Metal Fabrication Costs
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How Much Does Metal Fabrication Cost?

Last Updated on February 9, 2024
Written by CPA Alec Pow | Content Reviewed by Certified CFA CFA Alexander Popinker

Metal fabrication involves transforming raw metal materials into final products through different manufacturing processes like cutting, welding, machining, and finishing.

With custom metal fabrication, costs can vary significantly based on the project’s specifications, materials, and other factors. This article provides a detailed overview of the key considerations that impact metal fabrication pricing.

Metal fabrication is very important across industries, with applications in construction, industrial machinery, transportation, infrastructure, and more.

As an engineered process, estimating the costs associated with custom metal fabrication is crucial for effectively budgeting projects.

How Much Does Metal Fabrication Typically Cost?

With many factors influencing pricing, the total cost of metal fabrication can range widely – from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars depending on the materials, order size, complexity, and required processes.

However, here are some typical base price ranges:

  • Steel fabrication – $15 to $150 per hour. Average around $75 per hour.
  • Stainless steel fabrication – $30 to $200 per hour. Average $95 per hour.
  • Aluminum fabrication – $20 to $100 per hour. Average $60 per hour.
  • Copper, brass, bronze fabrication – $40 to $250 per hour. Average $135 per hour.

Simple steel fabrication of basic parts in small quantities generally falls on the lower end of the range. More complex projects with tighter tolerances, exotic alloys, special finishes or treatments, and one-off prototype fabrication will be on the higher end of pricing.

Average Metal Fabrication Costs Per Project

While hourly rates provide a useful baseline, it’s also helpful to understand full project price ranges:

  • Small prototyping & custom welder jobs – Total project cost $500 – $5,000
  • Medium-sized production runs – Total project cost $5,000 – $15,000
  • Large production runs – Total project cost $15,000 – $100,000+

Prototype and one-off custom production costs on average $500 to $5,000 including materials and labor. These represent more complex smaller orders.

Medium-sized production runs of 10 to 100 parts often cost between $5,000 to $15,000 in total.

For large production runs of 100+ pieces, total project costs usually range from $15,000 up to $100,000 or more depending on complexity.

Metal fabrication costs on other websites

Xometry offers a sheet metal fabrication cost calculator and discusses factors that affect fabrication costs.

Prolean Tech discusses the various elements that impact the cost of sheet metal fabrication and provides a method to determine the entire fabrication cost.

Protolabs offers an online sheet metal fabrication service for custom parts and prototypes, with a focus on rapid prototyping.

Material Costs Dictate the Base Price

The raw metal material is the foundation of any fabrication project, so its cost per weight/volume significantly affects overall pricing. Common options include:

  • Steel – Most affordable option starting at $0.25 per pound for low carbon steel. Stainless steel is more expensive at $2-4 per pound.
  • Aluminum – Widely used lightweight option costing $0.70-1.30 per pound on average. Aerospace grade aluminum much higher.
  • Copper, brass, bronze – Used for specialized applications but very expensive at $3-6 per pound.

Material grade (alloy properties), gauge (thickness), and form (sheet, tube, bar) also impact costs. Generally, higher grades and thinner gauges cost more per pound. Talk to your fabricator about the most cost-effective material and gauge for your project needs.

Cost Factors in Metal Fabrication

Beyond just materials, several other variables affect the overall fabrication pricing:

Labor Rates and Complexity Add Costs

Skilled labor is required for the different metal manufacturing processes. Typical shop labor rates range $50-150 per hour. Simpler designs can be faster to fabricate, while complex or intricate projects take more time and labor to complete.

Design Specifications Drive Fabrication Processes

The specified fabrication techniques, tolerances, finishes, and testing requirements dictated by the part design influence costs. More complex parts often need additional machining, grinding, or heat treatment to achieve the design geometries and properties.

Quantity Impacts Pricing and Discounts

For small batch or prototype orders, costs are higher per piece due to fixed setup charges. Bulk production orders of 50-100+ pieces can qualify for volume discounts of 20% or more.

