by Jenny Knodell, IQS Editor
Wire forms are pretty useful. They include every product made from wire, which are thin, long, usually round pieces of metal that are bent and formed into an impressive variety of products—anything from fishing equipment to a microscopic spring to the dish rack by your kitchen sink. While they aren’t exactly renowned for being air or water tight, wire products are lightweight, have excellent air flow, greatly improve accessibility and are inexpensive and easy to fabricate. Humans have been making wire products for hundreds of years, first for jewelry parts, then for products like wire racks, cages, baskets and fencing. Today, wire is fabricated into bulk spools and then shaped and formed by many different processes and machinery. Wire products are usually made in high volumes by automated, CNC operated machines that can produce mass quantities of the same item with an astonishing rate of efficiency.
Photo courtesy of Merril Manufacturing Corporation.
While many different products are made from wire forming, both large and small, and simple or complex in design, the fabrication process for all wire forming methods can be broken down into a series of steps, which transform a plain piece of wire into useful and common everyday products. After the product’s design has been established, the first step to wire forming is selecting the appropriate type of wire. Specifications include the shape, size and type of metal/alloy. The wire is then extruded and comes in coil form. It most likely will require straightening of some kind. Next, the wire is cut and bent or formed with some sort of automated machinery that uses heat and force. They may be wound around mandrels to form springs, roll formed with die punches and calendars, or stamped in a press.
Photo courtesy of HEB Manufacturing Company, Inc.
These processes all form wire parts, which almost always require assembly. They are then put together with the use of fasteners (screws and bolts) or welding. Wire welding is the most popular choice for fabricating baskets and fences. The separate wires are placed in a grid-like form and then heated at their perpendicular cross points, which causes the metal of both wires to melt together and form a tight, lasting bond. After the finished product has been fully assembled, most require one or two finishing processes before they can be shipped. To add color, protection and texture, many wire fabrications are hot dipped in molten plastic or rubber to form a coating. Kitchen dish racks and many fences are often coated this way, which prevents rusting when exposure to water is common. The wire products can also be galvanized, polished or put through passivation.
Photo courtesy of Northern Wire Products.
The wire forming process has changed a lot since the first techniques were developed in late 17th century Great Britain. Its evolution has transformed from a metal smith producing pieces of wire individual by hand to CNC machinery producing thousands of complex wire products per hour, or even minute. Today, light bulb filaments, musical instruments, clock parts and microscopic electronic components are made of wire. The process hasn’t stopped evolving, either. Every year, advances in technology allow manufacturers to produce smaller parts and more complex wire designs.