Sheet Metal Worker Job Description - Duties, Skills and Career
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Sheet Metal Worker Job Description
Sheet metal workers fabricate, install and repair a variety of sheet metal products and equipment.
Sheet metal is metal formed by an industrial process into thin, flat pieces. It can be made of steel, aluminium, iron or copper, as well as a number of other metals, and is used to produce pipes, tubes and ducts for heating and air conditioning systems, roofing and roof flashing, gutters and downspouts, the bodywork of cars and other motor vehicles, in signmaking, and for various types of cladding and lining.
Sheet metal workers are employed in three main areas, namely fabrication, installation and maintenance.
Sheet metal fabrication is typically carried out in industrial manufacturing plants and sheet metal fabrication shops. Sheet metal workers refer to technical drawings, blueprints or sketches produced by a sheet metal designer using a CAD (Computer Aided Design) application, using them to determine the processes and tools that will be required to fabricate a specific object.
The workpiece is then measured and marked by the worker according to the drawings and cut, using either a manual tool or a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) cutting machine. Tools commonly used by sheet metal workers include saws, plasma torches, lasers, shears and snips, mills, turning lathes and drills.
Other operations carried out by sheet metal workers include bending and stamping, which is done using a mechanical or an automatic press. The accuracy and precision of workpieces is checked using measuring instruments, such as calipers and micrometers. Fabrication is followed by the assembly phase, which involves a range of operations, including welding, soldering, brazing, riveting and bolting.
Sheet metal installation work is typically carried out on construction sites (both new builds and renovations/refurbishments), with common jobs include putting in piping, tubing and ducting for heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and installing metal roofing sheets, guttering and downspouts. Where a roof installation job involves the removal of asbestos roofing, workers must ensure that they hold the required permit before going ahead with work.
Other on-site tasks performed by sheet metal workers includes assembly work (e.g. connecting ducts, tubes, pipes and joints), waterproofing (soldering and insulating roof coverings), applying surface treatments (e.g. paint and corrosion inhibitors) and checking that all work has been successfully completed. Where modifications to the original design are required, these are carried out by sheet metal workers directly in the field.
Another area of activity in which the expertise of sheet metal workers required is the repair of rusted or damaged sheet metal - mainly in the construction and automotive industries.
In construction, sheet metal workers perform routine and unplanned maintenance on roofing and cladding and on the ducting and piping of air conditioning systems, carrying out repair work using hammers, drills, welding equipment and other tools. Once a repair has been completed, an inspection is usually conducted to check that it has been properly waterproofed and sealed.
In the automotive industry, sheet metal workers are employed as auto body mechanics, whose job is to repair the bodywork of damaged cars and other motor vehicles.
Sheet metal workers are mainly employed in plants manufacturing sheet metal products and profiles for industry and the construction market. They also work in fabrication shops, auto body shops and for businesses providing sheet metal installation and maintenance and repair services. Working hours are often shift-based, with shifts at continuous production plants including nights and weekends.
The job of a sheet metal worker is a demanding one, requiring strength and stamina. Working conditions, too, are not always the easiest. For example, sheet metal workers who carry out roofing work often work at heights and in bad weather conditions, while workers on construction sites and in production plants are exposed to high levels of safety risk. To reduce risk levels, applicable workplace safety and risk prevention regulations must be closely followed at all times.
Sheet Metal Worker - Responsibilities and Tasks
The main tasks of a sheet metal worker include:
- Fabricating sheet metal products based on technical drawings
- Cutting, bending and stamping sheet metal in accordance with design instructions
- Installing and assembling sheet metal products, using joining techniques such as welding, bolting and riveting
- Performing routine and unplanned maintenance on sheet metal products
- Repairing car bodywork and sheet metal panels
How to Become Sheet Metal Worker - Training and Requirements
Aspiring sheet metal workers generally require a technical or vocational qualification, ideally in a mechanical field, although a vital role in the skills development of apprentice workers is played by on-the-job training received from senior colleagues. Sheet metal work apprenticeships generally combine theoretical knowledge with practical hands-on experience, enabling trainees to learn key techniques, such as cutting, bending, welding, brazing, waterproofing and soldering, as well as the use of CNC machine tools. In addition, for sheet metal designers it is vital to learn how to use CAD and BIM (Building Information Modelling) software applications.
Given the difficult conditions they often find themselves working in (e.g. high temperatures, work at height and the presence of hazardous chemical substances), sheet metal workers also need a strong understanding of the relevant workplace safety regulations and must use personal protective equipment (e.g. hard hats, harnesses, safety glasses and earphones) whenever required. Finally, sheet metal workers carrying out asbestos removal work must ensure they hold the required permit.
Sheet Metal Worker: Skills and Qualifications
The main skills of a sheet metal worker include:
- Ability to design and fabricate sheet metal products, such as ducting, piping and tubing
- Ability to read technical drawings
- Knowledge of sheet metal assembly techniques
- Ability to use machine tools and bench top tools equipment
- Strength and stamina
- Manual skills and precision
Sheet Metal Worker Career Path
A career in sheet metals typically begins with an apprenticeship. Trainees learn to perform simple tasks, hone their manual skills and improve their levels of accuracy and precision. They also acquire familiarity with a range of machine tools commonly used in sheet metal work, such as welding equipment, cutting saws and plasma torches etc. Later, once they have acquired sufficient experience, they can take on more challenging tasks, such as bending, countersinking, finishing and assembling sheet metal components and profiles. The subsequent career path of a sheet metal worker depends on their area of specialization. For those working in production, a possible path may involve progressing to become a shift supervisor and eventually advancing to the position of production manager. Workers involved in building site installation (e.g. installing roof coverings, ducting and other sheet metal parts) can aim to work their way up the site hierarchy, for example taking charge of a team of sheet metal and structural steel workers.
Another possibility for sheet metal workers of an entrepreneurial frame of mind is to set up their own business, installing roofing, gutters, downspouts and structural steel for private clients and companies.
Top Reasons to Work as a Sheet Metal Worker
Sheet metal work is primarily a manual job, making it ideal for those who enjoy doing practical, hands-on work and who pride themselves on a job well done.
It is also a relatively easy profession to get into. This is particularly the case for assembly line work, where a lower level of expertise is required. With increasing experience and expertise, however, the range of potential career opportunities greatly increases.
For those who enjoy variety in their work, specializing in installation and repair work for private customers and companies will also offer the opportunity to travel and to experience a range of different locations.