Automation and the Metal Industry

Automation and the Metal Industry

Industry 4.0 is the latest buzzword in steel industry news. This term reflects what historians see as the fourth world-wide industrial revolution, which is going on today though it’s not yet fully realized in the sheet metal industry. 

The first industrial revolution occurred when humans learned to build and harness mechanical equipment powered by fire or water to produce goods in a more efficient way. The second came about with the development of electricity to power this mass production even faster. Next came computers, which added super-human computational power to operate factories with even greater efficiency.

The fourth revolution is bringing even more technological advancements in steel industry that promise to propel future metal fabrication shops to far greater productivity and efficiency.

What is Automation?

One of the advanced technologies that make Industry 4.0 possible is automation. For the sheet metal fabrication industry, this means that rather than shaping metal manually with human power and agility, robotic equipment is used to bend, cut, weld, finish, and paint metal.

Technicians must repair and maintain the equipment and program it to perform all tasks that were once done with human strength and reasoning. These tasks may include moving, lifting, positioning, measuring, and cutting metal, and even welding it in place. Each of these different operations must be coordinated with each other for the greatest operating efficiency.

Automated robotic equipment can produce the same parts faster and more accurately than humans without ever tiring. Some factories can even allow their machines to operate “lights out” overnight or all weekend.

Harnessing Data in Real Time

In addition to automation, the concept of Industry 4.0 relies on full data interconnectivity between all the machines on the factory floor – and with the enterprise software controlling the supply chain, product design & development, customer relationship management, human resources, and financial reporting.

This type of data networking allows engineers to collect and analyze data in real time, in order to ensure equipment is maintained and operating properly and to make adjustments on the fly if things start to go wrong. Such a system also keeps track of customer orders and supplies, so that when a sheet metal roll is required, it’s already available. This reduces warehouse space needs, minimizes scrap, speeds up time to delivery, and improves overall quality of the end-product.

As industrial automation technology continues to advance, the sheet metal fabrication shop of tomorrow may also incorporate artificial intelligence and even virtual reality to continue to improve efficiency, productivity, and overall business performance.
Industrial Metal Supply Co. (IMS) is the Southwest’s largest metal supplier with six branches throughout Southern California and Arizona. IMS offers the broadest line of metals available from a single distributor, coupled with service offerings including plasma, laser and waterjet cutting operations.  For more information, contact IMS.

Major Periods of Metal Age

3 Major Periods of Metal Age

The history of metal is a long and fascinating one. Before the metal ages, the Stone Age reigned for perhaps millions of years. During that long period, humans learned to shape stones into useful implements, including stone tools and sharp-edged flint blades.

By around 6,000 B.C., people picked up bits of gold which they learned to form into jewelry. They discovered silver by about 4,000 B.C., and eventually used it to make jewelry, coins and bars for commerce. Both metals were scarce and quite soft and malleable, which made them useless for tools and weapons.

As people learned to find and use more practical metals, three distinct “metal ages” began toward the end of the Stone Age, each one overlapping the next. These include the Copper Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age.

Copper Age

By about 4,200 B.C., people began to pick up small nodules of copper and used them to make green or blue paints or to fashion ornaments by hammering flat into various shapes. Repeated heating and hammering resulted in annealing, which made the metal harder but also brittle. In this way, they made simple flat axes and daggers.

They also learned to melt pure copper over a fire and poured it into simple molds. Later they learned how to “smelt” the copper from ore, by melting it at 1200 °C and combining it with charcoal to precipitate out the pure copper.

Copper was still a scarce commodity, so stone continued to be the primary material for many tools until the Bronze Age.

Bronze Age

Bronze is an alloy made primarily of copper with about 10 percent tin and small amounts of other elements. In the late Copper Age, around 4,500 years ago, metalsmiths in China and the Middle East learned how to purify tin from ore and then combine it with copper. The resulting alloy was much stronger and tougher than copper, making it useful for many applications and replacing copper and stone implements in many locations.

Bronze of different types was developed around the world, and used in ploughs, swords, axes, spearheads, armor, helmets, and shields, as well as artistic decorations and scientific implements.

Iron Age

After the Bronze Age, the Iron Age began about three thousand years ago between 1200 B.C. and 1000 B.C. As people became more adept at mining and metalworking, they learned to make useful objects from the iron found in meteorites dropped from space. Later, they learned to smelt iron ores, which are quite common, creating superior weapons and agricultural implements.

