Several years ago, ABRN spoke with a retiring shop owner who bemoaned the loss of metal working skills in the collision repair industry. "We no longer fix metal." he stated. "At best, we simply replace parts."
Certainly, a lot of that is true. The metal working part of the industry has largely slipped away because manufacturers and insurers recommend part replacement most of the time due to cost and other issues, such as the performance of carefully calibrated safety systems. That doesn't mean metal fabrication has no place in a modern shop. Some repairers practice this art as part of restoration services or race car building. Others shops turn to metal fabrication when parts aren't available or when it's the only affordable option for customers looking to extend the lives of older model vehicles.
These services all can provide valuable revenue streams and create opportunities to win new customers. Interested? With an assist from the experts at the Eastwood Company, here's a look at a common metal fabrication repair, along with the basics you should know before performing this work.
Regardless of what level of fabrication work you intend to perform, your employees will need training and practice--lots of practice--to develop marketable fabrication skills. You'll need to set aside time and invest in materials and parts to allow workers to fine tune their fabrication abilities. You also should look for an instructor, fabrication expert or non-competing shop that offers these services you can use as resource when you have questions.
Tools of the trade
Adding metal fabrication services usually doesn't involve a significant investment in equipment, since your shop probably already has most of the necessary tools. Review the following list of requirements to ensure your shop is properly stocked.
Tin snips - Straight, right and left hand tin snips (also called aviation snips) are key pieces of fabrication work. They're typically color coded: yellow for straight cuts, red for left hand cuts and green for right hand.
Electric metal shears - A power version of tin snips, these shears use rotating jaws to slice through steel up to 18-gauge thick.
Throatless shears - Throatless hand shears cut through 14-ga. mild steel and 18-ga. stainless steel using a rack and pinion gear design with an extended handle to significantly increases leverage and cutting power.
Angle Grinder - Used for rough cutting, cleaning up body work to be patched, and cutting patch panels from parts cars, a 4.5 in. abrasive cut off wheel also can slice through multiple layers of sheet metal.
Plasma cutter - A plasma cutter is needed for thicker metals and irregular shapes that can't be properly cut with metal blades.