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Aviation Maintenance Technician: Mastering Sheet Metal Fabrication

View of welder

Do you want a job working with your hands, taking things apart, and making repairs to equipment? Would you be interested in attending college if there was a program that applied all of those activities to one career field? MIAT’s Aviation Maintenance programs focus on teaching students the advanced precision job skills necessary to become an FAA Certified Aviation Maintenance Technician.

Sheet metal fabrication is one of more than 40 precision technical skills MIAT graduates master during their job training. In 2018, there were 136,000 Aviation Maintenance Technicians in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Sheet metal welding and fabrication is a highly sought-after skill in the aviation maintenance field.

What Do Sheet Metal Fabricators Do?

Sheet metal fabricators use hand-held or remotely controlled equipment to shape, join, or cut metal parts. They also fill holes, indentations, or seams in metal products. Sheet Metal fabricators do the following on a day-to-day basis:

  • Study blueprints, sketches, or airplane specifications
  • Shape, cut, rivet, bolt, screw, solder and braze
  • Maintain fabrication equipment and machinery

Sheet Metal Welding and Fabrication

Sheet metal fabrication is the process of forming metal sheets to specific shapes, creating products or building machines and structures. In metal welding and shaping, sheet metal can be bent, cut, shrunk, stretched and fused.

Bending Sheet Metal – the simplest way to bend metal is with form bending. The sheet metal is bent over an edge or shape that is located under the metal. The metal brake is the most common way to make clean, precise bends in metal.

Rolling Form Sheet Metal – similar to bending, where roll forming processes the entire sheet of metal into the right shape, a coil.

Cutting Sheet Metal – to cut sheet metal, fabricators use aviation snips, power shears, throatless shears, angle grinders, or plasma cutters.

  • Aviation snips are a manual way to cut metal
  • Power shears allow the aviation mechanic to cut sheet metal quickly and with less manual effort
  • Throatless shears help cut in straight lines or shapes in sheet metal with no marring of the cut edge
  • Angle grinders use a thin cutting disc to cut through multiple layers of sheet metal
  • Laser cutters use a focused beam of light to cut or engrave the sheet metal
  • Plasma cutters can cut sheet metal quickly with extreme accuracy

Blanking Sheet Metal – the process of punching a hole in the sheet metal, while discarding the leftover sheet material.

Stamping Sheet Metal – the use of progressive dies to press sheet metal into a desired form.

Shrinking Sheet Metal – a shrinker is a lever-operated tool that grasps sheet metal from the top and bottom to force it together tightly. Heat shrinking can be done with a torch and wet rag or compressed air.

Stretching Sheet Metal – the most basic way to stretch metal is with a hammer and dolly. A stretcher can be used by putting the metal between two flat-textured jaws, pulling the metal apart slowly each time the lever is pressed. An English wheel can also be used to stretch sheet metal.

Welding Sheet Metal – uses MIG, TIG and stick. These fuse the metal sheets together by melting them and adding a filler.

Brazing Sheet Metal – melting a filler without actually melting the sheets of metal.

What are the Different Types of Sheet Metal?

Sheet metal comes in many different materials, each with a different type of welding and fabrication process. The different types include steel, aluminum, magnesium, brass, bronze and copper. Different materials are used for different products and uses. Steel will hold up the beams of a building while copper could move the water inside.

Steel – the most common type of sheet metal known for its durability and strength.

Aluminium – lightweight and good for lower temperatures. Mainly used in aerospace and refrigeration.

Magnesium – metal with very low density, good to use when stiffness is needed.

Brass – often used for fittings and components because it is lightweight and corrosion-resistant.

Bronze – has a low melting point.

Copper – malleable, electrically conductive and corrosion-resistant.

Job Outlook for Aviation Maintenance Technicians

According to Boeing’s Current Market Outlook for 2016-2035, Boeing projects that the airline industry will have a need for 679,000 Aviation Maintenance Technicians over the next 20 years. Many current Aviation Maintenance Technicians will be retiring soon, creating a demand for those with the education and skills needed to replace them.

Additionally, Flying magazine stated that in 2015, “About 50,000 mechanics in the United States [were] employed by scheduled airlines and about 37,000 [worked] in general aviation, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The U.S. government also hires mechanics to maintain military aircraft domestically and overseas. Globally, airlines [employed] some 473,000 aircraft mechanics according to the Aeronautical Repair Station Association.”

Sheet metal welding and fabrication are a flexible process and can be used in many different industries to create components and products. Industries like HVAC, aviation, electronics, automotive, construction and the energy sector use sheet metal welding and fabrication. Making a product from sheet metal is often faster than one that manufactures using a cast. Metal is strong and durable, and is a material used in almost every industry.

Final Thoughts

Considering that there is a global need for Aviation Maintenance Technicians, the basic skills of riveting, composite structures, welding and digital avionics will likely be extremely valuable. Learning these skills now could provide an individual with the ability to start a rewarding career with multiple opportunities for growth.

Does sheet metal welding and fabrication interest you? Want to learn about the professional skills needed to work in a rewarding career in the aviation industry? The Aviation Programs from MIAT College of Technology provides the hands-on training, practical experience and career support it takes to pursue a rewarding technical career.

To learn more about Aviation Programs and to explore if MIAT is right for you, fill out the form on this page. Contact us if you are interested in training to become an aviation maintenance technician today.

For important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of the students who attended this program visit the following disclosure links.

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