Iron is stronger and more plentiful than copper and tin, and became much cheaper than bronze so that regular farmers could afford iron ploughs. The result was an agricultural explosion that altered the pattern of societies.

Iron remained the primary metal of industry for more than two thousand years – until the discovery of steel.

Industrial Metal Supply is a full service supplier of metal, metalworking equipment, and supplies. Metalpedia , , , ,

Things You Didn't Know About metal

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Metal

Metals are some of the most important materials on Earth. Check out these fun facts about metal.

  1. The periodic table consists of 118 known elements, and approximately 95 of these are metals, with a small group of about 7 or 8 “metalloids” that are neither one nor the other, but have properties of both. The classification of metals, metalloids, and non-metals varies a bit, depending on the criteria used.
  2. Most metals are lustrous solids at room temperature. They are malleable and ductile, and able to conduct electricity and heat. They also can be heated and forged or melted and casted.
  3. Pure aluminum, which is the third most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust, was once considered a precious metal worth more than gold, until cheaper methods for separating it out from ore were invented in the 1800s.
  4. Due to their strong metallic bonds, most metals have high melting points. Tungsten has the highest melting point of all pure metals at 6192 °F and the highest boiling point at 10706 °F.
  5. Steel is the most recycled material by far, more than all aluminum, paper, plastic, and glass combined. Steelmaking furnaces in North America recycle nearly 70 million tons of domestic steel scrap each year including cans, cars, appliances, and construction materials, conserving energy, emissions, raw materials, and natural resources.
  6. Mercury, with the lowest melting point of all metals at −37.89 °F, is the only metal that is liquid at standard room temperature and pressure.
  7. Some of the tallest buildings built in the 1800s used cast iron and wrought iron to support the upper floors and roof. But once the Bessemer process for making steel was improved for commercial use, steel frames made possible much taller buildings, such as the 10-story Home Insurance Company Building in Chicago (1884-5), considered the first true skyscraper.
  8. Gold, copper, silver, lead, tin, iron, and mercury, and their alloys, including bronze and brass, were the only known metals up until the Middle Ages.
  9. The Brooklyn Bridge, which opened in 1883, would not have been completed without the work of a woman, Emily Warren Roebling, after her husband, Washington Roebling became incapacitated. The 1,595-ft. span suspension bridge is held up by 15.5-in. diameter cables each containing 5,434 parallel steel wires connecting the masonry towers.
  10. Research has proven that copper and its alloys, such as brass, have natural anti-microbial properties and can quickly kill viruses and bacteria. Hospitals and food service institutions use these metals on frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, faucets, hand rails, etc., to help prevent the spread of disease.

Industrial Metal Supply is your number one source of metal and metal equipment supplies and accessories. Visit us at one of our six locations or online at

best metals for welding

Best Metals for Welding

The best metals for welding depend on the project design and budget, the skill and experience of the welder, and the welding process to be used. Almost any metal can be welded, but some are easier than others for creating a high-quality, defect-free weld.

Some types of metal require special equipment, such as a vacuum or gas chamber, limits on heat exposure, or pre- and post-welding heat treatment. Some perform better with different types of welding, whether stick, TIG, or MIG. Choosing the right electrode and filler material for the base metal and following prescribed welding procedures is essential. Each specific situation depends on the base metal’s chemical makeup.

Low Carbon Steel

Also known as mild steel, low carbon steel contains a very small percentage of carbon (less than 0.3%) and up to about 0.4% manganese (AISI 1018 steel). This commonly used steel is very ductile, due to its low carbon content. High ductility means high weldability because it reduces the chance of brittleness in the heat affected zone (HAZ), which can lead to hydrogen cracking. Low carbon steel can be welded using almost any type of equipment and is one of the best metals for welding.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel can be quite weldable, depending on the grade. Ferritic and austenitic stainless steels can be welded fairly easily, but not martensitic stainless types, which tend to crack. Stainless steel tends to warp under high heat, which can affect the shape and strength of the final workpiece. Another issue is that the chromium in stainless will combine with carbon during the welding process, leaving the piece more susceptible to rust without its chromium oxide protective layer. To prevent this problem, don’t heat the workpiece above the recommended temperature, or choose a low-carbon stainless grade.


