Sheet metal has been much sought-after for thousands of years. In production terms it is a semi-finished product, which is processed to produce a finished product by undergoing further machining steps.
Sheet metal – its historical development
The first sheet and plate goods were made from very soft materials. Gold and silver could be formed into thin metal sheets and plates relatively easy, and these were then used to make coins and jewellery. Later copper and iron were also made into sheets and plates. Iron sheets were mainly worked in the late Middle Ages to produce suits of armour for knights.
As rolling was still unknown at the time, the materials were given the necessary strength by hammering them. Gold and silver sheets were very valuable due to their material value – iron sheets due to their time-consuming production.
It was very complicated work to form iron into a sheet using manual methods and simple tools only. It took a great deal of experience and practice to shape the material flat and uniformly.
Hammers driven by water power made the work easier and reduced the production time purely through their large dimensions and weights. Nonetheless, depending on the size, despite the technical help it could still take several days to finish a single sheet.
In the industrial revolution, machines were developed with which metal blocks could be rolled into sheets and plates. These could be produced much faster and the quality was much higher in terms of the dimensional stability of the thickness and the evenness of the surface. The consequence of this was that sheet and plate metal become much less expensive and could be used to make an increasing number of products.
Its importance today
Today a large selection of formats and material thicknesses are available. Therefore, by combining these factors, it is possible to adapt the material optimally to the planned place of use. An impressive example is the high-strength material HARDOX wear plate.
Resistant or soft sheet and plate is obtained by different alloys. There is a large selection of elements, which can be added to steel in the liquid state and affect the properties of the finished sheet or plate. Chrome, nickel, silicon, molybdenum, niobium, copper and titanium – to name but a few of the elements that can be added to the molten steel.
Sheet metal is available in many steel grades, aluminium and other metals, which are each in turn offered as all kinds of different alloys. In order to retain clarity and to make this diversity manageable, standards were introduced, which group the materials according to their properties. Material numbers help to structure the sheets and plates clearly.