You might also like our articles about the cost of steel I beam, steel buildings, and standing seam metal roofing.

Labor and Machining Add Processing Costs

Cutting, welding, grinding, drilling, bending, and machining are common but necessary steps in fabrication. Here are typical shop rates:

  • Welding – $80-150 per hour
  • Laser/Waterjet Cutting – $100-200 per hour
  • CNC Machining – $70-125 per hour
  • Metal Finishing (media blasting, polishing) – $55-80 per hour

More complex parts often require additional processes like machining or heat treating, which increase per-piece costs.

Finishing and Other Additional Processes

Sheet Metal FabricationMost fabricated metal parts undergo additional finishing or secondary processing:

  • Painting/Powder Coating – $35-100 per hour
  • Anodizing – $2-8 per square foot
  • Galvanizing – $0.50-2.00 per square foot
  • Plating (chroming, nickel, etc) – $1.50-4.50 per square foot

These processes improve aesthetics, protection, or performance but add costs. Discuss optional finishes with your fabricator to balance function and budget.

Quantity and Bulk Production Offer Discounts

As outlined earlier, order quantity significantly impacts overall project pricing:

  • Prototypes (1-5 pieces) – Higher per-piece cost, around $125-250 per hour including setup costs. Total $500-$3000+.
  • Low volume (10-49 pieces) – Lower per-piece cost, around $70-150 per hour. Total $700-$5000.
  • Bulk orders (50-100+ pieces) – Volume discounts around 20% off. Per-piece cost as low as $50/hour. Total $2500-$9000+.

Higher quantities allow costs to be distributed across more parts, lowering the per-unit fabrication pricing.

Turnaround Time and Urgency Increase Costs

Standard turnaround for small fabrication orders is typically 2-4 weeks. But urgent projects requiring faster completion will incur rush fees of 15% or more for expedited order processing and production.

Well-planned projects with flexible timelines can avoid rush charges. Discuss timings upfront with your fabricator.

Tips for Estimating Your Metal Fabrication Project Costs

When budgeting for your next fabrication job, keep these tips in mind:

  • Get detailed material quotes – The material type and grade make up the bulk of fabrication costs.
  • Request labor rate estimates – Have the fabricator estimate production times and labor costs for your specific project.
  • Define all specifications – Clearly outline all design geometries, tolerances, finishes, and testing needs.
  • Understand that increased complexity and urgency increase prices.
  • Leverage bulk order discounts when possible.
  • Leave breathing room in your budget for potential overages or changes.

Conclusion

In metal fabrication, materials, labor, complexity, order size, and timelines all significantly impact pricing. Defining your specifications upfront and understanding a fabricator’s rates for materials, processes, and work time will help produce an accurate project estimate.

Planning projects with adequate lead times and ordering in bulk when practical can help control metal fabrication costs. With a detailed budget that accounts for all potential expenses, you can confidently execute custom metal fabrication projects of any scope and scale.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you calculate sheet metal fabrication cost?

The cost of sheet metal fabrication depends on the material (gauge and grade of steel/aluminum), order quantity, part size, complexity of bends and forms, any secondary machining or finishing, and labor rates.

As a rule of thumb, estimate at least $75-125 per hour for simple sheet metal fabrication, but costs can be higher for complex or low volume parts. Always request a detailed quote from the fabricator.

How do you estimate a fabrication job?

First, provide the fabricator with full specifications – blueprints, material type, tolerances, finishes, and testing needs. Ask for current material prices and labor rates. Have them estimate production times and advise if secondary processing like machining or heat treating is required.

Request a written quote outlining the total project cost including labor and materials. Leave a 10-20% buffer in your budget for potential overages.

What is the profit margin for steel fabrication?

For small custom steel fabrication shops, a typical healthy profit margin is around 15-25% on labor. However, profit margins can vary widely based on the shop’s overhead costs, order size, and project pricing model.

Larger orders with discounted pricing may have narrower margins around 10%. Shops may also mark up raw material costs from 5-20% over supplier prices to account for handling and delivery.

Alec Pow
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