Fabrication VS Manufacturing: What is the Difference?

Home >  Blog >

Fabrication VS Manufacturing: What is the Difference?

Fabrication VS Manufacturing

Manufacturing and fabrication are common terms used to describe the process of forming a new product from multiple raw materials.

These terms are often used as synonyms and it’s easy to see why: the processes are closely related and they typically work together. However, some differences separate manufacturing and fabrication processes.

In fact, it’s not uncommon to find that a company that manufactures a product does not offer fabrication services. In today’s world, the supply chain is more segmented than ever. Therefore, while one company may specialize in processing raw materials, another will use the component parts to make the finished product.

If your company is gearing up to create a new product for the market, you need to understand the difference between manufacturing and fabrication. This is because you may require each of these services at some point in production. Further, one of the processes may be better suited to a particular project compared to the other.

It can be confusing to differentiate between these two industrial processes. In this article, I’m going to explain the difference between manufacturing and fabrication and clear up any confusion. Let’s dive in!

What is Fabrication?

The fabrication process involves shaping raw materials into parts and components that are suitable for assembly. This can be done through fabrication techniques such as cutting, casting, welding, machining, folding, forming, punching, and more.

Fabrication processes can be described as intermediate processes since the fabricator is creating a part that is used by the manufacturer rather than the consumer.

To better understand fabrication, let’s consider the process of producing electronic devices such as laptops, TVs, and mobile phones. As an example, you may have company A specializing in making display screens for these devices. Company A would then supply these screens to company B for assembly. In this case, company A would be the fabricator since they are building an intermediate product that is used to create the finished product.

The most common form of fabrication is metalworking. As the name suggests, metal fabrication involves working on a metal raw material to create the desired shape or part. This can be accomplished using tools such as milling machines, lathes, grinders, presses, and drilling machines.

Other forms of fabrication include;

  • Glass fabrication – shaping glass raw materials into a part.

  • Plastic fabrication – creating a part out of plastic materials.

  • Woodworking – making an object out of wood, using hand or power tools.

New technologies have been instrumental in the making of higher-quality fabricated parts. Computer numerical control (CNC) machines in particular have propelled an industrial revolution. This machinery uses computer aided designs (CAD) and skilled labor to produce accurate and precise parts. Since CNC machining is automated, it offers repeatability and consistent quality.

Types of Fabrication Processes

As we’ve previously discussed, different techniques are used when fabricating parts. The choice of the fabrication method will depend on factors such as the material, scale of production, budget, and part requirements. Here are the different processes used by fabricators to create parts and components.

Cutting

This important fabrication operation involves cutting a workpiece to the desired size and removing unwanted sections. Cutting is typically the first step in a longer fabrication process or it may be the only process applied. Cutting methods include sawing, drilling, laser cutting, waterjet cutting, plasma arc cutting, and more.

Casting

Casting

Casting is one of the oldest methods used to fabricate parts. Molten material is poured (or injected) into a mold/ die. It is then left to cool down and harden and it takes the mold’s shape. Casting is cost-effective when used for the large scale production of parts. The same mold is reused to fabricate identical parts.

Welding

This is a joining process that uses both heat and pressure to connect two or more pieces. Common types of welding include Arc welding, Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welding, Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) welding, and Flux Cored Arc welding.

Shearing

Shearing uses two tools, one positioned above the material and the other underneath to supply pressure, to produce a long, straight cut. This fabrication technique is suitable when cutting smaller lengths.

Folding

Folding entails creating a bend in a material. A brake press is often used when folding sheet metals. Alternatively, the operator can hammer the material until it forms a bend or use a folding machine.

Machining

Machining

With machining, the operator starts with a solid block known as the workpiece. They then remove the excess material from the workpiece to create the desired part. Machining can be either manual or automated using computer numerical control (CNC) machines. Common machining processes include milling, drilling, and turning.

Punching

This process utilizes a punch press to make holes, notches, and other features in various materials including sheet metal, plastic sheets, paper, and vulcanized fiber.

Forming

Forming is a fabrication process that uses heat and pressure to produce the desired shape and part. Metal forming is further grouped into bulk forming and sheet forming.

Stamping

This fabrication technique is nearly the same as punching. The key difference is that instead of creating a hole in the material, stamping forms an indentation. Stamping is usually used to form letters, shapes, and images on the material.

What is Manufacturing?

The manufacturing process involves transforming raw materials or component parts into finished goods. In other words, manufacturing output is a final product ready for sale to end users.

Manufacturing covers the production of something from start to finish. Therefore, conventional manufacturing processes consist of aspects such as design, sourcing materials, production, quality control, and distribution.

The manufacturing industry is an integral part of economic growth. It serves as the foundation of how products of all kinds are produced to meet market demand. Further, the countless manufacturing jobs also stimulate economic activity.

Most manufacturing processes are large scale operations that are completed in factories using machines, tools, and biological/ chemical processing. This mass production is utilized for most consumer goods across various industries. You may also find smaller-scale operations carried out in workshops or even in homes.

