The focus of this blog is construction-related topics. The purpose is discussion, so please feel free to comment! See Specific thoughts for thoughts from the daily life of a specifier.

15 November 2016

Take a tour! Steel fabrication

I recently wrote about the importance of hands-on experience with building materials (Get your hands dirty!). While that works well for masonry and a few other materials, many products and processes are so dangerous or complex that it is extremely difficult for the average person to have meaningful personal experience. Still, even though hands-on familiarity may not be readily available, witnessing the fabrication or installation of construction materials is quite valuable.

I love plant tours and have been on several. Fortunately, the office often arranges site visits and tours of fabrication facilities and encourages staff to participate. In June, five of us took a midday trip to LeJeune Steel Company, a local structural steel fabricator.

Vice President Mike Histon met us at the door, then led us to a conference room where he talked about the history of LeJeune, explained how they operate, and showed us drawings from a variety of projects. They had a hand in Target Field (Twins ballpark), TCF Stadium (Gophers football), and the recently-completed US Bank Stadium (Vikings). Of particular interest was the Hennepin County Ambulatory and Outpatient Specialty Care Center, one of our projects that's under construction.

Mike also talked about the current state of the steel industry, which is a fraction of what it was fifty years ago. After donning helmets and safety vests, we went out into the shop.

To be blunt about it, many production facilities, at first glance, aren't much to look at. Some have really cool machines, while others have more basic tools, but most are huge volumes of not much, used primarily for storing and moving materials.

For basic materials, like structural steel, the equipment is quite simple - hoists, rollers, a saw, a punch, a brake, a shear, and a welder - but it's a bit larger than what you're probably accustomed to.

Fabrication consists of cutting to length, welding shapes and connections, and punching holes for bolted connections, some of which are completed in the shop while others are done in the field. LeJeune also preps steel for finishing, and applies primer and other coatings as specified.

Do yourself a favor - visit fabrication shops and learn more about how things are fabricated before being shipped to the site!


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