SteelDay 2021: Making connections to drive collaboration in steel construction

Structure

By Michael Gustafson

SteelDay is the American Institute of Steel Construction’s (AISC) annual celebration of the achievements of the structural steel industry. Since 2009, hundreds of events have taken place educating thousands of attendees about the latest innovations in domestically fabricated steel. One of the ambitious goals AISC has set – using 2020 SteelDay as their launching pad – is around the ‘need for speed’ , making way for conversations around the role collaboration tools can play in connecting steel fabricators and AEC professionals, and driving industry growth.

As we celebrate SteelDay 2021, we explore how steel professionals are embracing collaboration to expand their businesses and offer greater value on their projects.

The need for speed

On SteelDay 2020, AISC launched their ambitious “need for speed” initiative. The vision was to increase the speed at which a steel project can be designed, fabricated, and erected by 50% by 2025.  Autodesk also hosted a virtual event, where panelists discussed approaches to this goal and how integrated project delivery (IPD) could help, both in terms of its implementation and to drive collaboration.

The panelists agreed steel fabrication processes are transforming due to a host of external pressures. Building owners are demanding greater transparency into costs; they want a final asset more aligned with the vision they signed off in the design phase. 

Additionally, they face pressure to meet the changing requirements of sustainability goals with building designs now having to factor in their carbon footprint. All of these concerns point to the need for steel fabricators to be involved earlier to speed up the process.  Meanwhile, owners are becoming more educated about the insights possible using digital models and the pathways towards more sustainable construction methods. The underlying trend is for a rethink in project delivery mechanisms driven by that ‘need for speed’ to manage the competing demands of stakeholders.

Collaboration is the key to growth

SteelDay is a beacon for speeding up the type of collaboration that holds the key for steel professionals to meet the demands of all stakeholders and grow their businesses. By deploying the right tools and project delivery methods, data sharing across varied tech stacks can remove barriers — both upstream and downstream. And by delivering faster insights into the cost and availability of materials, it’s far easier to navigate change and manage constructability risks. Let’s walk through three examples for how an engineer, fabricator and detailer are throttling up project delivery by raising the bar in how they collaborate.

Integrated Project Delivery, or IPD, can incentivize all the players to do what’s best for a given project. And structural engineers are in a great position to drive this effort. Michael Vogel, a Project Manager, PE, SE at GRAEF, has seen the benefits. The company’s GRAEF Accelerate delivery model for integrated engineering and steel detailing services has lived up to its name on more than a dozen projects.

“Traditionally, you’d have a structural engineering analytical model, a construction document model, a connection designer, a fabrication model and sometimes the construction manager even builds a clash detection model,” Vogel said.

“But now, when we can deliver one [structural steel] model under one roof, that really produces results, it’s exciting that the entire team can see shared benefits in terms of money saved, on-time schedules and decreased project risk.”

The convergence of technology is making the “one model” vision for engineers even more possible. At Autodesk University this year, attendees will hear from structural engineering firm ELTA Design Group and how it is using Enercalc software on top of Revit to perform both structural calculations and produce design documentation. Removing the need to create duplicate analysis and drawing models will empower engineers to accelerate the design process, allowing more time to create designs that  that are optimized for constructability.

Enhancing productivity with BIM

Lawton Welding, a company that offers diverse steel fabrication services for industrial and institutional clients alongside renovation work, was keen to grow its business. They wanted to expand their miscellaneous steel projects four-fold by scaling capacity with the added goal of making their detailing teams more productive. 

A gradual move from traditional CAD workflows to BIM via Advance Steel has taken several years, but allowed the company to achieve its goal. The ability to scan 3D models has improved the capacity for renovation work as they can now engage earlier in the process with owners, GCs, and design firms.

With the help of Advance Steel, Lawton Welding was able to dramatically reduce rework time on complex projects like the transformation of a church into a unique residential development in Boston. 

On projects like this, it has reduced schedules by at least 50% by modeling in Advance Steel and exporting to Revit to help engineers with their calculations and speed up the process. With further investment in StruMIS, a steel fabrication management information system software that integrates seamlessly with Advance Steel, Lawton Welding has benefited from being able to turn around key elements of projects in days rather than weeks. 

Increased collaboration can lead to complications with fabricators delivering files in varying formats, but Lawton Welding also uses Navisworks review software to combine the models and foster direct communication with GCs. Additionally, the application of BIM allows project managers to follow the status of production and materials in real time. 

Reducing project risk and saving time

Steel Detailing Online helps its fabricator clients reduce elements of project risk caused by volatile material pricing. The company recently saved a fabricator 18% on a steel order by using Advance Steel to generate a more accurate ABM (advance bill of materials), pre-empting the rising costs of materials with timely procurement that mitigates supply chain disruption ensuring faster delivery.

“Advance Steel helps me work out the constructability of a design, and gives me that other set of eyes when I’m re-checking complex spatial geometry,” said Bart Rohal, Founder & President of Steel Detailing Online. 

In addition, the model-based steel detailing capabilities of Advance Steel help Rohal and his clients to compete for and win projects that require BIM. Being BIM-ready — with Navisworks and Design Review — means Rohal can provide his clients and design team with time saving BIM models for project coordination and clash detection.

So what is next for steel fabrication industry? How can they take collaboration to the next level?  A changing landscape for steel project delivery will place steel fabricators at the center of innovation. Three key trends are shaping how fabricators can embrace collaboration to expand their businesses and offer greater value on their projects.

DfMA

Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) is predicted to become more prevalent on construction projects. With decades of experience doing prefabrication as a single trade, steel fabricators can play a pivotal role in this transformation which requires cross trade coordination.  It is already proven as a transformation capable of delivering double digit productivity gains, increased emphasis on client vision, reduced health & safety and environmental impacts, while offering greater support for innovation. McKinsey predicts this type of disruption will create new revenue streams that can benefit steel suppliers.

Supply chain insights

As supply chains are disrupted and digitalization accelerates, technology-enabled collaboration will streamline engineering economics, allowing steel fabricators to offer more value through closer collaboration with design teams. Fabricators, and the detailers and engineers they collaborate with, can reduce project costs and risks if they share insights. For example, as more engineers and fabricators connect their digital models to the cloud, they will be empowered to share insights into steel capacity and demand, all in a secure, anonymous way, that reduces waste along the supply chain and making project delivery faster.

Decarbonization

McKinsey’s recent Seizing the Decarbonization Opportunity in Construction report highlighted that with construction directly or indirectly responsible for almost 40% of global CO₂ emissions from fuel combustion, engineering companies will need to optimize cost and ESG design based on lifecycle costs in a push to reduce embodied carbon, including construction waste. This entails an understanding of costs regarding recycled content, and the energy used to fabricate and install.

Drawing on these three key trends, building owners are rethinking how to build, manage, and operate their assets, often repurposing them to serve different markets. We’re seeing a rise in renovation and retrofitting in a bid to operate more energy efficient buildings. 

Steel fabrication teams, diversified in both new and existing construction methods, will need to be fluent in the latest technologies championed on SteelDay to meet emerging demands at pace as the need for greater collaboration puts them at the heart of the structural engineering process.

SteelDay 2021 coincides with the AISC’s 100th anniversary and a series of virtual and in-person tours, presentations, and webinars taking place in the US that bring together stakeholders across the industry to further accelerate the efficiency of design, fabrication, building, and materials as steel fabricators connect with AEC professionals.

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