Is metal fabrication a good career path? Yes. The metal fabrication industry is growing and expected to reach $29.46 billion by 2029, a 4.7% CAGR growth rate. To achieve that kind of growth will require a highly skilled labor force.
When most people think of a good metal fabrication career, welding jobs likely top the list. But there’s more to metal fabrication than welding. The industry includes numerous types of skilled workers and professionals who, together, deliver products and services that are critical to our nation’s commercial and defense industries.
Here, we’ll provide a brief introduction to 10 non-welding metal fabrication careers, including:
RELATED ARTICLE: 6 Myths About Metal Fabrication Industry Careers
Metal fabrication engineers are deeply involved in each project. While they might not always be responsible for the initial product design, they must verify customer drawings and modify them for specific steps of the manufacturing process. They will also collaborate with the original design engineers to exchange software files and sometimes perform a Design for Manufacturability (DfM) review. Engineers play a crucial role by designing jigs and fixtures for use in the manufacturing process. Typically, an engineer requires a bachelor’s degree in a related engineering field and proficiency in 3D design software.
RELATED ARTICLE: Advantages of In-House Metal Fabrication Engineering Teams
Did you like Legos as a kid? Individuals who enjoy working with their hands and have an eye for detail are often good candidates for a fabrication assembler position. They mount, align, fit, and adjust large to small assemblies into their final configurations, often to extremely tight tolerances. Candidates should be able to use and interpret blueprints, written instructions, and measuring devices, and adhere to procedures and ISO standards to a tee. The ability to operate a gantry crane, forklift, and pneumatic tools will also be required. Every day brings something new.
There are multiple types of computerized numerical control (CNC) equipment, providing a variety of career opportunities. CNC lathes, routers, lasers, press brakes, boring bars, bridge mills, and plasma cutters all require knowledge of how to select and set up tooling and operate the machinery. All CNC machine operators should be able to work from complex blueprints, CAD drawings, and other written specifications to ensure precision. Those with mechanical and organizational skills are often good candidates as they will need to record accurate logs and identify and document non-conformances during inspections.
Those who naturally like to keep things organized and are process-driven are ideal candidates for a material handler position. They are responsible for storing, organizing, pulling, and verifying raw materials and supplies and routing them to various work centers on the production floor. Material handlers also need to manage real-time inventories and be able to use Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. Work for the Department of Defense (DoD) requires added scrutiny to certify material inspections, part numbers, PO numbers, and DFARS compliance.
RELATED ARTICLE: The Importance of Inventory Management
A project manager is often the backbone of a successful build in metal fabrication. This individual needs to be extremely organized and have strong communication and interpersonal skills to maintain accountability and help align every facet of a project. Project managers work closely with nearly every department from the very beginning of the bidding process through to completion, and also engage customers to keep them informed and coordinate hold points. Proficient use of an ERP system is a critical skill, and the ability to proactively manage multiple details and stay on top of projects are the keys to success.
Painting of precision metal fabrications requires more than the ability to prep a surface and apply an even coat of paint. It also requires an understanding of how to mix and apply enamels, epoxies, urethanes, and military coatings from various manufacturers to exacting specifications. Masking to within .001-inch tolerance demonstrates the level of accuracy required to prevent overspray, meaning the ideal candidate comprehends fabrication documents, bills of material, and project plans.
RELATED ARTICLE: Top Challenges of Metal Fabrication Painting & Powder Coating
In the world of precision metal fabrication, the smallest inclusion on a piece of metal could lead to a weak point in a weld joint or assembly. A finisher is responsible for ensuring a perfect finish that is ready for the manufacturing process. They may use small hand tools to remove metal shavings, or set up, operate, and maintain CNC grinders, bead blasters, polishers, or other types of finishing equipment. A finisher also must follow ISO 9001:2015 procedures, identify non-conformances during inspections, and be a good record keeper.
RELATED ARTICLE: Guide to Custom Metal Fabrication Finishes
Most think of inspectors as those who confirm a product’s specifications before it is shipped to a customer. That certainly is one element of an inspector’s duties. However, there are typically numerous types of inspections and hold points throughout production, including inspection of incoming materials, equipment, calibration tools, and other duties. Inspectors must be able to read blueprints and maintain certifications and documentation. Other types of testing include non-destructive testing and providing a AS9102 First Article Inspection Report (FAIR). Precision and intense attention to detail are crucial attributes.
RELATED ARTICLE: Metal Fabrication Inspection Methods for Quality Assurance
The RFQ and bid process can be lengthy for highly complex fabrications, more so for DoD projects that might contain hundreds of line items, thousands of pages of documentation, and numerous compliance requirements. With the aid of specialty software, an estimator pinpoints exactly what it will take to deliver a project to the customer. Strong mathematical and organizational skills are a must, and knowledge of the metal fabrication process, material suppliers, labor needs, and other pricing insights are imperative.
RELATED RESOURCE: Common Oversights in the RFQ Process
Just like any business, metal fabrication companies have a host of behind-the-scenes positions that help keep the company running smoothly. Whether an HR or finance professional, or an IT cybersecurity specialist or customer service representative, there are numerous opportunities to make a mark and be part of a dynamic, collaborative team.
The precision metal fabrication industry has numerous opportunities for career advancement, and reputable companies will provide the tools and training to help you succeed. Are you considering a career in metal fabrication? View our current job openings today, and explore the many ways you can grow your career.