/ Profile / Change Leader: Retooling the Structural Engineer, Detailer and Fabricator Relationship

Change Leader: Retooling the Structural Engineer, Detailer and Fabricator Relationship

Admin on February 22, 2015 - in Profile, Structural components

Douglas G. Fitzpatrick, P.E., is the founder, president and a practicing engineer of Fitzpatrick Engineering Group, a 10-year-old structural engineering firm specializing in commercial and healthcare building design. He has 32 years of commercial structural engineering experience and has been a user and system administrator of MicroStation-based software for more than 25 years. Fitzpatrick has a BSCE and MSCE from Virginia Tech and is currently registered in 20 states from the south to northeast region of the country.


Using BIM since 2006 for steel analysis, design and modeling, Fitzpatrick Engineering Group has been an early adopter of model-based design. The changes they implemented in the design and engineering process were initially focused on leveraging  the efficiency of data transfer from design to BIM with closer integration via a shared model. As interoperability improved, the next logical step was to extend their structural steel data further downstream by sharing it with the detailer. Excellent model discipline and a willingness to freely share their model data has made the move from BIM to fabrication fully informed with exact quantities needed for construction and allowed them to significantly affect construction schedules of their projects in a positive way.


They have been observing the changes the construction industry is making in attempts to shorten the delivery of structural steel, a component commonly on the critical path of their projects. These alternate construction methods generally aim to involve the fabricator early via GMP pricing or a negotiated process, then take the traditional linear fabrication-preparation and review process and push it down into the design phase. Although the schedule gets shortened, Fitzpatrick believes the net result is negative for their projects. It fails to leverage the additional efficiency BIM can offer and exposes the owner to increased risk due to cost creep. Of particular note, the earlier the fabricator is involved, the less accurate the GMP becomes, with greater opportunities for design changes and subsequent change orders.

In summer 2012, it was painfully obvious to Fitzpatrick that these alternate methods of speeding up the process had reached a limit. They were working on a large hospital addition with a tight schedule, and the construction team was using the traditional linear process: 2-D drawings from the engineer with all of the detailer’s model data being created manually as the design progressed. The set of shop drawings sent for review were poorly coordinated and incomplete. The schedule said to issue shop drawings on a certain date, and they did. They spent 50 percent more time checking those shop drawings than normal, and changes made during their review surfaced as change orders from the fabricator and detailer.

“We received a detailed spreadsheet from the fabricator with a dollar value for each change and summed up at the bottom,” said Fitzpatrick. “We kind of sat back and looked at it for a while, frustrated. We said to ourselves, ‘If the fabricator is using technology to generate the extra work and change orders, why can’t we use technology to make the process more efficient?’”

Modeling Advantage

BIM has been a huge driver for Fitzpatrick in championing this new process. The ability to share accurate data electronically between analysis, design, BIM and detailer has significantly reduced opportunities for human error and allowed them to make a measurable difference in the efficiency and speed of delivery for the structural steel on their projects.

Process Improvement

Fitzpatrick embarked on a process change to reduce confusion and the time it takes to get fabricated steel to the job site. They redefined the process criteria needed to improve the efficiency of creating the fabrication package and reimagined a workflow that fully leveraged BIM data.

By partnering and collaborating with a detailer early on, with good communication back and forth on the details as they do the design, problems are resolved before doing any pricing. This makes pricing completely transparent, eliminating gray areas, because they are 100-percent detailed by the time a fabricator is involved.


The outdated, traditional linear process that took 12-14 weeks was reduced to a more-efficient 4-5 weeks and virtually eliminated costly RFIs or change orders.


Fitzpatrick Engineering Group uses RAM Structural System (RSS) for analysis and design of their typical buildings. Bentley’s AECOsim is their preferred BIM platform, but they routinely deliver Revit files to clients. SDS/2 from Design Data is the steel detailing software used to round out their Complete Structural Package.

AECOsim’s ability to reliably and accurately share structural design data across multiple platforms enabled them to confidently champion this new process. Their design information flows seamlessly from RSS to AECOsim via a direct link and on to SDS/2 via a CIS/2 file. AECOsim and SDS/2 can write/read CIS/2 files with global IDs – a key enabler in allowing detailing to take place during the design phase of the project.

Although SDS/2 includes a process for sharing electronic review comments between the engineer and detailer, Fitzpatrick’s detailing partner set them up with remote access to their system so they can review the same model, eliminating another step in the process. This greatly improved the efficiency and communication between engineer and detailer.


Watch this video of Doug describing the changes he made to wring out more efficiency in the process:

You can receive two accredited PDHs while learning more about this process change at www.v1-education.com.


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