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Jordans Introduction to

Sheet Metal
by Jordan Tadic
Why Sheet Metal?
Manufacturing
Rules
Modeling Methods
Sheet Metal Features (Base Flange) *
Thin Geometry (Insert Bends) *
Solid Geometry (Convert to Sheet Metal) *
Sheet Metal Parameters
Bend Allowance
K-Factor
Bend Calculation
Bend Deduction
Gauge/Bend Tables
Table Formatting
Property Manager
Modeling with Sheet Metal Features
Base Flange *
Sheet Metal Feature *
Property Hierarchy
Edge Flange *
Alignment Options
Relief Cuts
Miter Flange *
Hem *
Swept Flange *
Inaccurate Flat Patterns
Forming Tool *
Sketched Bend *
Unfold * & Fold *
Thin Geometry
Rip * & Insert Bends *
Solid Geometry
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Convert to Sheet Metal *

Why Sheet Metal?


What makes sheet metal parts so unique?

Manufacturing
Sheet metal parts are designed in SolidWorks with the ability to generate a flat pattern. This functionality
allows fabricators to fully understand/plan their two primary manufacturing processes:
Cut - Whether it be on a plasma, water, or laser cutter, the process starts by cutting the profile of the
flat pattern from a sheet of metal.
Bend - That flat pattern is then bent using simple machines such as a press brakes or punches and
dies.

Rules
SolidWorks is only capable of calculating the flat pattern of sheet metal parts containing simple bends. Sheet
metal forming techniques such as coining, drawing, and other formed features require a third party FEA
package to calculate the flattened blank while considering the stretching and compression of the material
caused by these processes. To stay within SolidWorks flattening capabilities, you must follow these rules:
1. Sheet metal parts must have a uniform thickness

2. All bends1 must be cylindrical or conical2 (i.e. anything that can be accomplished with a press brake)

With the exception of circular edge flanges, hems, and some swept flanges (see Inaccurate Flat Patterns)

Also with the exception of Formed Features, which do not get flattened in the Flat Pattern

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Modeling Methods
There are a handful of flexible modeling methods that accommodate a wide variety of design workflows.

Sheet Metal Features (Base Flange)


This approach involves using sheet metal specific tools from the very beginning of the design process (the first
of which is the Base Flange feature). This is typically necessary when the designer of the model is also
concerned with the manufacturability of the final product.

Thin Geometry (Insert Bends)


Because not all designers are initially concerned about the manufacturing process of the products they design,
some resort to utilizing the general solid modeling features theyre most familiar with (extrudes, cuts, etc) to
generate the geometry of their parts. The fabricator is then left with the task of converting this conventional
geometry into a SolidWorks sheet metal part file that can be flattened using the Insert Bends feature.

Solid Geometry (Convert to Sheet Metal)


More complicated geometry can sometimes be very challenging to create with standard sheet metal features.
A relatively new modeling feature Convert to Sheet Metal greatly simplifies the process of generating complex
sheet metal parts that can be flattened within SolidWorks. Even multiple sheet metal parts can be combined to
form the initial solid model.

Sheet Metal Parameters


Whatever modeling method you choose, for the very first sheet metal feature you create, youre going to have
to specify some critical sheet metal parameters for your part.
Thickness
Bend Radius
Bend Allowance
These three parameters become the default parameters for every subsequent sheet metal feature you create
(unless you choose to override these values for the individual feature).
The Thickness value automatically becomes a linked value that allows you to quickly link an Extrude Cuts
depth directly to the thickness of the sheet metal part file.

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Bend Allowance
Though the Thickness and the Bend Radius properties are self explanatory, Bend Allowance can be confusing
to beginners. In its simplest form, Bend Allowance is merely the difference in length of the sheet metal part
between its bent and flattened states. The bend allowance is what SolidWorks references when calculating
the flat pattern. Therefore, your flat pattern is only going to be as accurate as the data you use for your bend
allowance calculation. SolidWorks offers multiple ways of inputting your bend allowances (see table below).

