structural steel shop drawings

How To Work With Structural Steel Shop Drawings 101

Structural Steel shop drawings play an essential role in any form of steel construction. Every single structure starts with these. Key functions include illustrating the different components used during construction, how to fabricate them, and assembly guidelines. However, with that degree of importance comes a lot of risks. A single flaw in a steel shop drawing could radically impact the structural integrity of a final building or installation.

The silver lining is that there are a lot of safeguards and checks to make sure that faulty buildings aren’t ever built. However, implementing those safeguards and changing course in the middle of a construction project is expensive, time-consuming, and hurts your reputation as a contractor. As a result, it’s important to know all the major issues that can come with structural steel shop drawings and how to address them.

How To Create A Structural Steel Shop Drawing

First, we’ll discuss exactly what the process is for creating a structural steel shop drawing. Common challenges can arise throughout the entire process.

To begin, an architect creates the initial blueprint, which is then analyzed by a steel fabricator. They use their knowledge and expertise to suggest changes. However, ultimately, the architect gets the final approval after their review.

After this, a steel detailing specialist gets involved, creating steel diagrams for all the different components, including:

  • Beams
  • Columns
  • Decks
  • Braces
  • Stairs
  • Joists
  • Handrails
structural steel shop drawings

These are used in manufacturing, and will generally have their own individual steel shop drawings made as well.

When these individual items are completed, erection drawings are made. These are diagrams designed to show the process of assembly of the greater structure, with the materials previously designed. Generally, the steel detailer plays a key secondary role here, serving as a mutual point of communication between other involved professionals like the architect, steel fabricator, steel erector, and the client.

Common Issues With Structural Steel Shop Drawings

So, with that in mind, what are some of the major issues that tend to rise up with structural steel shop drawings? 

Lack of information: This is a catch-all situation that is probably the most common issue with any sort of structural steel shop drawings. Whenever an important component or metric is missed, the project instantly needs to go on hold until things are figured out. There are a few different ways that this can happen:

  • Structural dimensions not specified in the drawings
  • Connection requirements or sequencing not specified
  • Missing structural numbers in the plans

In some cases, it’s not so much that someone forgot to put something in, but that a change was made halfway through the process and that detail wasn’t implemented.

Inaccurate project details: As we just implied, a structural steel design can easily evolve from the first plan to the final construction. However, everyone involved with the project needs to stay on the same page to avoid inaccuracies. A steel erector or steel fabricator may not have the same expertise as a steel detailer, so you want to have a professional on your team suited for the job.

structural steel shop drawings
Photo By Jim Parkin

Inconsistencies between specs and drawings: Between the specification and drawing stage, a client may easily get frustrated saying that the steel shop drawings don’t match their architectural or mechanical plans they already approved. The best way to avoid this is simply getting any specifications or changes made in writing. This way, if a client complains, you have a built-in counter in place.

Multiple drawings: In some cases, you may have different teams putting together multiple structural steel shop drawings for the same structure. On paper, this may seem like a smart idea. After all, the more hands making drawings, the faster they get done, and the faster you can get started working, right? Not entirely? The adage of too many cooks in the kitchen applies here. Discrepancies can easily develop when it comes to measurements and materials, meaning that eventually, everyone needs to revisit the documents anyway and work goes on hold. Communication is always essential here.

Time lag: In some cases, even if something isn’t necessarily wrong, the on-site team may file what’s known as an RFI (request for information) to clarify something that they see on an existing shop document. This is generally a good practice to keep things safe, but this can also lead to a lot of wasted time putting in an RFI, then getting information back. If a steel shop drawing is put together poorly, there can be an unending stream of RFIs and responses that ultimately hurt the project timeline. 

Failure to meet industry standards: This is an absolutely essential issue to keep track of. Any steel structural project that doesn’t meet standards risks your project getting fined or shut down completely. A finished project ends up putting your workers and anyone in the final structure at risk. Compliance violations are catastrophic for contractors. This means you not only need to know what applies to your structure but have a plan to keep track of regulatory changes. 

A final issue that may not be directly related to the structural steel shop drawings themselves is a logistical one. In some cases, attending to the other issues that we’ve been discussing requires a lot of different eyes on the drawings to find a solution. This can include a team on site that discovered the issue, as well as eyes in the office that know how to read steel structural drawings. However, if both sides need to work off of one physical paper, this could mean a major halt to all operations.

There is a better way, though, such as using steel contractor project management software, like eSUB. Cloud storage for your data will make it possible for multiple parties to access steel structural drawings at the same time, whether they are on the job site or in the office. This helps resolve issues quickly and make sure that everyone knows how to read structural steel shop drawings properly.