There are several highly important aspects to consider when working in the fabrication industry. This includes quality of the products, timeliness and cost efficiency, all while maintaining a safe environment for work both in the fab shop and in the field.
To hit those marks, the fabricator must ensure that the products get to the customer in proper form and ready to install. It is paramount that the process be streamlined in order to reduce the chances of unforeseen delays or additional costs.
While producing quality products is important, safety is the top priority for Fabricated Products Group (FPG), a subsidiary of MHS Legacy Group, a national holding corporation with roots that go back all the way to 1895. The company has two locations in the Midwest with its headquarters in the greater Chicago area, serving customers from all over the world.
As a custom fabricator and machine job shop specializing in designing, engineering and manufacturing architectural systems and components, there are safety protocols for every aspect of the company’s operations. For material handling tasks, FPG has developed a training procedure that blends planning and practiced processes.
The blended approach includes a requirement that all employees must use proper personal protective equipment (PPE) while handling materials. That includes everything from top to bottom – protective glasses, proper gloves and the right shoes to protect against potential injuries while working with metal materials in a shop environment.
While keeping the team safe, following proper procedure also helps keep materials protected against damage caused from accidents and handling issues. A focus on safety is an important step to ensure employees are in a safe environment and materials remain in good condition.
The team at FPG possesses decades of experience within the industry. With this extensive knowledge base, the team is familiar with many types of ferrous and non-ferrous raw materials. Some come to the factory pre-finished and some are mill finished and will need to be post-finished prior to installation.
If they’re already finished, the team takes a ‘white glove’ approach when handling the materials during fabrication. It is crucial to protect the surface of the material and whatever surface it will be touching. One way this is done is by carpeting work tables to ensure protection for painted or anodized materials. This creates a buffer between the material and the table for any paint chips or pieces that might cause scratching from contact during the fabrication process.
However, an issue with material handling that is unavoidable is the challenge of inevitable dents or scratches working with softer metals. When working with minor scratches and damage done to pre-finished, painted or anodized materials, it is important to be proactive about ordering touch-up paints and other products to help repair any imperfection that has occurred.
When cutting, milling, welding or other operations, fixturing the material without damaging it is always a challenge. During the fabrication process, following a quality assurance program means ensuring the material is being held securely, whether that means bracketing or clamping it, to achieve the same consistently high quality of work, every time.
FPG employs a custom crating system to get products from the shop to the jobsite in good condition and provide protection for the product in the field, shielding it from the debris, dust and other problematic elements typically found on a construction jobsite.
While the plastic film application process has improved drastically over recent years, it is still a practice that can be problematic for areas of the country with volatile weather, such as the Midwest. Some areas of the U.S. are more unstable temperature-wise, and it is not uncommon to see nearly 40-degree temperature fluctuations within a 24-hour period. In these conditions, the plastic could melt, freeze, and then melt again within a day’s time. This can cause damage to the film, and sometimes to the metal itself should the plastic become bonded to the metal, causing the customer to take an additional step to remove the film.
That said, some companies require a film-based protective product to provide a layer of protection. FPG reviews, on a case by case basis, whether the protective film route is the proper course of action instead of a care-and-repair practice by factoring variables in a cost-benefit analysis for quality of the materials and price for the client.
Overall, performing these material handling practices helps to create a more streamlined process. It also improves safety by allowing a relative amount of time to map out each step and the consequences of each, rather than rushing as an afterthought to repair or replace the product. A proper, thoughtful operating procedure will save time and money and improve quality over the course of the process.
New technology is always being developed that can change and affect how projects are being approached and completed. While FPG takes full advantage of new technology and innovation, there are factors in the industry that affect companies differently. FPG, being a custom fabricator, experiences variants from project to project that require the team to look at new technology from a different angle. The project variants also create the need for a new standard operating procedure specific to the individual project that will benefit quality control and the process in its entirety.
Best practices learned over time can been invaluable in creating long-lasting relationships with customers. When working on a project where multiple pieces have been combined, there is an added issue of packaging the fabricated material to the jobsite. It is important to carefully consider proper slinging, movement separation and transportation of the items. There are times where pieces will need to be moved by manpower alone, which requires the necessary number of hands on the piece so that everything is moved safely to protect the employees and the products involved.
For all these practices, documentation and communication are important to keep in mind during the entire process. When receiving materials from suppliers, it is important to document the quality and state of the materials as they arrive. It is also important to have a close line of communication to properly plan for shipping and receipt of materials following from supplier to fabricator, then from fabricator to field crew.
The field crew also needs to develop a standard operating procedure between the supplier, fabricator and customer.
It is always imperative to know and document correctly the weight of the fabricated materials. The crate, the shipping packaging – brackets, slings, layers of protection – and the actual materials are important to keep in mind, rather than only considering the result material weight. This helps the field team to coordinate the necessary processes to install and move the materials using the right equipment. Open lines of communication ensure everyone is on the same page about how management and the timeline of the project.
Finally, the last part of the puzzle to be considered is the storage of materials. It’s necessary to consider the scientific chemical traits and make proper accommodations within certain environments. For example, in certain conditions, aluminum oxidizes, steel rusts and other materials can be compromised through exposure to the elements. Raw aluminum should not be put on a concrete floor because of the potential for galvanic reactions due to a chemical reaction between the two materials. Similarly, steel and aluminum should not be stored together. Materials should be separated to prevent negative interaction with each other.