project. It can be done in a range of ways such as bending, forging, and roll forming.

Heat Treatment

Most of the manufacturing processes involved in creating metal use heat, whether that’s welding, melting, or cutting. Whenever metal is heated, its properties and structural components change and ultimately heat can be used to restore it to its original form.

Heat treatment involves heating structural metals without allowing them to get to their melting or molten stage and it is then cooled in a controlled way. The process is used to make it stronger, turn it into soft metals, or make it into a more abrasion or corrosion-resistant material.

Machining and Fabrication

Once you have the required type and strength of material, the metal fabrication and machining part of the process can take place. Lathe work such as drilling, milling, and turning are the types of techniques used to create steel alloys and other metal products.

The fabrication process involves making parts such as sheet metal. Machine fabrication uses techniques like laser cutting, bending, punching, and welding the metal to create the desired shape for a product. For example, specialised cutting tools are used in the fabrication shop to create a cylindrical shape to the exact specifications of an order.

Surface Finishing

This part of the fabrication process is where the metal surface is altered to improve the look, strength, and feel. This is done by removing from, adding to, or reshaping the metal to create a bespoke finish. A chemical, electrical, or mechanical process is used that will help to make the product last longer and look better.

Some surface finishing techniques will also make certain metal fabrication processes easier which benefits the manufacturer as well as the end user. If a flat sheet metal is brushed before it is painted, that will help the adhesion of the metal to the paint

Quality & Inspection

All manufacturing processes aim to create the best possible quality of product. Metal fabrication is no exception. Quality and inspection are, therefore, a key part of the metal fabrication process to ensure that quality steel is produced and there is no weakness in the structure, particularly when it is folded or moulded.

Quality inspections will make sure that the requirements of the specification have been complied with. Metal fabrication is a complex process so inspections need to be rigorous using co-ordinate measurement machines and specialised inspection equipment to make sure that everything conforms to the required quality standards.

Get In Touch For Metal Manufacturing

Metal fabrication and manufacturing processes are lengthy and complex and require skill to get them right. Washington Components has over 40 years of experience in a range of sheet metal fabrication services including welding and CNC machining.

We provide first-class services to our global, national, and local customers from our base in the North East of England. To find out how we can help with your metal fabrication project, contact our customer service team.

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