structural steel fabricator

10 Questions to Ask a Structural Steel Fabricator

09.30.2020

When starting a new commercial or residential project, you will want the right structural steel fabricator behind you. While there are different types of fabrication materials, structural steel frequently comes out on top when it comes to strength, ductility, and durability. But, it’s not just about the material; for project success–especially when it comes to complicated projects with multiple stakeholders and tight deadlines–the fabricator you choose matters. With inexperienced fabricators, small glitches can snowball into more significant issues. Here are ten things to look for in a structural steel fabricator.

1. How Experienced is the Structural Steel Fabricator?

When you’re looking for a structural steel fabricator, experience matters, and the first thing you’ll want to check is their current and past projects. You want practical, hands-on experience, and to guarantee it, you’ll want to see examples of their work. Can they point you towards similar projects?

You will also want to vet everyone involved in those projects. You’ll want to see:

  • Engineers – are they good at translating shop drawings into viable projects? Can they show you examples?
  • Tradespeople – are they certified in their field and dedicated to what they do? Can you see examples of past work?
  • Project Managers – do they understand the process in-and-out? Can they show you how they’ve broken down past projects?

structural steel fabricator

Vetting structural steel fabricators is a two-part process that includes understanding what they’ve done and who you’ll be working with.

2. What is Their Process?

It is essential for complex architectural metal fabrication and industrial metalwork projects that structural elements arrive at just the right time, demanding close collaboration from detailers, erectors, and fabricators. How does the structural steel fabricator break their process down? For complex projects, you’ll want to see a detailed breakdown that covers costs along the way. You can ask:

  • Is the process extensive and realistic?
  • Does it take into account and add buffers for approvals you’ll need?
  • Does it include necessary permits that the fabricator is responsible for?
  • Does it include visits to the work site to assess the specifics of delivery and installation?
  • Does it account for all safety checks and precautions?
  • Does it allocate time for communication with each of the different stakeholders?

If the structural steel fabricator brushes over any questions or requests for higher specificity and accuracy, you’ll want to look elsewhere.

3. How Well Will the Structural Steel Fabricator Communicate With You?

How does the steel fabricator plan to communicate each step with you and other stakeholders throughout the project? For challenging projects, small failures of communication can snowball into big issues. Ask the steel fabricator:

  • Who will I be speaking with for the duration of the project?
  • What’s the best way to be in touch?
  • If I can’t reach you, from who and when will I hear back?
  • How will I be alerted to milestone achievements or issues?

You’re looking for easy, transparent communication with a fast turnaround. If the structural steel fabricator doesn’t have an established process for communicating with customers that meets all three needs, you should look elsewhere.

4. What Certifications Do They Have?

What certifications does the structural steel fabricator you’re considering have?

  • AISC – AISC issues the most widely recognized standard for quality in the structural steel industry. AISC demands a rigorous evaluation that includes an administrative review, documentation audit, and on-site audit.
  • CWI – Are welders Certified Welding Inspectors? CWI is issued by the American Welding Society (AWS) and helps to validate that welders show the highest level of quality workmanship.
  • Local certifications: steel fabricators are typically approved to work in various counties and cities. Make sure that the steel fabricator you’re considering is approved to work onsite.

5. Does The Structural Steel Fabricator Specialize?

In structural steel fabrication, it’s not about general experience, it’s about project-specific experience. Does the structural steel fabricator you’re considering specialize, or are they big enough that they’ve successfully completed different types of projects? If not, they may stumble over the project, leading to setbacks and financial pitfalls.

Structural steel projects can be so large and multi-faceted, that they require an attention to detail that only an experienced fabricator can give. It’s important to find a company that can handle the grade, type, and gauge of metal needed for your project, any additional fabrication required, as well as any coordination and communication required.

6. Will They Use a Sub-Contractor?

It should go without saying that any structural steel fabricator you take on for your project has the capabilities to do it, but many may subcontract part of the project out. This doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker as long as you make sure that the company you choose can handle the project from start to finish. If they are sub-contracting work out, do a background check of the sub-contractor as well. Whoever is working on your project should have the equipment, skilled staff, materials, and production capacity to complete your project on time and within budget – whether or not you’ll be working directly with them.

7. What is Their Capacity?

Does the structural steel fabricator have the capacity to meet your needs? One recurring issue of smaller steel fabricators is their inability to meet the high supply-demand of their clients. If you have a massive project, you’ll need a minimum workforce and allocation of facility tools and equipment. A company may employ 30 employees, but only a fraction of them may be qualified to provide the services you need; similarly, a company may have the right equipment, but they may have concurrent demands from other clients. Ensure that the structural steel fabricator you’re considering has enough specialists and equipment to meet your needs for the duration of your project.

8. What Tools And Equipment Does The Structural Steel Fabricator Have?

Speaking of tools and equipment, does your structural steel fabricator have the right ones for your project? Ask the fabricators to give a tour of their facility and workshop so you can see firsthand their tools and equipment. For tough fabrication jobs that require accuracy and expertise, you will most certainly need advanced tools and equipment. A tour is also another opportunity to make sure you have a rapport with your fabrication partners.

9. How Highly Do They Value Customer Service?

Do you feel like you’re at the center of the steel fabricator’s attention and that they’re committed to your satisfaction? No matter the fabricator’s size, look for guiding principles that include customer service at the heart of their organization. For this, you can assess your treatment during the vetting phase and validate your impressions by checking with references – great steel fabricators won’t hesitate to send a few references your way.

10. How Seriously Do They Take Safety?

Finally, does your steel fabricator take safety seriously? Ask the fabricator:

  • Do they meet the latest OSHA requirements for design and construction?
  • What is their safety record?
  • Do they have a comprehensive safety program that protects their employees?
  • When is the last time OSHA inspected them?

It is also possible to look at recent OSHA citations in the metal fabrication industry to better understand how fabricators are focusing their compliance efforts.

The Bottom Line When It Comes to Structural Steel Fabricators

Not all structural steel fabricators are created equal, so do your research when choosing a fabrication company. Large or small, contractor or subcontractor, there’s a lot to consider! Use these 10 considerations to help you choose the best fabricator for current and future projects.

Natalie Spira
Natalie Spira is Kloeckner's Marketing Communications Manager. Previously, she was the CEO and Founder of Fraction Marketing, a marketing agency catering to ecommerce startups. Natalie holds a MBA from Tel Aviv University with concentrations in entrepreneurship and marketing and a BA in English from UCLA.

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