Creating a defect-free weld in aluminum is different than welding steel, but can be done by following the prescribed guidelines. Choosing the proper grade is important, as some types are much easier than others to weld. Because of aluminum’s high thermal conductivity, heat is transferred away from the weld very quickly. Equipment with a higher welding current may be required to supply the necessary heat. As it cools, aluminum shrinks significantly more than steel, so special care must be taken to prevent craters and cracking. Finally, the natural aluminum oxide coating on the base metal can add contaminants, and should be removed prior to welding to avoid porosity in the weld.

Other Metal Types

Other metals, including magnesium, copper, cast iron, titanium and superalloys such as Inconel, can be welded. These will typically require special equipment and expert skill, making them less weldable for traditional job shops and hobbyists.

Industrial Metal Supply is your one-stop shop in the Southwest for all things metal. Visit our catalog for a wide selection of metal products, including steel, stainless steel, and aluminum, as well as all the machines, supplies, and accessories you need for welding.

The Industrial Metal Supply Stainless Steel Guide

Stainless Steel is considered as one of the best metals, and provides various benefits including its ease of fabrication, strength, and anti-bacterial properties. We encounter different types of stainless steel in multiple places in our everyday lives whether we realize it or not. From its discovery in 1913, stainless steel has been a popular and preferred metal by many partly due to its lustrous appearance, as well as its durability and versatility.

In our guide, you’ll discover some more benefits and interesting facts about Stainless Steel.

Industrial Metal Supply Co. Stainless Steel Guide

Which Metals Can Be Welded and Why?

Weldability is everything. Metals with a high weldability are easier to weld and retain a higher weld quality than other metals, so it’s important to study these factors before choosing materials for a project.

Once you’ve narrowed down your selection to a few metals, the next step is to determine which welding process you’d like to use. Some methods require more skill than others, such as TIG welding — and these will affect which metals are at your disposal. For example, the ideal metals for MIG welding are carbon steel, stainless steel, and aluminum, all for different reasons.

The main parameters that determine a metal’s weldability include the electrode material, cooling rate, shielding gases, and welding speed. Every metal is unique. To a certain extent, all metals can be welded, but there are clear advantages and disadvantages to each.

Stick welding, also known as shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), is one of the most common welding methods out there. To get started, you’ll need a welding machine, a proper electrode (we recommend DCEP for DC welding), a safety helmet, clamps to hold the joints together, and your welding metal of choice. With this method, you are melting a metal rod with a special flux coating that prevents oxygen contamination — hence the “shielded metal” name. Stick welding can be used to weld steel, iron, aluminum, copper, and nickel.

Unlike stick welding, gas metal arc welding (or GMAW) does not have a coating over the electrode rod. Instead, the welding gun disperses a shielding gas that protects against contaminants. It’s the most common industrial welding process today, and can be used for steel, cast iron, magnesium, and many other metals.

Ultimately, there is no clear-cut answer when deciding which metals and welding methods to use. It’s best to figure out which metals are best suited (and most cost-effective) for your project, and then decide on a welding style that can be performed with your skill set.

Which Metals Are Magnetic?

Discovered by ancient civilizations around 500 BC, magnets have become an essential component in modern technology. Demand for magnets continues to grow as smartphones and other electronic products become ubiquitous. But which metals can engineers use to create a magnetic force? There are four main magnet types:


To start, diamagnetic metals are weakly repelled by permanent magnets. Typically made from nickel or iron, permanent magnets retain magnetism after being influenced by an external magnetic field. On the other hand, diamagnetic metals include copper, lead, and graphite. Although they make a weak contribution to magnetic fields — since they barely react with permanent magnets — they are magnetic metals nonetheless. To a certain extent, all materials experience some form of diamagnetism, including trees and clothing.


Next, superconducting metals create a strong repulsion in permanent magnets. These include gallium and tin. All superconductors need to be at an extremely cold temperature (known as the “critical temperature”) for magnetic repulsion to take place. Once the superconductor metal breaches this temperature, it reaches a point where there is zero electrical resistance. Other metals may be conductors, but their impurities prevent them from reaching zero resistance.


On the opposite end of polarization, paramagnetic metals are weakly attracted to permanent magnets. Most chemical elements display some degree of paramagnetism, which means they have a positive susceptibility to magnetic fields. However, if there is no external magnetic field influencing them, paramagnets will not have any magnetization. Paramagnetic metals include gold and aluminum.


