Steel Fabricator

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Steel Fabricator


Steel fabricators, also known as structural steel and plate fitters, lay out, prepare and put together structural steel, steel vessels and other metal shapes and components according to a set of blueprints and drawings. They assemble and fit metal products such as framework or shells for machinery and sections and plates to make buildings, bridges, tanks, boilers, and pressure vessels.

A steel fabricator interprets drawings and is involved in the development, layout, marking, cutting, burning, sawing, shearing, punching, rolling, bending, drilling, shaping, forming, straightening, fitting and assembling, reaming, bolting, riveting, welding, testing, inspecting, preparing, priming, painting, rigging and handling of structural and mechanical fabrications constructed from plates and structural shapes of ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

Without steel fabricators, we would have no structural framework for machines or structures in our homes, factories, and on load bearing devices, such as bridges. They contribute to the building and construction stages of any project that uses metal. Therefore, industries such as agriculture, construction, transportation, petrochemical and chemical plants and hospitals require the expertise of a steel fabricator. They are familiar with the properties of metal and can not only build, but also operate metalworking machines. They work is extremely intricate and on occasion, they may get to design small jobs themselves.

They must choose materials based on what will suit the project best. Steel fabricators use many types of metal including black and galvanized steel, copper, brass, nickel, stainless steel, aluminum and tin plate. Once the material has been decided, they take the metal to bend and shape to the proper size and then fasten it together, like a sheet metal worker would do. They may then use welding equipment to join the metal sheets together. If they are not expert welders, they will pass the next stage of the job onto a welder, who is more experienced and knowledgeable about the alloys of each metal.

Finally, steel fabricators must devise a plan to take care of their waste and scraps in an environmentally friendly manner. Since throwing scraps into the garbage is hazardous, they must make lists of their wastes and dispose of them properly.
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  Interests and Skills  
Successful steel fabricators need a high level of strength and stamina, and be in good physical shape. They have good coordination, mechanical aptitude and manual dexterity, and can work in close quarters. They have the ability to work both alone and in teams and have good communication skills. Steel fabricating can be most rewarding for those who enjoy physically demanding tasks and seeing the results of their work.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Review drawings and discuss them with the customer or with management
  • Lay out reference points and patterns on heavy metal according to component specifications
  • Plan the sequence of tasks and decide how to cut the steel most efficiently
  • Develop and mark patterns if required
  • Assemble and fit metal sections and plates to form complete units or sub-units using tack welding, bolting or other methods
  • Set up and operate various heavy-duty metal-working machines such as brake presses, shears, cutting torches, grinders, drills and computer numerical control (CNC) equipment to bend, cut, form, punch, drill or otherwise form heavy metal components
  • Fasten components together (by mechanical means or tack weld) in preparation for a welder to complete the process
  • Construct patterns and templates as guides for layouts
  • Steel fabricators usually work indoors in shops that are noisy, smelly and dusty. They generally work a 40-hour week with longer hours sometimes required to meet construction or fabrication deadlines. Some may also work shifts, depending on the contractor. Those who work on construction sites may sometimes work outdoors. This requires travel to the site and the possibility of working at great heights. There is always some risk of injury involved in working with heavy materials and power tools, therefore steel fabricators must take the proper safety precautions.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Steel fabricators are employed in structural steel, boiler and platework fabrication plants, construction companies, and by heavy machinery manufacturing and shipbuilding companies.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced steel fabricators may advance to foreperson or supervisory positions. With additional training, they can transfer their skills to related occupations such as ironworker, boilermaker, welder, sheet metal worker, machinist, millwright, tool and die maker or elevator constructor. Journeyman steel fabricators who wish to apprentice as ironworkers, boilermakers or welders are awarded first period time credits toward their apprenticeship.

  Educational Paths  
Steel fabricators receive their training either through informal, on-the-job training or through an apprenticeship program. Trade certification can be obtained either through an apprenticeship program or after several years of work experience. While trade certification is not mandatory in all areas to become a steel fabricator, it can be a requirement for many employers and can also help secure employment.

Apprenticeship programs involve a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction. A pre-apprenticeship course may also be available which takes about five to six months to complete at a community college and is designed to help you get connected with a good company to apprentice with. It is important to apprentice with a reputable company as that is your education. While some apprenticeship programs may not require a high school diploma, it is important to note that employers generally prefer to hire high school graduates.

Apprenticeships can vary, however a typical apprenticeship lasts four to five years. The apprenticeship is a paid position, however wages are about 50 percent of what an employer pays the journeyperson, with yearly increases. After successfully completing the apprenticeship requirements, their industry training and apprenticeship office awards the steel fabricator a certificate of completion.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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