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Steel Detailers Make the Move from 2D CAD to 3D Workflows

24 Jan, 2017 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

As the industry evolves to rely on building information modeling (BIM), professionals have the option to change along with it — or get left behind.

Steel detailing is an essential component in a long chain of creation — without it, schools and shopping malls and skyscrapers could never be completed. Being closely linked to the other providers in that chain is critical for your operations, but it can affect your business in fundamental ways: your fortunes, your workflows, and even the technologies you rely on are all interdependent.

As a result, a change that starts anywhere in that chain will eventually ripple all the way through it. That means the increasingly widespread use of building information modeling (BIM) and 3D workflows by designers, builders, and others in the industry will affect your detailing company as well — if it hasn’t already.

The Chain of Change

What’s reshaping the industry isn’t just 3D model–based technology, but also the ways that technology is being used to connect project teams and to keep data moving smoothly from one phase to the next. “Fabricators have been using model-based workflows to drive production for over two decades, but this process has typically been done in a silo so it’s disconnected from the larger design and construction teams,” explained Michael Gustafson, industry strategy manager at Autodesk.

Today, architects, engineers, and contractors are embracing BIM for its many benefits, from reduced rework to simplified clash detection. Owners are also driving BIM adoption, as they seek to trim schedules and to obtain operational models at project completion. Many contractors now prefer — or require — that the members of their project teams use BIM, so detailing companies that haven’t yet determined their BIM strategy risk losing out on contracts.

A 2014 SmartMarket Report from McGraw Hill Construction, “The Business Value of BIM for Construction in Major Global Markets,” found that 30% of the contractors surveyed make a practice of requiring BIM on their projects, and another 53% encourage it, although they do not yet require it.

And according to the 2016 Construction Technology Report from JBKnowlege, the number of builders who don’t use BIM fell by 30% from 2015 to 2016. “A majority of professionals agree BIM is the future of the AEC industry,” the report stated.

“Due to these changes in the market concerning BIM, there is an opportunity for steel detailers and fabricators using 3D solutions to bring added value to the project team and future-proof their roles on projects,” said Gustafson.

Global Pressure

The choices made by project team members have an important effect on detailers, but they are not the only force for change. As geographically dispersed teams scatter across time zones, project delivery deadlines are getting ever shorter — and competition is growing tougher.

“Increasingly, we’ve seen teams adopt technology that is allowing the globalization of construction projects,” Gustafson observed. “We’ve seen this impact steel detailers, with fabricators offshoring what used to be in-house services to third-party vendors in countries like India and the Philippines, where there is a large AutoCAD user base that can perform detailing in 2D,” he continued.

Because wage differences often enable offshore firms to offer their services at lower prices, North American detailers are looking for ways to hone their capabilities in response. Boosting efficiency by embracing 3D model–based workflows is one way that detailers can remain competitive.

Time to Sharpen Your Tools

You may have already realized the necessity of implementing a 3D detailing solution, but put it off because the investment in a new software application was an obstacle. The move from 2D to 3D, however, benefits workflows in ways that also benefit bottom lines. Improved interoperability, increased efficiency, and a reduction in fabrication errors mean the software often pays for itself quickly.

But financial considerations aside, adopting a new way of working may still seem impossible; the investment of time required to implement software and train users can be daunting. You may feel like the storied woodcutter — so busy laboring with a dull axe that you don’t have time to stop and sharpen the blade.

Fortunately, there are techniques that can help your company transition to 3D workflows more quickly, putting less stress on your team and getting them to full productivity sooner. One is initiating training well before the implementation, preparing everyone who will be affected by the changes for what’s to come. Another smart strategy is selecting a solution that’s related to the 2D application your team already uses; a familiar interface can decrease the learning curve and help put users at ease.

That proved true for Steelway Building Systems, a Canadian detailing and fabrication company that moved from AutoCAD LT to Advance Steel, a structural steel detailing solution that’s built on AutoCAD. “We were concerned about the learning curve,” said Magnus Rovillos, senior draftsman at Steelway. “But a lot of the commands were the same, and even just navigating through … was, I found, fairly easy.”

One Technology Fits All

Financial and training concerns aren’t the only reasons that detailers drag their feet. Some industry professionals may admire 2D-to-3D transitions like Steelway’s, but believe their own companies simply aren’t large enough to benefit. Experience has proven, however, that there’s no minimum size required. “We’ve seen steel detailers that operate their firms as the sole proprietor experience enormous success from the use of 3D modeling,” Gustafson affirmed.

Steel Detailing Online is just such a company. Bart Rohal is the company’s founder and president, and he also performs all the work in-house. In 2010, Rohal moved to Advance Steel, which he believes enhances his competitive position. “Advance Steel enables me to offer additional BIM services to fabricators and provide general contractors, other BIM trades, architects, and engineers with coordination models in AutoCAD and Navisworks,” he explained.

Evolving Workflows

Once the transition from 2D to 3D is complete, companies often find their detailing and fabrication workflows to be very different. Prior to their implementation of 3D software, Steelway detailers manually created hundreds — or even thousands — of shop drawings per job. “We would spend a lot of time laying out a building in 2D,” said Rovillos. “With Advance Steel, the drawings are correct, if the model is correct.”

Dennis Bak, vice-president of engineering at Steelway, concurred with Rovillos: “The checking time has been greatly reduced, and there’s confidence in the output that once we spend a little time at the front end of the building model, shop drawing generation comes from the model, so it’s correct; and the output from the XML comes from the model, so it’s correct.”

Steelway also saves time on the fabrication side by sending much of the software output to the fabrication plant, including sending DXFs from the model directly to a plasma cutter on the shop floor. “Advance Steel was the fundamental change in our process, where we [can now] look at one building model, from the front end, the architectural end, right through design and drafting, and obviously into our production facility,” confirmed Bak.

For more information about Autodesk Advance Steel and 3D workflows, please click here. Read more about how steel detailers can make the move to 3D in this guide.

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