Cutting is done by sawing, shearing, or chiseling (all with manual and powered variants); torching with hand-held torches (such as oxy-fuel torches or plasma torches) and via numerical control (CNC) cutters (using a laser, mill bits, torch, or water jet).
Bending is done by hammering (manual or powered) or via press brakes and similar tools. Modern metal fabricators utilize press brakes to either coin or air-bend metal sheet into form. CNC-controlled backgauges utilize hard stops to position cut parts in order to place bend lines in the correct position. Off-line programing software now makes programing the CNC-controlled press brakes seamless and very efficient.
Assembling (joining of the pieces) is done by welding, binding with adhesives, riveting, threaded fasteners, or even yet more bending in the form of a crimped seam. Structural steel and sheet metal are the usual starting materials for fabrication, along with the welding wire, flux, and fasteners that will join the cut pieces. As with other manufacturing processes, both human labor and automation are commonly used. The product resulting from fabrication may be called a fabrication. Shops that specialize in this type of metal work are called fab shops. The end products of other common types of metalworking, such as machining, metal stamping, forging, and casting, may be similar in shape and function, but those processes are not classified as fabrication.
Fabrication shops and machine shops have overlapping capabilities, but fabrication shops generally concentrate on metal preparation and assembly as described above. By comparison, machine shops also cut metal, but they are more concerned with the machining of parts on machine tools. Firms that encompass both fab work and machining are also common.
Blacksmithing has always involved fabrication, although it was not always called by that name.
The products produced by welders, which are often referred to as weldments, are an example of fabrication.
Boilermakers originally specialized in boilers, leading to their trade’s name, but the term as used today has a broader meaning.
Similarly, millwrights originally specialized in setting up grain mills and saw mills, but today they may be called upon for a broad range of fabrication work.
Ironworkers, also known as steel erectors, also engage in fabrication. Often the fabrications for structural work begin as prefabricated segments in a fab shop, then are moved to the site by truck, rail, or barge, and finally are installed by erectors.