You have identified that you want to hire a fabricator to build a custom project. You may have a preliminary sketch or concept of your project or you may have a very detailed idea of what you need built.
How do you select a fabricator? What qualities are vital to creating 1) A working relationship to withstand the trials and tribulations of custom fabrication and 2) A favourable project outcome?
Over the years, we at Heavy Industries have identified what qualities have been the most vital for us to achieve maximum results with the projects we have built. We believe that when these qualities are implemented both long-term relationships and successful projects are built.
1. Open Transparent Communication
Communication is the cornerstone to understanding. One of the most important qualities between the fabricator and the client is open, transparent communication.
When all the cards are laid out on the table, trust is formed, which can take a working relationship through any type of challenge – large or small.
This includes transparency about scope of work, budget and working through problems.
Scope of Work
It is important for the fabricator to be willing to explain each aspect of the project, from concept to design, build and installation.
Every aspect of the job should be very clearly outlined and discussed from material use to processes as well as any third party involvement.
The more detailed the communication can be at the early stages of project planning, defining the scope of work, the easier decision making becomes down the road if hiccups arise, because both fabricator and client understand the overall goal, and can point back to that original plan.
This point is closely related to scope of work. When a project is clearly laid out by the fabricator to the client, less ambiguity exists around costs.
Budget transparency is an important part of maintaining trust. The client should know how much of the project cost is delineated towards every aspect of the project; material cost, mark-up, design, fabrication, etc.
When an aspect of the design changes during fabrication, change orders are issued to have any alteration from the original plan approved for cost. It is important that a fabricator clearly communicate the reasons behind the change order so the client understands the need for it to take place. Any questions should be addressed up front. A red flag goes up when change orders aren’t discussed openly and clearly.
Working through Problems
Let’s face it, challenges and issues can arise in any project. Surprises are a result of working in our industry; they are largely unavoidable. So, rather than shy away when challenges arise, how can they be worked through the best possible way? Communication and teamwork.
In a tricky situation there are two options; 1) The fabricator keeps their mouth shut, and tries to troubleshoot without mentioning anything to the client, or 2) The fabricator openly discusses that an issue has been encountered and collaborates together with the client, on the best way to handle it. Which would you rather?
Here is an example: material is late to arrive, which pushes back production of aspects a, b, and c of the project. This threatens the timeline. In scenario 2 the fabricator would address this issue head-on by telling the client and giving them a list of ideas of how they are thinking of amending the plan to compensate for lost time, for example, by producing other aspects of the project while they wait, or looking for a material discount because of the delay.
It is always best to admit mistake or issue and list what you plan to do to fix it, and then collaborate on the final decision.
When good communication and teamwork are in place the fabricator can go to bat for the client. When trust exists between the fabricator and the client the fabricator can confidently act on behalf of the client if there are site issues with installation or supply delays, or any other third party disputes.
2. Get Intimate with the Project
The second quality to look for in a fabricator is a willingness to get to know as much about the project as possible up-front.
A fabricator should be incredibly inquisitive, asking questions to demonstrate they are thinking about various aspects of the project.
Having said this, there are two types of client relationships, formal and non-formal.
In a non-formal setting perhaps the client has approached the fabricator to submit or collaborate on a project design, to see if there is a fit moving forward with the fabrication. In this scenario it is possible for the fabricator to ask lots of questions about the project before submitting anything. Questions may include site details, site access, public interaction, the idea or inspiration behind the project, what the project is supposed to accomplish, and the list goes on and on. Projects are complex – there are many nuances, and it takes time to understand various project details before an accurate quote can be established. The fabricator may even ask what the budget is. Then they can design within the scope of budget available. It is important to know the target budget because that may drastically change the design.
In a more formal setting, such as responding to an RFP, it may not be possible to have direct communication with the client, but it is still valuable for the fabricator to submit questions to demonstrate they have been thinking the process through.
In a proposal, a fabricator can include, “we have assumed x, y, z, resulting in this outcome.” Ultimately, the fabricator should demonstrate that they are aware of all the aspects of a project, and ask the proper questions be able to provide an accurate scope of work and budget.
3. Multi-Faceted … not just a one-trick pony
For optimal results, a fabrication company should offer many capabilities and processes under one roof.
This means that rather than specializing in only one function or material, the company is proficient in several materials and processes.
It is possible for a fabricator to specialize in one area and contract out various other components of a project; however this may not ensure each project is being completed with the material and processes most suitable for its unique needs and requirements.
No shop is going to be all things to everyone, but demonstrating an array of capabilities means they’re divers and likely have authorities from various fields working on your project. An integrated team ensures they’re offering the best solution for your specific project – not just whatever suits their niche production capability. When a team of professionals with various material knowledge and skill work together, under one roof, there is ample knowledge about various aspects; like quality control and material handling. The best candidate can then be chosen to work on each project.
If there is a product, like fiberglass, for example, that someone in-house knows a lot about but isn’t as skilled working with it, a third party can be contracted out but quality can be overseen by an in-house professional.
When selecting a fabricator to work with, an important consideration is past experience. Working through many projects provides true understanding of how to continually improve.
Ways to gauge experience include:
- The complexity of projects in their portfolio
- Who they have worked with
- The variety of projects in their portfolio
- The number of sub-scopes they can integrate
- The scale of work they produce
- The quality of work they produce
- Whether or not projects meets their goals; budget, timeline and concept
- Repeat business
If this information isn’t available up-front through researching their website or news related information, ask for it. RFP’s will ask questions such as:
“List your five largest projects – and how they are related,”
Or “list three projects where you have worked with xxx material.”
Look for work they have done that has similarities to the project you need built. Look for experience in skills that relates to the project in hand.
For example: you want to build a giant bubble. At Heavy Industries we haven’t built a bubble before, but we have built a giant head and a giant raindrop; we know our processes and experience building these projects would lend to building a bubble.
5. Sophisticated Design
Thoughtful, comprehensive design is one of the most valuable components of good fabrication.
The more effort placed on good design, the easier every aspect of the project becomes; paying off more than double when it comes to time savings in the long run.
By-products of good design include:
- Improved communication
- Seamless integration of scopes
- Preventing foreseeable problems
Sophisticated design requires all four qualities we have discussed above; transparency, getting to know the project deeply, being multi-faceted and having experience. All are required for good design.
Open Transparent Communication – Clear communication between the client and the fabricator will produce optimal design.
Get Intimate with the Project – When the fabricator gets to know the project deeply and asks pertinent questions about every aspect a more accurate design prevails, staying true to concept.
Multi-Faceted … not just a one-trick pony – A multi-faceted team with experience is required to put together a design that can be built and installed on budget and on time.
Experience – When a fabricator considers all aspects of design up-front, more effort is saved in the long run, ultimately saving costs.
In the end, when choosing a fabricator it all comes down to these five qualities we have laid out; open transparent communication, getting intimate with the project, multi-faceted, experienced, and sophisticated design.
Do some research into the company you are prospecting to see if they have successfully integrated these qualities into their service, and at the end of the day always trust your gut. If you every feel that information is being withheld or a company is overly salesy, check yourself. It is when you feel at ease with a decision that is usually works out for the best.