Machining Equipment vs. Fabricating Machinery: What’s The Difference?

Young man working on machining equipment.

Machining Equipment vs. Fabricating Machinery: What’s The Difference?

So what’s the difference between machining equipment and fabricating machinery? Contrary to what many people believe, these two terms are not interchangeable and actually mean very different things. And using the aforementioned terms inappropriately can often lead to confusion, lapses in communication and, perhaps even ultimately, errors in process.

We’ve got you covered in this blog post, as we take a look at the key factors that separate machining from fabrication and vice-versa. Here’s a closer look as we go back to basics when it comes to machining equipment and fabricating machinery:

Fabrication 101: What You Need to Know

Fabrication is loosely defined as the act of building or making something without assembling all of the various components. So, for example, when you say you’re fabricating something, the correct use of the term refers to the act of welding it, grinding it, tempering it or even machining it so that it can be assembled or integrated into its end product.

Essentially, when someone refers to the practice of fabrication, they could be referring to several tasks involved in manufacturing.

Machining 101: What You Need to Know

A subset of fabrication, machining is often used to refer to the act of removing material from a workpiece. As we noted, machining is a subset of fabrication. So while fabrication may consist of a variety of different acts (i.e., welding, tempering, grinding, etc.), machining is usually just considered the act of removing material from some sort of workpiece. There are various pieces of equipment that can accomplish this.

Essentially, while machining is an example of fabrication, fabrication isn’t related in this way to machining.

Machining Equipment vs. Fabricating Machinery

Any good machine shop has a wide range of machining equipment and fabricating machinery at its disposal to meet the needs of its clientele. Remember what we said in the above section. Machining equipment would also qualify as types of fabricating machinery, however, fabricating machinery isn’t a type of machining equipment. Noting that, let’s take a look at some of the most common pieces of machinery that are often found in machine shops or production environments:

  • CNC machines: CNC, or computer numerical control, machines are perhaps the best example of machining equipment that you’ll find on the shop floor of just about every machine shop or production facility. CNC machines come in a wide variety of different types — from vertical machining centers to horizontal machining centers to lathes — but they’re all designed to do the same thing: cut away metal from a workpiece, usually using a spindle. CNC machines often drill engine blocks and also create parts for products in aerospace, medical, petrochemical, and the defense industries. While they’re perhaps best associated with cutting away metal, they may also work with wood and plastic as well. They can cut with lasers, waterjets, plasmas and more. 
  • Waterjet cutters: This piece of fabricating machinery would also qualify as a piece of machining equipment, as its role is to cut away material from a workpiece. Waterjets are fast working, cost-effective, and work by using a highly-pressured stream of water to cut through materials such as stainless steel, aluminum, titanium, plastics, copper, brass, glass and more. Another nice thing about waterjet cutters is that they’re very accurate, so much so that there’s less of a need for secondary machining in many cases.
  • Press brakes: Often found in machine shops working with sheet metal, this type of fabricating machinery is best served for the task of bending metal. They’re simple to use — just put the metal substrate into the machine’s bed and ram it to bend the metal to whichever angle you choose — and incredibly long-lasting and durable to boot. In fact, in today’s modern machine shop, it’s not unusual to find press brakes that have been in operation for the better part of 50 years. There are four main types of press brakes — mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic and servo-electric — and depending on the needs of a machine shop, several types may be found on the shop floor.
  • Laser cutting machinery: Another piece of fabricating machinery that may also qualify as machining equipment based on the definition that we laid out in this piece, laser cutters are great for performing more than just cutting, but welding, etching, and even surface treatment. They’re ideal in machine shops that regularly produce complex parts, as they perform very accurately. In fact, many products that you’ll find in the automotive, aerospace and medical industries contain parts that were made by laser systems. 
  • Shears: A type of fabricating machinery, shears are designed to cut — but not necessarily cut away — metal. Instead, they cut down metal and may be found in shops that cut away wood and plastic as well in some cases. 
  • Welders: Another common type of fabricating equipment, welders help perform the welding function across a range of applications. It’s another staple on the floor of just about all machine shops in operation. 

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