Accuracy Grade:
Recommended For:

K-Factor

Bend Calculation

Bend Deduction

Designers that have no


need for a 100%
accurate flat pattern

Designers that desire an


educated approximation
of a flat pattern

Fabricators that require a


100% accurate flat
pattern based on their
specific bending
machines

K-Factor
K-Factor is the generalized approximation of bend allowance (i.e the most inaccurate). Though its the default
selection for bend allowance in a new SolidWorks part file, it should only be used when an accurate flat pattern
is not needed. Nevertheless, understanding how K-Factors are derived can help to understand the physics of
bending sheet metal.
Taking a look at the cross section of a simple 90 bend (see below), its obvious that a portion of the cross
section will undergo compression (red) while the other portion undergoes stretching (blue). The theoretical
sheet that separates the compressed portion from the stretched portion is known as the neutral sheet. The
position of the neutral sheet is determined by the K-Factor - a ratio that relates the position of the neutral sheet
to the thickness of the material.

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When the cross section shown above is flattened, the total length of the inside edges of the red section will be
less than the actual flattened length. Similarly, the total length of the outside edges of the blue section will be
greater than the actual flattened length. However, the total length of the edge that divides the red and blue
portions will be equal to the actual flattened length as shown below.

Bend Calculation
Because K-Factor values are forever changing based on different types of materials, thicknesses, and bend
angles, more accurate approximations are generated when using Bend Calculations. Bend Calculations use
the exact same theory as K-Factor, but the K-Factor is capable of fluctuating based on the bend angle. The
fluctuations are controlled by equations specified in a referenced Excel table3 (see below).

The default Bend Calculation table references the standard DIN 6935.

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Bend Deduction
Designers might be able to get away with approximating the flat pattern calculations with methods such as
K-Factor and Bend Calculations, but when it comes time to manufacture the product, fabricators must have a
100% accurate flat pattern. To accomplish this, they must consider more parameters than just material,
thickness, bend radii, and bend angles; they must also consider the repeatable behavior of their bending
machines. The only way to do so is through the process of physical testing. There are just too many variables
to account for when approximating.
Bend Deduction is the measured using the process below:
1. Measure4 the length of a test piece of sheet metal (LFlat)
2. Bend the sheet metal at a specific radius and angle
3. Measure the length of the first edge flange (A)
4. Measure the length of the second edge flange (B)
5. Use the equation below to calculate the Bend Deduction (BD)
BD = A + B - LFlat

Gauge/Bend Tables
As mentioned earlier, there are three main variables for every sheet metal part. Knowing that the Thickness
and the Bend Radius help to determine the appropriate Bend Allowance, it makes sense to create a table that
relates these values to one another. The benefits of creating a Gauge/Bend Table are plentiful:
Thickness - You can limit your Thickness values to match the thicknesses of the materials you keep in
stock. This will deter designers from using exotic sizes you do not have access to.
Bend Radius - Once you select a thickness, you can limit the available Bend Radii to the specific radii
that your machines are capable of producing at that thickness.
Bend Deduction - This is where all of your Bend Deduction physical testing results can be recorded in
an organized fashion so youll never have to worry about Bend Deduction again!
4

All lengths can be easily measured with calipers

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Table Formatting
SolidWorks provides default table templates for you to copy and modify, but there are certainly some
formatting rules that you want make sure youre always following. When modifying a Gauge/Bend Table, focus
on editing the values, not the format/layout. Also, make sure to follow the rules illustrated below.

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Property Manager
When you reference a Gauge/Bend Table, your PropertyManager guides you to choose from predetermined
values by supplying drop down lists for each of the key parameters rather than having to manually type in each
value into a text box. You can think of a Gauge/Bend Table as a supplementary template for your sheet metal
parts since it helps to automate repetitive setup tasks.

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Modeling with Sheet Metal Features


Modeling with sheet metal features is typical in workflows where an accurate flat pattern is needed. The very
first feature required to start a sheet metal part file from scratch is the Base Flange.

