Four Reasons to use Sheet Metal in Your Design

After you figure out what you can do with sheet metal, you'll never approach a metal project the same again.
Caleb Chamberlain - CEO, OSH Cut
16 Mar 2022
Press Brake

Why Use Sheet Metal in your Design?

There are many manufacturing methods available, including 3D printing, CNC machining, and injection molding, among others. Why choose sheet metal? In practice, a huge percentage of the hardware, appliances, vehicles, electronics, and other products that we use every day rely on sheet metal manufacturing. Here are some reasons you should consider sheet metal when designing your next part.


It's hard to beat the strength of a metal part. Metal is of course resilient on its own, but with added bending to create flanges, you gain an incredible amount of strength and rigidity without affecting weight at all.

Bent Sheet Metal Part
Figure 1. Bends in a long 16 Ga sheet metal part dramatically increase strength and rigidity without adding weight

A property called moment of inertia is used to calculate how much a piece of metal will deflect under load. Putting even a single bend in a piece of metal dramatically increases the moment of inertia of the part compared to a flat piece of metal, which in turn increases rigidity.

It's possible to create 3D metal shapes in ways besides flat cutting and bending, but that brings us to the second reason sheet metal is often an excellent choice: it is cost-effective.


Folded Aluminum Part
Figure 2. For volumetric metal parts, it's hard to beat sheet metal processes for their cost and efficiency

If you want a light, strong part, it helps to have relatively thin metal, shaped to add rigidity. Sheet metal manufacturing lends itself to exactly that type of geometry. A sheet metal "flat" is cut from a flat sheet of metal or plate, and then the material is bent to produce the desired geometry.

It's often possible to do the same with other processes like CNC machining, or 3D printing. But CNC machining requires the shape to be "hogged out" of thick, solid billet, which is both expensive and time-consuming. Similarly, 3D printing takes a significant amount of time and, depending on the technology used, does not always yield the same strength benefits of solid metal.


It has only recently made sense to use "fast" and "sheet metal" together in the same sentence. The metal fabrication industry even now is characterized by long lead-times and high costs, but a handful of companies are changing that, including OSH Cut.

Multiple services now exist that allow sheet metal parts to be quoted instantly or within hours, and lead times as short as same-day are available from OSH Cut. It's hard to overstate how important that is. Our world is increasingly characterized by speed - fast design, fast prototyping, short time to market, and rapid order fulfilment. In the history of the world, we live in an unprecedented time.


Production sheet metal parts
Figure 3. Sheet metal is great for prototyping and even better for mass production

Some services like 3D printing are also known for their prototyping speed, but sheet metal has one major benefit that 3D printing doesn't: scalability.

As sexy as 3D printing is these days, virtually nothing is actually produced in volume with 3D printing. From door hinges, to appliances, to drawer glides; building trim to automotive parts; a huge percentage of the goods we consume are made out of sheet metal. The percentage made out of 3D printed parts is almost vanishingly small.

When it comes time to produce anything in volume, sheet metal is very frequently the method of choice. Sheet metal is economical to produce in volume because of its limited waste. And custom punches and dies can be produced that dramatically reduce production times and costs. So not only is sheet metal easy, fast, and cost-effective for prototyping, there is an easy path to production without changing designs or manufacturing methods.


We believe that we are entering the golden age of sheet metal manufacturing. Enabled by new technologies, it is now easier than ever to get sheet metal parts. Over time, rapid services like OSH Cut and others will expand their value-add offerings, making it easier and easier to order more complicated parts and get them quickly, for a reasonable price.

That will accelerate an already appealing design option: sheet metal parts are strong, inexpensive, readily available, and perfect for both prototyping mass production. And it's just going to get better from here.