The Steel Detailing Process: A Central Link in Project Workflows
What is steel detailing?
Structural steel detailing provides a critical link between design and reality in the lifecycle of a construction project. As a central role in the process, detailing is not only the concern of the detailer, but also of the other stakeholders on both sides of the project pipeline.
The infographic below provides a basic overview of the steel detailing process, from engineer to erector, and the corresponding roles and goals of each primary stakeholder.
Initial design and detailing
Design begins with the engineer, who works with the architect to define the project’s vision and set the overarching parameters for the project. While some engineers may handle connection design, that is more often passed on to the contracted fabrication shop—and, in turn, to the detailer—along with the design drawings.
This is where the primary work of the detailer—and what is typically thought of as “detailing” takes place. The detailer serves as a translator, turning the engineer’s design into actionable drawings for the rest of the stakeholders in the workflow. When working with a 3D detailing solution, this entails translating from 2D drawings to a 3D model that can be used as a data hub for the rest of the project. Detailers also fill in the additional design specifics—often including connection design—that the fabricator will need for manufacturing parts and the erector for installing the structure in the field. The deliverables here include detailed drawings of every component of the structure—beams, columns, bracing, miscellaneous steel, and connections—to LOD, or Level of Development, 400, an industry standard indicating that a model can be used directly for fabrication and assembly.
Accuracy and collaboration
Because detailers work for the fabrication shop—either directly or on a subcontract—their work is tailored to the preferences and needs of the fabricator, and accuracy is of utmost concern. It is in the detailing process that potential issues with fabrication and erection are caught and addressed—any errors that make it through to the shop and field can result in major costs of time, labor, and materials.
Communication between the engineer and detailer, and the detailer and fabricator and erector, is ongoing throughout the process. The engineer must approve of all the detailer’s drawings before they are released to the fabricator, and any issues found or changes requested by the fabricator or erector are funneled through the detailer to the engineer for review and approval.
Fabrication and erection
Once the engineer approves and releases the fabricator’s shop drawings, manufacturing begins. Fabricators use the data from the drawings and 3D model to generate files for their CNC equipment in the shop and run reports for ordering materials, bolts, and other project deliverables.
Just as the detailer caters to the fabricator’s needs, the fabricator coordinates their processes with the next steps in mind. They are responsible for loading materials for shipment to the project site and generally work with the erector to determine assembly order, which may impact the order in which they manufacture and load the materials.
The erector receives the placement drawings that are created by the detailer (commonly referred to as erection drawings) for the final installation of the structure in the field. Their responsibilities include site planning and critical load lifts, as well as coordination with the other stakeholders to ensure everything runs smoothly for fit-up.
Where 3D steel detailing software fits in
As noted earlier, a good 3D detailing solution can serve as the data pipeline for the project stakeholders, optimizing data flows and communication.
With direct access to a 3D model and all the corresponding data and drawings, engineers can streamline the review and approval process without relying so heavily on the detailer as an intermediary. This, in turns, eliminates wait time for the fabricator and erector on RFIs and design alterations, and keeps the project moving on accelerated timelines.
Fabricators and erectors likewise benefit from having direct access to model data, for all the responsibilities mentioned above. Fabricators can leverage model data to export the required files for their machines and run reports for various tasks—from ordering materials to organizing them by load for shipping to the job site.
Erectors, too, can coordinate many of their common practices and procedures through the project model: site planning and critical load lifts, as mentioned above, as well as setting and viewing statuses, taking dimensions, viewing erection and detail drawings, and adding and viewing model notes. They find a key advantage in being able to visualize complex connections in the 3D models and answer many of their own questions without having to wait on other parties.
While each partner holds different responsibilities at each stage in the project, the demand for accuracy is a constant throughout. Accurate details leading to perfect execution—that’s the ultimate goal in any construction project, and that is, ultimately, what a 3D detailing software helps facilitate.