Base Flange
The Base Flange is a sketch-based feature that will produce different results for both open and closed
sketches.

When a closed profile is used, the profile is simply extruded to the distance specified by the Thickness
parameter. When an open profile is used, a similar result to a Thin Extrusion is achieved. The main difference
is that the sharp corners are automatically rounded to the specified Bend Radius parameter. If a radius is

Sheet Metal Feature


As shown on page 9, the Base Flange feature has a pretty extensive PropertyManager. However, once you
edit the Base Flange feature after it has already been created, youll notice the PropertyManager lacks many of
the parameters that were initially present. This is due to the creation of the Sheet Metal Feature. As soon as
the Base Flange feature is created, the Sheet Metal Feature is created as well. All of the global parameters
that apply to the entire part (Thickness, Bend Radius, Bend Allowance, and Auto Relief) are stored in the
Sheet Metal Feature.

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Property Hierarchy
The aforementioned global parameters stored in the Sheet Metal Feature are not always obeyed. This is due
to the hierarchy of properties within a sheet metal part. There are three parameters that can be stored in three
separate levels of hierarchy:
Bend Radius - not every bend has to have the same radius throughout a part
Bend Allowance - not every bend has to have the same bend allowance
Auto Relief - not every bend has to have the same type of relief cut
Looking at the FeatureTree shown below, the properties stored in BaseBend1 will overwrite the properties
stored in Base-Flange1 which will overwrite the global properties stored in the Sheet-Metal1 feature.

Edge Flange
The Edge Flange adds a flange that extends from an existing model edge of your
sheet metal part. By default, the flange extends the entire length of the edge at an
angle of 90. Both of these characteristics can be modified. The angle can be
changed to any angle by modifying the numeric input. The profile of the flange can
be customized via a sketch which then converts the Edge Flange into a
sketch-based feature.

Alignment Options

Material Inside

Material Outside

Bend Outside

Relief Cuts
The Bend Outside alignment option is the only option that does not require a Relief Cut. A Relief is a
clearance cut that is created between a flange and the adjacent material. This cut allows the material to be
bent while leaving the surrounding material undisturbed.
Tear
Rectangular
Obround

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Miter Flange
A Miter Flange is similar to an Edge Flange, but rather than defining the
profile of the flange with a sketch, you must define the cross section of
the flange with an open sketch (similar to an open sketch base flange).
The great benefit of Miter Flanges is that they miter themselves
(leaving a specified gap distances) as they wrap around corners to
avoid interferences in the formed model.

Hem
Hems are simple features used to strengthen the edges of a sheet metal part. Hems are similar to Miter
Flanges, but rather than sketching the profile to wrap around multiple edges of your part, youre able to quickly
specify the profile through a handful of parameters within the PropertyManager.

Swept Flange
Like the Base Flange, you can start a sheet metal part from scratch with a
Swept Bend. Profiles must be open profiles that consist of lines and/or arcs.
Paths may consist of sketches or edges (one or the other - not both). Profile
planes must be perpendicular to the Path.

Inaccurate Flat Patterns


Speaking of Swept Flanges... Beware! Not all SolidWorks flat patterns are completely accurate. There are a
few instances where SolidWorks fudges some calculations and you should be aware of it when its happening.
To compensate for these situations, youll have to use your own judgment of when/where to position any
necessary relief cuts in the Flat Pattern.

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For example, in the image above, there are three features that SolidWorks allows you to create (despite
breaking rule #2 on page 3) and flatten. The flattened pattern for these features cannot be trusted.
Hems around curved edges
Edge Flanges around curved edges
Pretty much every Swept Flange
When comparing a simple Swept Flange to a Miter Flange wrapping around the same square perimeter, it
becomes apparent that the Swept flange could not be manufactured using a press brake while the Miter
Flange could since each of the corners are ripped.

