Want Your Metal Fab Project to Survive in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin winter is over, and we’ve entered the phase where Wisconsinites say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait an hour!”

Now is as good a time as any to talk about metal fab projects you may have in mind this year, which will cope with our beautiful weather.

Wisconsin is a state that experiences extreme weather all year round. Summers are hot and humid, and winters are cold and snowy—extremes that take a toll on metal components, leading to corrosion, brittleness, and metal fatigue.

For metal fabrication companies, ensuring the durability of components in such conditions is crucial to meet customer demands and maintaining their reputation.

That’s where hot and cold strategies come into play. These strategies involve a combination of material selection, design, and manufacturing processes to ensure that components can withstand extreme temperatures and severe weather conditions.

In this article, we’ll delve into the key strategies that Wisconsin metal fabrication companies can employ to ensure component durability in hot and cold weather conditions.  

Wisconsin’s Weather: Summer to Dark Winter

Wisconsin as it appears on planet earth.

The state’s location in the American Midwest and its proximity to the Great Lakes influence the climate, causing lake-effect snowstorms in the winter months.

Because of our location – in the north-central part of the United States – we live in a humid continental climate. This type of climate gives us four seasons: warm summers, cold winters, fall, and spring.

  • Summer temperatures average around 70 ºF to 80 ºF, while winter temperatures fall below freezing with an average snowfall of around 45 inches.
  • Spring and fall seasons are mild and pleasant but also unpredictable, with frequent temperature fluctuations and occasional severe weather.

If you venture outside during the year, you already know this, right?

These weather conditions take a toll on metal components, especially those used outdoors—not to mention us hardy Cheeseheads!

Extreme heat causes metal components to expand, leading to metal fatigue and deformation.

On the other hand, extreme cold causes metal components to contract and become brittle, leading to cracking and failure. In addition to these temperature extremes,

If the temperature swings aren’t enough, Wisconsin also experiences high moisture and precipitation levels, leading to corrosion.

Impact of Weather Extremes on Metal

The Eiffel Tower expands several centimeters and leans away from the sun during hot summer days.

The Eiffel Tower Expands a Few Centimeters Higher During Hot Summer Days!

How much do extreme heat and humidity affect metal? Look at the Eiffel Tower! The Eiffel Tower expands a few centimeters higher and slightly tilts away from the sun during Paris’s warm summers!

The weather extremes in Wisconsin significantly impact metal components’ performance and durability. Although we don’t have a famous tower, our metal components still feel the heat.

Extreme heat causes metal components to overheat, leading to metal fatigue and deformation. Overheating also leads to the loss of strength and hardness in certain metal alloys, compromising the structural integrity of components.

  • Extreme cold also has a significant impact on metal components.
  • Cold temperatures cause metal components to contract, leading to cracking and failure.
  • In addition, cold temperatures also make metal components brittle, making them more susceptible to damage from impacts and loads.
  • High moisture levels and precipitation also lead to corrosion and rust, weakening metal components and reducing lifespan.

Corrosion occurs when metal components come into contact with moisture and oxygen, forming rust and other forms of oxidation.

Hot Weather Strategies

Consider this, how many of us remember getting inside cars while dealing with a humid, searing August heat? Then, a few later, gripping broken pieces of plastic on something well-built, but for warmer climates, not for our frigid winters.

Wisconsin metal fab shops have plenty of options to use when combating our state’s weather. Combating the weather extremes uses the same strategies; the differences are polar opposites (pun intended). 

The Right Substrate

Hot Weather: choose materials that withstand high temperatures and thermal conductivity. Copper and aluminum work well in hot environments.

Cold Weather: choose materials that withstand cold temperatures and have high impact resistance. Steel and titanium work well in hot environments.

The Right Design

Hot Weather: designing components with proper ventilation and cooling systems helps prevent overheating and metal fatigue, and allowing heat to quickly and efficiently dissipate helps prevent fatigue. Adding fins, ridges, and other features increase surface area, promoting heat transfer. 

Cold Weather: designing components with proper insulation and protection systems helps prevent brittleness and cracking by reducing the heat transfer rate while maintaining a consistent temperature. Adding coatings, wraps, and other features provides insulation and protection from the cold.

The Right Process

Hot Weather: heat treatment processes, such as tempering and quenching, improves the strength of metal components, increasing resistance to deformation and fatigue.

Cold Weather: heat treatment processes, such as annealing and normalization, improves the toughness and ductility of metal components, making them more resistant to cracking and failure.

How Well Do E-Coat and Powder Coat Work in Weather Extremes?

E-coat and powder coat are two popular coating methods used in metal fabrication to protect against corrosion and rust.

Swing set covered in snow during winter.

A trip to a curing oven follows each application.

Both e-coat and powder coats protect against corrosion and rust, making them ideal for use in Wisconsin’s weather extremes.

However, the effectiveness of these coatings depends on several factors, such as the quality of the coating, the thickness of the coating, and the type of metal being coated.

Maintenance and Inspection

Regular maintenance and inspection are crucial for ensuring the durability of metal components in extreme weather conditions. 

Each component needs inspection for corrosion, rust, deformation, and cracking, with issues immediately addressed, preventing further damage and failure.

Maintenance includes:

  • Cleaning: Regular cleaning removes dirt, debris, and moisture contributing to corrosion and rust.
  • Lubrication: Proper lubrication reduces friction and wear, improving the lifespan of components.
  • Coating: Additional coatings provide more protection against corrosion and rust, especially in Wisconsin’s harsh environments.

Successful Metal Fabrication in Wisconsin’s Weather

There are many examples of successful metal fabrication in Wisconsin’s weather extremes. One such example is the construction of the American Family Field in Milwaukee. The stadium features a retractable roof that can be opened or closed depending on the weather conditions. The roof is made of steel and is coated with a special polymer that protects against corrosion and rust.

Another example is the production of snowplows and salt spreaders by metal fabrication companies in Wisconsin. These components are designed to withstand extreme cold and high moisture levels, making them ideal for winter weather. They are made of high-impact resistance materials and can withstand low temperatures like steel and titanium.

In Sum

My middle daughter, Alyssa, played trombone for the Mosinee High School marching band. Several years ago, organizers for the Music City Bowl in Nashville selected the band to play during the football game’s halftime show.

There were six schools in all, except for Mosinee, the furthest north of any school was central Ohio.

What stands out for me was when my daughter was walking around Nashville in late December, wearing short sleeves, while the locals were bundled up. 

To this day, she proudly recounts showing those locals the noontime temperatures for Mosinee that day, a Polar Vortex-induced -25 ºF. When asked how she could live in such conditions, with a straight face, yet jokingly, she answered, “…we don’t live in Wisconsin. We survive!” 

She said the looks on their faces were priceless!

Other than proudly writing about my daughter, why do I bring this up? It illustrates how cold it gets here in central Wisconsin.

Wisconsin metal fabrication companies have many ways of dealing with our weather, combining proper material selection, design, and fabrication processes that withstand extreme temperature and weather variations.

By prioritizing durability in metal fabrication, companies meet customer demands and maintain their reputation.

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