When Ontario-based Steelway Building Systems received the order for steel detailing and fabrication for a new operational support building at Regina International Airport in Saskatchewan, Vice President for Engineering Dennis Bok found himself asking an unfamiliar question: “How are we going to do this?”
While the project — a 32,000-square-foot structure for housing maintenance vehicles and equipment, dubbed Multi-Tenant Facility (MTF) Airside — sounded straightforward enough at first blush, the building’s complex design made it a labyrinth of odd angles and roof pitches for Steelway’s detailers to navigate. The footprint of the building included several different frame widths, some of the structure’s walls didn’t meet at 90-degree angles, and the roof was a series of overhangs and unusual slopes.
“There was just nothing simple about it,” Bok said. “It wasn’t a rectangular, simple, straightforward building. It was very unique geometry. I’ve never seen anything like it in all the years I’ve worked at Steelway.”
The use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) wasn’t a requirement of the project, but Steelway has been using Autodesk’s Advance Steel detailing software for several years, and the firm relied on the tool to help employees better visualize the building’s complex geometry and coordinate with other stakeholders.
“It’s the most challenging building we’ve done to date with Advance Steel,” Bok said. “This really pushed our usage of the software.”
A streamlined process
Steelway began modeling the project soon after receiving the order, and then generated 2D approval drawings. Once the customer approved those drawings for detailing, Steelway’s detailers went back into the 3D Advance Steel model and started applying connections. The model was also exported to a separate 3D design program, which was used to analyze the structure for its ability to stand up to seismic activity and high winds. Once Steelway’s engineers specified the final connections, detailing was finished in Advance Steel, and shop drawings and numerical control (NC) files were generated for production.
Although Steelway wasn’t required to create the 3D model, Bok said that it proved invaluable during project coordination. “We walked through the model line-by-line with the architects,” he said. “They could see where we had problems, and then we were able to resolve those instantly because they were able to visually see what we were talking about.”
If Steelway had produced only 2D drawings, Bok said there would have “definitely been a lot of back and forth” between the firm and the architects, as it would have been much more difficult to ensure that all parties were seeing the same things when they looked at renderings. “We probably would have had to do double or triple the amount of elevations, and a lot more cross sections,” he said. “And at the end of the day, we still would have missed things. There would have been major fit-up problems and site changes.”
One of the primary benefits of using Advance Steel to create a 3D steel model, Bok said, is the sheer amount of time the process saved compared to working solely in two dimensions. This benefit was not limited to the detailing process itself. Advance Steel also helped the firm, along with the build and design teams, to save time during checking, project coordination, fabrication, and erection.
“It probably cut our checking time alone in half,” Bok said.
Steelway has owned Advance Steel licenses for about four years, but the tool has only been fully integrated into the firm’s workflows for about two years. The firm now has 18 licenses, and everyone in the company’s drafting department uses the software.
According to Bok, in addition to cutting down on overtime for projects like the MTF Airside facility, Advance Steel has resulted in fewer sick days. “I’m joking, but only partly,” he said. “We’ve had issues in the past with checkers saying, ‘I have to take a day off; I’ve been working too long.’ One of the intangible benefits of using Advance Steel is that the process is less stressful on the people doing the job. With the old 2D methods, they would constantly worry that they were missing something. But with Advance Steel, we’re not afraid of the project. We can just take on the challenge. We follow our process and have confidence in the software, and we know it’s going to fit.”
Ultimately, the test of detailing work comes not on paper or on a computer screen, but when steel meets steel.
Steelway has its own 200,000-square-foot fabrication facility and was able to input NC files from the Advance Steel model into the production equipment, saving time during the fabrication process. “Doing it in our old 2D system would have been extremely time-consuming,” Bok said. “I’d say on a job like this, it would have taken three times longer.”
Even more importantly, the plans held up remarkably well during the erection process. Despite the complexity of the job, the erector only made a single call to Steelway with a problem. This level of accuracy helped to keep the project on track, Bok said, while also preventing the firm from having to pay out back charges.
“[Advance Steel] made a complicated building feel like a really simple building,” Bok said. “It was done, everybody was happy, and we were on to the next project, which is really unusual for a building of this complexity.”
Although BIM wasn’t a requirement of the MTF Airside project — and Steelway wasn’t given a 3D project design model produced via a tool like Autodesk’s Revit — Bok said that 3D modeling is becoming more common in the industry, and he hopes that working from such models will soon become the norm. “If we would have started this project with a Revit model, we would have saved even more time,” he said. “That’s something that we want to promote for future projects.”
As the firm has incorporated Advance Steel into its detailing process, Steelway has reduced its reliance on paper drawings during fabrication, and has experimented with using tablets on the shop floor. Eventually, Bok said, he foresees a similar shift on project jobsites, with erectors relying on tablets and 3D models to help them put up steel.
“We’d love to have a builder that would be willing to view the model and actually erect the building using a tablet onsite, with no drawings,” Bok said. “We still spend a lot of time generating 2D drawings and cleaning them up so that people can read them onsite. But we see things changing.”
Michael Gustafson is business strategy manager for Structural Engineering, responsible for establishing long-term business strategy for structural analysis, design, detailing, and fabrication with Autodesk (www.autodesk.com).