Forming Tool
Besides the few previously mentioned scenarios, Forming Tools are the
sole source of generating unflattenable features within SolidWorks sheet
metal parts. Just like on the shop floor, we must rely on tools (i.e.
separate part files) to perform the forming operations. The Forming Tool
feature is used to convert a regular part file into a Forming Tool part file.
Forming Tools must be saved in your Design Library within a folder
specified as a Forming Tool folder. To designate a directory as a
Forming Tool folder, you can simply right click on the folder within your
Design Library task pane and select the option shown to the right.

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To utilize a Forming Tool, you can simply drag it from your Design Library onto your sheet metal part just like
any other Design Library feature. Shown below are two yellow forming tools and their respective deformations
applied to a piece of sheet metal.

Because Forming Tools cannot be flattened, typically they are simply ignored during the flattening process. To
do so, you must edit the Flat Pattern feature and select the faces of the formed features youd like to ignore. A
great shortcut for this process is right mouse clicking on a face of the formed feature and selecting Select
Tangency. In this unique case, SolidWorks will only select the tangent faces of the formed feature.

Sketched Bend
Sometimes you know what the flat pattern looks like before modeling the formed part. In this type of work flow,
Sketched Bends are a perfect solution. All you need to do is draw a single line in a sketch and then tell the
Sketched Bend feature the value of angular rotation about that bend line. When using Sketched Bends, make
sure to pay attention to the alignment options. I typically use the Bend Outside option to allow me to relate my
sketched bend line directly to the starting location of the bend.

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Unfold

& Fold

You know what they always say, What happens in Las Flatten, stays in Las Flatten. Actually, thats just some
really nerdy SolidWorks humor. What I mean by it, though, is that modeling operations performed in the
flattened state will most likely not propagate back to the formed state. Lets consider a scenario where wed
like to cut a perfectly circular profile through a bend radius. When this is attempted in the formed state, you
get...

Obviously, the cut would have to be performed in the flattened state. So, we flatten the part, sketch a circle,
make an Extrude Cut, unflatten the part, and ? The cut disappeared!? To make sense of this behavior, you
can think of operations performed in the flattened state of a sheet metal part as assembly features created
within an assembly. By default, assembly features do not propagate back to the original part files for the same
reason flattened operations do not propagate back to the formed state. The flattened and unflattened states
are considered two different manufacturing phases. SolidWorks gives you the flexibility to localize specific
operations to specific manufacturing phases. Features added in the flattened state are located below the Flat
Pattern feature in the feature tree. Therefore, they too are suppressed when the Flat Pattern is suppressed.

The answer to this dilemma is the Unfold and Fold features. First Unfold a specific bend(s), make your
Extrude Cut, and then Fold the bend(s) back up.

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Thin Geometry
Sometimes designers resort to the tools that they know best. Wannabe sheet metal parts can be created with
simple features like Extrudes, Extrude Cuts, and Shells. When this approach is taken, critical sheet metal
manufacturing information is completely neglected (bend radii, bend allowance, ripped edges, flat patterns,
etc). The Insert Bends feature provides fabricators with an opportunity to salvage their critical manufacturing
data from these faux sheet metal models.

Rip

& Insert Bends

Starting with thin geometry, you must consider how youd bend a sheet metal part to form the given geometry.
Once the plan of attack is devised, you can start by Ripping any edges that will not be physically connected to
each other. The Insert Bends command can then be used to specify your critical sheet metal parameters as
well as convert the geometry into an official sheet metal part file.

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Solid Geometry
You shouldnt be ashamed to admit that it would be a heck of a lot easier to model solid model than the
finished sheet metal part shown below.

Convert to Sheet Metal


Well, with Convert to Sheet Metal, modeling the sheet metal chute shown above is as easy as modeling the
solid model shown to the left of it. Convert to Sheet Metal is a revolutionary new feature that allows us to
create complex shapes using the standard part modeling features weve grown comfortable with. With just a
couple of mouse clicks, we can convert the shape of the left to the manufacturable sheet metal component on
the right. This tool was introduced in 2009, but has since been refined and can be confidently used for the
most complex sheet metal design challenges.

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