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How to choose a steel fabricator. (Industrial Sector).

From a bridge across a river to a mine head to an ore skip, chances are it is a product that is made of steel. Industry relies heavily on steel for a variety of uses ranging from machine casings to conveyor containers to small brackets. Where steel runs the risk of corrosion, then there is stainless steel or lighter aluminum, and someone has to form that steel or aluminum; that is where a steel fabricator comes in.

Steel fabrication is a blend of art and science, much as steel is a blend of iron and carbon. Relying on a set of precise instructions and drawings, every aspect of the formation process is carefully laid out from the flat steel sheet to the rolling, forming and fastening of each joint or curve. Structures can be metres in length, but some of the tolerances as fine as a couple of millimetres.

Fabricators rely on computers for providing the precise instructions for each operation and the level of detail can go as far down as the temperature of a particular piece of welding equipment for a particular welding operation. But when it comes to getting the job done, it is still down to human hands and eyes.

Finding a steel fabricator may be a simple matter, depending on the size of the job. Operations run the gamut of size from small one- and two-person operations that can produce small items, to large-scale machine shops that can fabricate anything from a mine skip for transporting ore from the bottom of a mine to the surface to long bridges.

Clients can bring their ideas or designs to the fabricator who can oversee everything from designing and drawing out the item to cutting it out, welding and forming it right out of the steel.

Questions to ask

There are a number of things a person can look for in a steel fabricator and there are a number of questions the client needs to ask before approaching the fabricator with their particular project.

1) How big is the project? Some items might only take an afternoon for one fabricator working out of a small machine shop, but others, such as a bridge or other complex projects, may require the resources of an entire crew of 40 or 50 people.

2) How old is the company, and what is the experience of its management? A company that has been around for a long time is likely to be around to see the completion of your project, on time and done properly.

3) Do they have a good reputation? If it is a good company, chances are they will love to tell you about it. And they will be more than happy to refer you to people who they have done work for before.

4) Are the people professional? Most fabricators are members of the Canadian Welding Bureau (CWB), an agency that certifies professional steel fabricators in the country, although membership is not mandatory. The CWB provides professional certification for this highly technical craft, and requires machine shops to keep precise records and provide frequent retraining, either to keep skills current or learn new ones.

Every weld of every piece of metal that comes through a machine shop is carefully catalogued, according to CWB regulations. If there is a problem, it will be on record. This can be an important consideration if there is a failure of a piece of equipment. It limits the liability of the company that the fabricators are doing the work for.

5) Can one see the work being done, as it is being done? Companies that do not allow clients into their shops to see the work underway are threatening the future livelihood of their business. Clients of larger companies, including large mining companies and various provincial and federal government ministries, have specific requirements for the jobs being done. Many will send inspectors into the shops to oversee the work to make sure that it is being done to their very strict requirements.

Some companies may even have an open-door policy, permitting people to come in at any time to view the work being done. While making appointments is one option, and may give shop operators a chance to clean up a little prior to a visit, an open-door policy that allows people to come in at any time requires the operators to maintain their shops at a high standard of neatness and organization.

Another thing to look for is standardization to the International Standardization Organization (ISO) or other such quality control certification. Machine shops wishing to put the ISO 9000 stamp of approval have to have their operations assessed by the ISO.

Many companies with ISO certification are more than happy to show prospective clients their ISO certification documents and the aspects of the operation that earned them that certification.
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Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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