Why does it cost so much?

The reality is stark—I have personally faced this question as a steel detailer. The realm of steel detailing is marked by intense competition, with labor costs fluctuating significantly globally. Companies in some regions can withstand the repercussions of redoing work without additional charges more than others. But, be it in India, Australia, Canada, Poland, Wyoming, or New York City, earnings for detailers are directly related to the hours worked and ensuring they align with the initial bid, a common scenario for architects and engineers as well.
This piece is aimed at enlightening fabricators, general contractors, architects, engineers, and steel detailers, offering an insightful perspective on the industry.

The Financial Aspect of Steel Detailing

Steel detailing constitutes approximately 6% to 10% of the total steel contract cost in commercial construction projects.
This procedure is integral to every phase of steel design, procurement, fabrication, and construction, providing explicit instructions and organizing structural steel components efficiently. The initial investment in detailing can yield substantial savings in the entire project. However, detailers often face disruptions due to incomplete information or late design amendments, impacting schedules, elevating costs, and necessitating change orders for compensation.

The Significance of Detailing Investment

In the competitive domain of steel construction, a mere 5% savings can be the deciding factor in securing a bid. Fabricators might opt for the lowest detailing price to secure the job, perceiving detailing more as an overhead than a value-added service. This perspective often results in compromising detailing quality to remain within budget constraints, leading to several risks and inefficiencies.

Potential Risks in Detailing

Compromising the budget and schedule of detailing diverts the focus of detailers from optimizing the project to rushing through the processes. Here are the repercussions of such a compromise:
1. Reduced focus on verifying assemblies and connections’ field compatibility, leading to significant costs during erection.
2. Early identification of RFI’s and issues is neglected, affecting approval and fabrication schedules.
3. Skipped checking processes lead to errors in welds, profiles, and sections, escalating costs and causing revisions.
4. Incorrectly assigned welding processes incur unexpected costs.
5. Missequenced piece marks disrupt the field order.
6. Detailers may insist on change orders to recover lost costs.

Finding the Middle Ground

The solution isn’t merely allocating more funds to detailing, given the presence of suboptimal detailing services in the market. A balanced approach involves a meticulous vetting process to select proficient detailers and establish valuable partnerships instead of merely seeking the lowest bid. Advocating for partners and accommodating legitimate additional expenses in the budget are crucial, even if convincing the contractor appears challenging.

Understanding the working mechanisms of detailers and the risks they, and subsequently, you undertake due to design modifications or late information is pivotal in navigating the steel detailing landscape.