A short history of sheet metal and metal processiong

The history of sheet metal and metal processing began more than 80,000 years ago. According to archaeological findings, the first man-made sheets were made of gold, which occurs naturally in pure form. They were still very small and were used to make simple pieces of jewelry. In the course of time, other metals such as copper and silver were added. In addition, the possibility of changing material properties with the help of alloying elements was discovered.

Iron has been used for more than 6,000 years. At 32 percent, this element makes up about one third of the earth's total mass. However, iron hardly ever occurs in its pure form. Therefore, our ancestors first processed iron meteorites, which consist mainly of iron and nickel. Due to the rarity of these solids of cosmic origin, the price of iron was sometimes up to 100 times higher than that of silver. This only changed when it became possible to extract iron from iron ore by smelting.


Initially, the ore was smelted directly at the site in bloomeries. These consisted of clay and iron and reached temperatures of up to 1,300 °C. However, this was not sufficient to obtain pure iron. Unwanted elements were therefore removed from the material by heating and hammering (forging). Wrought iron was very pure and contained hardly any carbon (<0.08 %). Therefore, it could not be hardened by heat treatments. The first wrought iron was created around 1,500 BC with the help of so-called low furnaces. The blast furnace was invented in China about 1,000 years later.

In the Roman Empire, metalworking played a major role in the military as well as in crafts, agriculture and construction. Precious metals and copper were used in Roman coinage. Precise medical instruments were also made of metal at that time, for example, forceps for pulling teeth or star needles for the treatment of cataracts. Iron and bronze were the most important raw materials for the military. The former was used to make swords, for example, while the latter was used to make helmets, breastplates, and greaves.

At a time when the first farmers were just settling in Central Europe and were firing clay pots, craftsmen in ancient Egypt were already joining jewelry made of gold and copper by spot heating. Soldering is considered the first method for thermally joining two metal parts. As early as around 2700 B.C., the Egyptians joined copper pipes for the urban water supply with the aid of fire welding. This technology can also be found on agricultural equipment, art objects, and weapons over a period of several thousand years.

Ancient blast furnace

Sheet metal

Sheet metal processing came into use in Europe from the High and Late Middle Ages. Iron sheets were used mainly for making knights armor. Rolling metal was still unknown at that time. Instead, the sheets were worked with hammers until they had the desired thickness.

Since the work of iron extraction up to the present product was very laborious and time-consuming, sheet iron was a sought-after and expensive commodity. In addition, sheet metal working required a high degree of practice and experience, since the starting materials were processed exclusively by hand with the help of the simplest tools. It was not until large hammers driven by water power made their way into metal processing that significant improvements were noticeable. Nevertheless, the manufacturing process could still take several days, depending on the size of the sheet.

During the Industrial Revolution, which began in England in about 1780 and spread to other European countries in the 19th century, the first metalworking machines were developed. These machines made it possible to roll metals to produce sheet metal. This significantly shortened the production time, while at the same time lowering the price. As the quality of the sheets also improved in terms of their flatness and thickness, new fields of application were quickly found in a wide variety of sectors.

Today, there are a large number of methods available for processing metals or sheet metal that are suitable for a wide variety of metals, material thicknesses and formats. In many fields of application, the former manual work has now been replaced by automation solutions.

Blacksmith in the old days