No matter the geographic location, skilled shop labor is rapidly declining, and shop managers need a definite plan to strengthen the future of the structural fabrication industry.
We can never replace the human factor in business success, but automating the more mundane tasks may provide the solution for many of the labor problems. By using automation to its best advantage, shops will be able to eliminate the simpler tasks, reducing their dependence on newer, untrained employees and allowing more time for training and more specialized tasks. Automation using the technology of today promises a hopeful future for steel fabricators around the world.
Problem-solving through Automation and Labor & Material saving
Fortunately, many equipment manufacturers and software vendors have already begun to take advantage of technology in order to provide solutions to the structural industry’s problems:
Problem: Beam transport using slow-moving overhead bridge cranes has proven to be ineffective and occasionally hazardous.
Solution: Today’s systematic beam processing.
Progressive fabrication shops employ knowledgeable firms to design shop layouts where materials are handled effectively and efficiently.
All stock sections are loaded in the materials yard to save shop space for more sophisticated fabrication (i.e., trusses), which can increase profit over time.
Systematic beam processing is designed to maximize tonnage production while minimizing inventory costs for just-in-time fabrication.
Cross-transfer systems effectively transport long sections from one bay to another in seconds, nullifying traditional beam-handling methods.
Problem: Manually produced production drawings take time to create and are difficult to apply to physical production.
Solution: Today’s building information modeling (BIM), like Tekla Structures and material requirements planning (MRP) software, like FabTrol MRP, the global leader in steel fabrication management software.
Users can create building models that provide data that’s immediately useful at any stage of the building process.
Data taken from the model can be transferred directly to computer numerical control (CNC) machine tools on the shop floor, minimizing the chance for operator error; thus each fabricated member fits together with unerring precision.
MRP software monitors project flow through the shop, from unloading the stock material to loading finished fabricated parts onto trucks for transport.
Problem: Creating detail components using burn tables and other machines requires multiple operators, exposes workers to unnecessary “table-top” hazards, and takes up too much space.
Solution: Today’s machine designs for producing plate and angle detail connections.
These machines incorporate multiple technologies such as high-speed drilling, punching, carbide part-making, and high definition plasma and oxy-fuel cutting.
Stock material is handled one piece at a time—faster and much safer than in the past.
Modern machines eliminate the need for multiple laborers, requiring only one operator to monitor all loading, processing, and unloading functions.
Accommodating Shop Labor, New and Old
Even with all of these advances, the human element in the fabrication process is no less present or important. Since a successful fab shop will always be dependent on labor, and must evolve along with incoming workers to meet their needs and increase their productivity, innovators have focused on the smaller elements of the job as well. These innovations will eliminate hazards and inconveniences in the workplace, granting new laborers time to learn crucial details of the job from their coworkers:
Problem: Saw flood coolant is hazardous and takes too much time and labor to clean up and contain.
Solution: New band saw coolant technology is now on the market, and new band saws no longer require flood-type lubricant to lubricate the blade and remove chips during the sawing process.
In the past:
The coolant had to be mixed with water.
Bacteria thrived in the old coolant medium, causing skin problems for workers and creating a foul-smelling workplace.
Material was doused with coolant, which left a residue that had to be cleaned before the material could be painted.
Old coolant had to be removed by professional cleanup firms, adding one more shop expense.
Technologically advanced machines, using vegetablebased micro-mist coolant, are now available.
The coolant can be directly added to the machine—no mixing required.
The coolant system’s configuration inhibits the introduction and growth of bacteria.
The micro-mist is applied in a fine spray directly onto the cutting site, and never in excess. D As the mist is applied directly and sparingly to the blade tooth area, disposal is no longer a concern.
Problem: New laborers lack the knowledge and experience to operate and maintain sophisticated machinery.
Solution: New machine controls are outfitted with today’s electronic technology.
Today’s CNC controls with PC front ends provide a back-up system of operation; if one system should fail, the other system keeps the machine functioning.
With remote diagnostic programs, machines anywhere on the planet can be accessed by qualified service technicians via the Internet. Corrections can be made quickly and easily.
Problem: A lack of support for machinery and equipment.
Solution: An increase in technical service assistance to meet the needs of growing companies. D Using effective communication centers equipped with the latest technology, long-distance technical service is more available than ever, giving fab shops the opportunity to utilize the experience of seasoned service professionals.D Skilled technicians can travel more easily than ever before, providing prompt and effective solutions to a variety of issues.
Changes made in building projects during their design and executions are a major cause for delays, cost overruns and deviations from performance requirements. The impact of changes on the project often becomes clear only after their implementation in the project. At that stage it is difficult to make adjustments or consider alternatives. A timely recognition, by the project team, of the implications of proposed changes can lead to a reconsideration of the changes, so that the completed project would still meet the client’s objectives.
