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9 Important Types of Fabrication Materials

Category: Blog, Materials

types of fabrication materials

When you set out to fabricate a new product, one of the first steps is to figure out what types of fabrication materials to use. However, this is often more complicated than it sounds. For one thing, there are many different types of materials on the market, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. No material can do it all. You also have to think about your budget, timeline, capabilities, and assembly process, among many other factors.

For this reason, it’s important to choose materials carefully based on your product and process. This guideline to the nine most important types of fabrication materials will help you narrow your options down and get your product off the drawing board and onto the market.

What Qualities Should You Look for in a Fabrication Material?

Fabricating a part or product means making it from scratch using raw or semi-finished materials. This can really be anything, from copper or pine wood to complex composite structures or high-temperature epoxy laminate. You can even fabricate multiple parts from different materials and assemble them at a later stage in the manufacturing process.

There’s no inherent difference in quality between raw vs. semi-finished materials. In fact, the quality of any fabrication material is entirely relative. It depends on:

All of these factors are unique to your product and process. As such, it’s impossible to recommend any one type of fabrication material that works for every project. This is what makes choosing a fabrication material so challenging, especially for startup companies or entrepreneurs who haven’t gone through this process before. Fabrication materials lists can be really overwhelming unless you know exactly what you’re looking for.

If you work with an experienced, full-service product fabrication company, this process is less daunting. A team of engineers can help you find the most appropriate materials for your needs based on their invaluable experience working with each material. Before you start a conversation with a product fabrication expert, however, it’s useful to know which types of fabrication materials are out there and what their potential advantages and disadvantages are.

Fabrication material options

What Types of Fabrication Materials Should You Use?                                                                                                                                                             

Whether you already have a rough prototype or you just have an idea for a new product, you can start thinking about the types of fabrication materials you want to use right now. At this stage, your decision isn’t necessarily final. You can and should explore different types of fabrication materials with an open mind in order to find the most appropriate material for your design.

To get started, take a look at the list of nine important fabrication materials below. This list is not comprehensive, but it is a solid jumping-off point for product designers who want to take the next step and get their ideas on the market.

Material

Common Uses

Pros

Cons

Carbon and Glass Fibers
  • Reinforcement
  • Insulation
  • Composite structures
  • Very strong
  • Cost-effective tooling
  • High dimensional stability
  • The fabrication has to be precise to avoid serious errors
  • Raw materials can cost more
Gelcoat/Urethane Foam
  • Can be cut into shapes or formed into molds
  • Bumpers
  • Pads
  • Die forming
  • Seals
  • Flexible
  • Durable
  • Versatile
  • Can leave a rough finish
High-Temperature Epoxy Laminate
  • Bonding fixtures
  • High-temperature tooling
  • Durable
  • Good for lightweight applications
  • Performs well in high or low temperatures
  • Once the material is bonded, it can’t be removed or changed easily
Mass Cast Epoxy
  • Electrical encapsulation
  • Hard tooling
  • Versatile
  • Holds detail
  • Durable
  • The product can’t be too thick or too thin
  • Can shrink after curing
Metals
  • Locks
  • Handles
  • Hinges
  • Latches
  • Pipes
  • Structural parts
  • Durable
  • Clean finish
  • Precise and accurate (good for tight tolerances)
  • Sometimes requires more labor
  • Produces scrap metal waste
Silicones
  • Molds
  • Weather seals
  • High-temperature hoses
  • O-rings
  • Dust covers
  • Versatile
  • Multiple hardness levels
  • Waterproof
  • Holds its shape under many conditions
  • Hot and cold-resistant
  • Can expand when exposed to high temperatures
  • Soft elastomers can leave a tacky finish
Thermoplastics
  • Storage tanks
  • Pipes
  • Insulating parts
  • Electronics
  • Structural components
  • Recyclable and able to be melted down and reused multiple times
  • Versatile
  • Fast fabrication
  • Cost-effective
  • Versatile
  • Can melt in high temperatures
Urethane Resins
  • Dies
  • Support shells
  • Patterns
  • Seals
  • Durable
  • Versatile (can be soft or hard)
  • Can leave a rough finish
Wood
  • Structural components
  • Exterior finishes
  • Handles
  • Dowels
  • Can be precise and accurate
  • Cost-effective
  • High-quality finish
  • Sometimes requires more labor
  • Poorer dimensional stability compared to more rigid materials

You don’t have to use one of these materials, but these are some of the most common ones used in fabrication. These types of fabrication materials can create a wide range of diverse products for multiple industries, which is why so many fabrication companies rely on them

It’s also useful to consider these nine materials because they can help you refine your final design. Using rapid prototyping, you can create multiple prototypes from different materials on this list in a very short amount of time. This makes the selection process much easier and more reliable—you can thoroughly test the quality of each prototype material and, based on these tests, make adjustments to the design or choose a different material.

This saves you from wasting time and money fabricating parts using materials that are less than ideal for your product. In this way, partnering with a fabrication company that offers a wide range of materials and that is willing to work closely with you to find the right material can be a major benefit.

Types of fabrication materials

How to Select the Right Materials

If you want to use the best types of fabrication materials in your product, you should start a conversation with a fabrication company as early in the product development process as possible. Considering your material options now can help you refine your product design, identify potential challenges, and streamline the fabrication phase. It’s a bit like having a roadmap planned out before a trip. If you know where you’re headed and which possible routes you can take to get there, you’ll reach your destination on time, perhaps even with time to spare.

Another important tip for finding the best types of fabrication materials is to choose the fabrication company carefully. You should work with a company that has:

  • An experienced team of engineers who are willing to collaborate with you and answer your questions
  • Diverse capabilities, including advanced design, prototyping, tooling, CNC machining, and fabrication systems
  • Access to the highest quality materials
  • A diverse portfolio of fabrication projects
  • Custom solutions based on your unique product and goals

To successfully fabricate a product, you need a knowledgeable team in your corner. A full-service product fabrication company will help you every step of the way by providing you with a full range of tools, top quality materials, and—perhaps most importantly—sound advice.

Pacific Research Laboratories uses the highest quality fabrication materials available. We help our clients select the best possible materials for their products and thoroughly test them before the fabrication process begins. If you’re ready to fabricate your product, visit our contact page or call (206) 408-7603.