What Does A Steel Detailer Do?

Steel detailing is an essential part of the construction process and is integral to successfully completing any steel-based building or structure. It was born out of a necessity for trying to eliminate the risk of having somebody do the math wrong. A steel detailer is a professional who creates detailed drawings and models of steel structures and components, which steel fabricators use to construct the final product. Without accurate and precise steel detailing, a construction project can be plagued with errors and delays, which can be costly and potentially dangerous.

Tekla Structures Model - Render Made In Rhino
Fig 1: Tekla Structures Model – Render Made In Rhino

Is the Steel Detailer an Engineer or an Architect?

It doesn’t have to be. I will quote the conversation from the Construction Brothers Podcast.

A: Describe it. What do you do?
B: I am a structural steel detailer.
A: What is that?
B: All the steel that’s in buildings. I draft it.
A: But doesn’t the structural engineer do that? So you are like an architect?
B: No, I am not an architect.
A: Then you are like an engineer?
B: No, I am not an engineer.
A: Well, How do you do steel buildings if you are not an engineer?
B: Because the engineer tells me what to do.
A: Why do they need you? They already know what to do. Why are you there?
B: Because without me, they will be lost.
A: How?
B: Because They wouldn’t know how to actually put the building together.

Construction Brothers Podcast

Detailers are paid to listen and follow directions. First, the structural engineer does the documentation, and then a steel fabricator is awarded a contract by the general contractor. After that, the fabricator either has an in-house or third-party steel detailer that works as a subcontractor. The job of the steel detailer is to convert the structural documents into a complete workshop package, like GA drawings, assembly, single-part drawings, NC data, and lists.

The Steel Detailing Process

Steel detailers use specialized software to create detailed models of steel structures, which can then be used to generate fabrication drawings and bills of materials. Therefore, they must be highly skilled in computer-aided design (CAD) software and have a strong understanding of engineering principles, construction methods, and building codes.

Tekla Structures Model - Render Made In Rhino
Fig 2: Tekla Structures Model – Render Made In Rhino

Nowadays, most steel detailers work in 3D drafting software, for example, Tekla Structures. The steel detailer will create a complete 3D model of the steel structure. This model will include all necessary details, such as connections, member materials, bolt grades, finishes, and other specifications.

Based on the 3D model, the steel detailer will then create detailed fabrication drawings showing how each steel component should be fabricated, including details such as hole sizes, weld size and locations, and other important information.

The steel detailer will also create bills of materials (BOM), which list all the materials required for each component and provide detailed information about each item, including quantity, size, material, and weight.

The steel detailer may also be responsible for creating erection drawings, which show how the steel components will be assembled on site and verify that when the erector gets out in the field, all steel components will fit.

Steel Detailer Skills And Tools Used

Steel detailing is a highly specialized field that requires a specific set of skills and knowledge. Some of the key skills and knowledge needed for a successful career as a steel detailer include:

  • Proficiency in CAD Software: Steel detailers must be proficient in using computer-aided design (CAD) software, which is used to create detailed 3D models and fabrication drawings. 
  • Ability to Read Construction Plans: Steel detailers must be able to read and interpret construction plans, including architectural and engineering drawings, and use this information to create accurate models and drawings.
  • Attention to Detail: Steel detailing requires a high level of attention to detail, as even minor errors can have significant consequences for the safety and functionality of a steel structure, as well as massive loss of money and time. They must be really committed to carrying out their obligations and be able to do a perfect job at the fastest rate.
  • Communication Skills: Steel detailers must be able to communicate effectively with other professionals involved in the project, including architects, engineers, and contractors. They must be able to listen to feedback and incorporate it into their work. Must be able to write an RFI (Request For Information) in a clear and concise manner to gather information to move the project forward.
  • Knowledge of Building Codes and Regulations: Steel detailers must understand building codes and regulations, industry standards, and best practices. They must ensure that all of their work complies with these standards and regulations to ensure the safety and functionality of the final product.

Why is steel detailing challenging to do?

The main issue facing this industry is a lack of information. Exact and precise requirements are the thing that makes it difficult — the amount of information that we handle.

There are numerous types of jobs you can work on, and they all require different skills. You can work on industrial projects as well as commercial ones. That means you need to model gratings, stairs, ladders, canopies, light gauge steel, galvanized steel, etc.

There is so much information to remember. The codes have become so much more complex. You also need to have a brief understanding of the other phases of the building, like electrical, HVAC, etc. For seismic regions, there are different requirements for the connections.

Another thing is that every client has different requirements, and you must adjust your software to meet those requirements. For example, they want drawings done their way. Therefore, customization is also your part, and you must have some software experience.

You may hear that now with all the modern software, the work is so much easier. But, Can’t agree with that. Yes, calculations are faster than paper and pencil, but the expected quantity of output has undoubtedly adjusted to that. Also, the increased amount of output means an increased quantity of liability carried.

Closing Thoughts

Steel detailing is essential for achieving accurate fabrication and assembly, minimizing waste, reducing costs, and ensuring compliance with safety codes and regulations. It also allows for design flexibility and the ability to achieve complex designs.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in steel detailing, there are many educational programs available to help you gain the knowledge and skills necessary for a successful career as a steel detailer. With the proper education and training, you can be an integral part of the construction industry and help bring complex steel structures to life.

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