I’ve been to thousands of steel fab shops in my career and none of them fabricate steel the same way, even two shops at the same company. Each fab shop has a unique layout, set up of machinery, in-house expertise, local codes, and philosophy, so they inherently do things differently.

So why do most connection engineers design things the same way, regardless of the fabricator? Beats me.

Most Important Spec Steel Fabricators Should Tell Connection Engineers

That’s why I believe the most important question a connection engineer should ask a steel fabricator is what is their preferred connection. We ask this vital question with every new client and even when we start a large project with a long-standing client because the results dramatically affect a steel fabricator’s success on a project.

As connection engineers, we want to design to the ease of our clients’ fabrication efficiency.

For example, we designed a recent project with shear tab connections instead of bolted connections because it made it easier for our clients based on their machinery and expertise. In most cases, changing the design of a connection has little effect on the design process and we’re happy to tailor the connection type as long as it fits the project’s needs and adheres to US Steel Code.

One steel fabricator’s preferred connection type may seem counterintuitive. We’ve worked with clients that preferred field welds, which most fabricators avoid because they’re so laborious. For these clients, their shops were set up for field welds, their teams completed them efficiently, and it worked for their business model.

Cost Savings When Designing with a Preferred Connection

Since designing a project with a specific preferred connection has little impact on our scope and project cost, we do it just to make our clients’ lives easier. We asked a few clients about the financial aspect of designing to their preferred connections and they said it made a huge impact, and sometimes could make or break a project’s profitability!

If a specific connection type works with a shop’s high-speed machinery, it can save our clients 20-30% in labor costs!

On most projects, that large of a difference in labor can easily be the difference between a great project and a money-losing project. On a large project, not designing with a fabricator’s preferred connection type can tank the entire company!

Breaking Down the Cost Savings of Preferred Connections

When the connection engineer and steel fabricator are NOT in sync with connection types, it leads to:

  • More arduous fabrications tasks
  • Extends fabrication schedules
  • Redesigning connections, which costs more money and takes more time
  • Utilizes more materials
  • Angers staff in a market where it is already hard to attract and retain good talent

Furthermore, if you bid on a project expecting a specific level of efficiency based on the connection type your shop is optimized for and your connection engineer does not design the connections, you will likely lose money on that project. Conversely, if you and your connection engineer are in sync, you can get more competitive on your bids knowing you still have enough profit built in to be successful. 

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