Understanding the Principles of Structural Steel Detailing

Blog | December 12th, 2018

It’s not easy to reduce a sophisticated field of engineering down to a few passages of explanatory text. And that’s what structural steel detailing is, an incredibly dense engineering domain. It takes years of education and experience to master the authoring of endless pages of detail-oriented design drawings. Admittedly, there are software aids available, but they’re there to help, not to take the lead.

Structural Steel Detailing: Taking the Lead

As a first principle, consider this assertion: the drawings created by a structural steel detailer must be 99% accurate. On second thoughts, even an error margin that hovers around the 1% mark can sometimes become unacceptable, especially in a project that uses masses of load-bearing steel. That tiny error accumulates. It impacts project costs, that’s likely, but it also introduces a potential loading error. Taking the initiative, the detailing department focuses on accuracy above all else.

Understanding the Principles

Detailers, having acquired their qualifications, translate architectural drawings and engineer layouts into shop-interpretable designs. Where a structural joint or truss is drawn, the detailing professional substitutes weld zones and fastener apertures. Where there’s a dimensional outline, the shop drawing incorporates cutting and bending markers. An architectural 3D model might arrive at the workshop in one piece, but when it’s worked on by the structural detailers, they deconstruct that model. They generate CNC data, fabrication-centric notations, and dimensional constraints.

A Shop-Specific Dimensional Translation

Unlike the architect or engineer’s dimensions, which were were used to create the structural steel framework and its various component pieces, these dimensions are intended for the shop machinery and personnel. The positions between the alloy members are still in the plans, of course, but now there are additional details, including the wedge anchors, safe lift zones for the crane rigging, and the precise location of every nut and bolt. Moreover, there’s a scheduling thread running through the shop drawings. The location of each component is indicated, so it’ll slot into place like a jigsaw piece. Passed on, straight to the erection drawings, the shop detailing schedule informs the erection team.

Architect drawings are in two-dimensions. That’s the case with engineering plans, too. True, architects also make 3D models, but they’re hard to interpret, at least in a shop environment. Located in an office, a structural steel detailing team deconstructs those drawings and translates their dimensions. At heart, structural steel detailing professionals translate building plans into forms that can be understood by workshop personnel and shop equipment. From shop drawings, complete with material needs and tooling setups, the final stage of the process concludes in a workable set of erection plans.

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