Finally, ferromagnetic metals have a strong attraction to permanent magnets. When we observe magnetic attraction or repulsion in daily life, we are seeing ferromagnetic materials in action. Only a few metals are ferromagnetic, however, and these include iron, cobalt, nickel, and some rare earth metal alloys. These materials form the basis of many electric products today, such electric motors, hard disks, generators, and much more. Most permanent magnets are ferromagnetic.

How to Rust Metal

It’s understandable that most people want to prevent their cars and power tools from rusting, but some steel objects actually gain character from having a nice rusty patina. With a few household chemicals, it’s easy to speed the oxidation process along. Below, we’ve shared the basic steps to give your outdoor decorations a charming, weathered look.

  1. Buy Materials: You might already have some of these products in your pantry, so scan through the house before buying anything. To give your steel that rusty finish, you’ll need table salt, white vinegar, and degreaser, along with measuring cups/spoons and a spray bottle. We also recommend you buy a new bottle of hydrogen peroxide, instead of using an old one in your medicine cabinet. For safety purposes, you should be wearing goggles and chemical resistant gloves at all times. Remember, you’re going to be combining harmful chemicals, so be careful!
  1. Degrease the Steel: After stripping your steel of any coating or paint, the metal will be ready for degreasing. Read the degreaser bottle’s instructions as you apply it to the metal, and take care not to touch it with your bare hands. You want the degreaser to work its magic, but you don’t want to add more oil and dirt in the process.
  1. Pickle the Steel: Yes, the next step is just like pickling cucumbers, only here you’re pickling steel. This helps to create a uniform coat of rust, instead of certain areas being rustier than others. Pour some white vinegar into the spray bottle and then spray every inch of the metal object. Let it dry in the sun, and then repeat several more times. Now, your steel will be ready for the main event.
  1. Make It Rusty: So you’ve prepped the metal object for rusting, but how does the oxidation process actually happen? First, you’ll need to create a rusting solution by combining 16oz hydrogen peroxide, 2oz white vinegar, and ½ tablespoon of salt. If possible, mix this solution in the spray bottle with some of the leftover white vinegar. Shake it up so that everything mixes well, and then start spraying down your object. If the rusting doesn’t start happening immediately, you may need to put your object in direct sunlight for a while. Heat helps the process.

After you spray the metal, let it dry, and then repeat for about 7 cycles, your steel should look like it’s aged years. Make sure you don’t touch the rust until it has fully dried out, because it might rub off. The longer it stays in the sun, the better.

How to Stop Rust

Rust on any object — whether it’s a car, power tool, or a bridge — is an unattractive and often dangerous phenomenon that should be prevented whenever possible. Typically, rust occurs when metal is exposed to water and oxygen for a prolonged period of time. Iron and oxygen combine to form iron oxide, whose properties create the flaky orange-yellow coating that we all know as rust. The initial corrosion is fairly easy to remove, but wait too long, and you’ll have a car destined for the junkyard. Below, we’ve outlined five approaches to defeating rust before it spreads.

  1. Bluing: By dipping metal objects into a solution of water, sodium hydroxide, and potassium nitrate, you give them a strong corrosion resistance. This technique is often used with guns and clocks, and the name refers to the metal’s bluish finish when immersed in the solution.
  1. Clean Your Car Regularly: It may go without saying, but washing and waxing your car is extremely important for rust prevention. Dirt can also accumulate underneath your car over time, retaining moisture, so it’s smart to spray the undercarriage often as well. Although new cars are coated with the latest chemicals to fight against rust, vintage vehicles require an attentive eye to ensure that they remain drivable.
  1. Invest in Rust Prevention Products: These over-the-counter chemicals can be found in a variety of application styles — from aerosol sprays to cloth wipes. It all depends on the object you’re trying to protect. For small tools and outdoor gear, we recommend the Sentry Solutions TUF-CLOTH. For vehicles and larger metal parts, the Boeshield T-9 aerosol can was originally designed by Boeing Aviation for their aircraft components, so it does the job.
  1. Install a Dehumidifier: By controlling the exact amount of moisture in the air, you can slow down the oxidation process in your garage, basement, or any other sealed work space. If you own or work with valuable metal objects, it’s definitely worth the small initial investment.

5. Scrape Off Rust Immediately: Rust spreads like an infection, so it’s important to deal with oxidation as soon as it appears. To help slow down the process, you can scrape off loose rust pieces with a razor blade and then scrub the affected area with warm water and soap. Finally, apply a metal conditioner to prevent further rusting, and then put a new coat of paint on the area (if necessary).