Paradigm change to BIM:
For each of the three major phases in the building lifecycle—
Design, Construction and Management, Building Information Modeling offers access to the following critical information:
- In the design phase—Design, Schedule and Budget information
- In the construction phase—Quality, Schedule and Cost Information
- In the management phase—Performance, Utilization and Financial Information
Tekla – BIM:
Tekla Structures software is a BIM (building information modeling) tool that streamlines the delivery process of design, detailing, manufacture, and construction organizations. While integrating openly with architectural models, the strength of this single-model environment lies in the contractor end of the process. Thousands of Tekla Structures software users in more than
80 countries have successfully delivered BIM-based projects across the world. Tekla Structures’ ability to process extensive amounts of data enables the creation of detailed 3D models that apply to every stage of design and construction. From planning and design development thru to fabrication and installation, Tekla models naturally develop in parallel, representing the “as- built” condition of a building. Tekla Structures effectively integrates into any best-of-breed software driven workflow, while maintaining the highest levels of data integrity and accuracy.
Such collaborative workflows are the cornerstone to minimizing errors and maximizing efficiency, resulting in high profitability and on-time project completion. Tekla Structures encompasses specialized configurations for structural engineers, steel detailers and fabricators, precast concrete detailers and manufacturers, as well as contractors.
“There is enough cultural and social awareness about BIM that it will eventually become part of our daily work process. Tekla has been BIM even before the name was created. And with its sound position in the automation back-end of the construction process, Tekla is on the leading edge of innovation.” – Professor Charles M. Eastman, Director, Ph D Program for the College of Architecture at Georgia Tech, USTekla takes the architectural model from architectural BIM solutions (and other reference models from other solutions) and makes them into a constructable model.
Tekla offers the highest level of constructability on project delivery (Design BIM vs Construction BIM). The model is easy to change and coordinate changes between several designers who do different tasks in the model. Tekla technology enables the creation and management of accurately detailed, highly constructable building information models that act as the new center of optimized building production.
To ease the job of fabricators, different software are used for material management. Information can easily be transferred from one software system to other software, which reduce the effort of the fabricators. Combination of BIM software tools (specially Tekla steel detailing) and steel fabrication material management software (Fabtrol), it is very easy to transfer data for fabricator use within a justified time and with great accuracy.
Fabtrol MRP Systems:
- Leading solution for steel fabrication materials management
- Fully integrated, modular software solution for managing estimating, drawings, materials, production, and shipping
Preparing accurate takeoffs requires a tremendous amount of knowledge – material availability, labor rates, and waste factors. Finding people with the right skills is not easy. FabTrol MRP offers an alternative. By translating the knowledge of senior estimators into company-standard data tables, it limits the expertise required to prepare takeoffs. Even the greenest apprentice can be trained to work up reliable bids. And the senior staff can focus on making the final adjustments that will ensure winning, profitable bottom lines.Drawings are the lifeblood of the fabrication process, but managing their revisions and approvals can be a real nuisance. Without an integrated solution, many steel fabricators settle for
keeping a simple drawing log by hand. Such systems are a pain to maintain, but that’s nothing next to the risk of issuing the wrong drawing to the shop because someone lost track of the revisions.
FabTrol MRP software offers a better solution. Its powerful links with the industry’s leading detailing software solutions enables fast, error-free data transfers. And beyond a simplistic one-line-per-drawing log, it provides a true management system and up-to-date statusing mechanism for drawings and revisions.
With FabTrol MRP, you can import bills of materials, drawing image files, and in some cases even CNC instructions from nearly any detailing software, including:
SDS/2®, Tekla Structures (Xsteel®), StruCAD®, AutoCAD® and its add-ons, Any KISS- compliant system, including 3D+®, FASTRAK®, CadVantage CVSpro®, SteelCad®, and more.
In a material-intensive business like steel fabrication, better usage and handling of materials can have a major impact on your bottom line. FabTrol MRP software tackles the challenge of material management with the best weapons of modern technology: automation and integration.
Companies need a powerful integrated production management system, which includes: CAD & CNC integration, Shop capacity planning, Automated routing to work areas, Estimated fabrication times, Work order & cut list management, Progress tracking etc. These all facilities are included in FabTrol MRP software.
It allows user to easily plan sensible, right-sized loads, manage them through the shop, and track their status throughout the process.
Looking to the Future
The construction world, including the structural steel fabrication industry, has reached a crucial point, one at which technological advancements provide the greatest hope for survival and continued growth. As society becomes more technologically advanced (not to mention dependent), the fabrication shops of the future must adapt to this changing shop environment; if they continue to cling to outdated methods, they run the risk of becoming obsolete.
As evidenced by the NASCC exhibit floor, innovative firms are dedicating substantial engineering research and design investment dollars to provide advanced machine tool solutions that address these labor issues. The “fab shop of the future,” using today’s advanced technologies, will soon be the standard by which the next generation of structural fabricators will operate.