During the overall manufacturing process, a procedure that frequently comes up is part fabrication. For example, let’s consider the production of a car. The manufacturing company may choose to work with different fabricators who create components such as the engine, brake system, electrical system, steering, and tires. The manufacturer would then be responsible for assembling the different systems to create finished products that are ready for market.

Types of Manufacturing Processes

Manufacturing processes can be classed into five distinct categories. The ideal manufacturing process will depend on various factors including market demand, the condition of your factory, and the state of raw materials. Each of the following manufacturing techniques offers a unique set of benefits when used appropriately.

Repetitive manufacturing

As the name implies, repetitive manufacturing follows repetitive production steps to create goods. It is suitable for the consistent, mass production of identical or similar goods. With this process, the production line can run 24/7, all year round to meet demand.

Discrete manufacturing

Unlike repetitive manufacturing, discrete manufacturing treats products as separate items rather than as a group. Therefore, the production line is more diverse with different steps and frequent changeovers.

Discrete manufacturing is used to create products with varied sizes and styles. These include cars, airplanes, toys, and furniture. If the products are too different, more time is required to alter the production line setup.

Job shop manufacturing

This process is applied to manufacture small quantities of custom goods, either make-to-order (MTO) or make-to-stock (MTS). Instead of production lines, job shop manufacturing uses production areas or workstations.

Continuous process manufacturing

As is the case with repetitive manufacturing, continuous manufacturing also runs constantly. The key difference is that continuous manufacturing uses raw materials that are in a gaseous, liquid, powder, or slurry state. It is often used in metal smelting, oil refining, and the manufacture of food items such as peanut butter.

Batch process manufacturing

In batch manufacturing, products are viewed as a group. Products from the same batch have the same ingredients, and they undergo the same production process to create identical goods.

Batch manufacturing allows for flexibility. For instance, the manufacturer can alter the size of products in a batch or even add a unique design feature.

Since batch manufacturing creates identical products, the process can be automated through the use of machines with workers overseeing the process.

The Difference of Between Fabrication and Manufacturing

By this point, we should be familiar with the basics of both fabrication and manufacturing. Let’s now explore the differences between fabrication and manufacturing at length.

Processing Materials

Fabrication involves working with different materials to create component parts. For example, a company will employ steel fabrication techniques to form steel parts. Fabrication processes are used with a wide range of materials, the most common being metals such as steel, aluminum, copper, brass, and bronze. However, it’s not limited to metals only. Materials such as wood, plastic, laminate, glass, and other solid surface materials can also be fabricated to create the desired parts.

On the other hand, manufacturing covers the end-to-end production processes, including fabrication processes.

Processing Efficiency

Outsourcing fabrication work can improve the overall efficiency of the production process. It can be hard to match the efficiency of a dedicated fabrication shop. This is particularly true for complex goods with multiple production steps.

Fabrication businesses have the most advanced equipment and skilled operators. Therefore, they can deliver quality parts consistently and efficiently. Manufacturers can, therefore, increase their efficiency and focus on other aspects of their business by working with fabricators.

Production Cost

Fabrication is only a subset of the manufacturing process. Therefore, the complete manufacturing process will cost more since it also covers aspects such as assembling parts and quality control.

That being said, outsourcing fabricated parts has cost-saving benefits to manufacturers. They lower their overheads by cutting back on equipment and labor costs. Professional fabrication shops can produce parts at a cheaper price making the production process more cost-efficient.

Applications

With fabrication, the shop creates items that are used by manufacturers rather than consumers. Metal fabrication is a key part of producing engines, building components, structures, machines, durable goods, household appliances, and more.

Conversely, with manufacturing the factory produces goods for end users. The manufacturing industry covers all conceivable products including apparel, automobiles, aircraft, electronics, cosmetics, food, leather goods, chemicals, plastic items, and much more.

Most companies will not create the finished product from scratch. This is especially true with complex products such as airplanes, spacecraft, ships, automobiles, and electronics. Fabricators will create parts using the required raw materials. The manufacturer is behind the overall process.

Let’s say a certain manufacturer is building a ship. They will work with different fabricators whose job is to make various components and parts for the ship. The manufacturer will then assemble the various parts to build the complete ship and perform quality control procedures to ensure the ship is ready for use.

With today’s highly segmented supply chains, fabricators create intermediate products that are then used by the manufacturer to make the finished goods.

Conclusion

There you have it! I hope that this article has cleared up any potential mix-up between fabrication and manufacturing.

To sum it up, manufacturing and fabrication are industrial-related processes with separate meanings. Fabrication refers to the processing of raw materials or refining of parts to make the desired component for assembly. The term “manufacturing” describes the entire production process, from start to finish. Therefore manufacturing creates a finished product that is ready for distribution to the end user.

Fabrication can be viewed as part of manufacturing. Therefore, while these two processes are different, they work together to create amazing products.

Author

Gavin Leo is a technical writer at Aria with 8 years of experience in Engineering, He proficient in machining characteristics and surface finish process of various materials. and participated in the development of more than 100complex injection molding and CNC machining projects. He is passionate about sharing his knowledge and experience.

The new online quotation platform of Aria Manufacturing Co., Ltd. will be launched soon;Start your project today!