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Tekla delivers true digital fabrication to South Durham Structures

South Durham Structures improved fabrication processes with Tekla PowerFab

When discussing digital fabrication, it’s easy to focus solely on the advantages of 3D modeling software during the detailing stage. However, achieving true digital fabrication can only be accomplished by considering the entire fabrication workflow, providing digitization, efficiency, and productivity benefits. South Durham Structures has experienced these benefits after integrating Tekla PowerFab into its business.

South Durham Structures is a company located in the Northeast UK, specializing in fabricating and installing structural steel for various structures such as industrial buildings, schools, hospitals, and student accommodation. They were the first in the UK to utilize Tekla PowerFab, a software designed for steel fabricators that promotes true digital fabrication by providing a centralized hub for managing and operating their business. Tekla PowerFab allows them to easily manage their projects, streamline their processes, and optimize their productivity.

Tekla PowerFab on monitors in the fabrication workshop

Here at South Durham Structures, we were already familiar with Trimble and its Tekla software, although it was predominantly used only in the drawing office. So, when Trimble approached us to talk about Tekla PowerFab, it just made sense. We had already transitioned from a paper-based management approach to a digital system, but PowerFab has helped us push this value even further.

Keith Corner, Operations Director, South Durham Structures

While the initial rollout of Tekla PowerFab was slightly hindered by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with a large number of staff working from home, South Durham Structures is now utilizing the software on a full-time basis, from estimating and purchasing through to the fabrication shop and production tracking. 

PowerFab: Streamlining estimations with automation

Since introducing PowerFab into our workflow, the estimation stage is now a far faster and more automated process, commented Phil Nattress, Estimator. Once we receive the IFC file from the engineer at the initial tender stage, we can import this directly into PowerFab. Thanks to the software’s emphasis on data integration and automation, we can generate estimates and quantity take-offs directly from the IFC file – overall, a far easier, more efficient, and more accurate way of working.

Even just having a 3D model at the estimation stage is a huge help, compared to working solely in 2D. As well as giving you greater insight into the project and the “end goal”, it also helps to give you a real ‘feel’ for the job and a better understanding of the estimate itself.

Chris Martin, Contracts Manager, South Durham Structures

two monitors showing Tekla PowerFab generating estimates directly from model

Streamlined purchase and stock management with Tekla PowerFab

Speaking about South Durham Structures’ use of Tekla PowerFab at the procurement stage, Keith said: As well as using PowerFab to raise POs, we can also track stock levels with the live inventory, which is a real game changer. Easy to use and offering enhanced levels of visibility, we now no longer have to manually and physically check what stock we already have, compared to what stock we need to purchase on every job. Instead, it’s all automated, providing us with a far better and more informed way to handle stock. We can import files from the drawing office, and the digital system will do the rest!

Having instant access to live stock information is perhaps especially valuable given the current economic climate, with material shortages and long lead times an ongoing challenge for the construction industry. 

PowerFab is a real game change for South Durham Structures' purchase and stock management

Fabrication: enhanced visibility and efficiency with PowerFab

While a digital information management system, such as PowerFab, delivers value throughout the fabrication workflow, as already demonstrated, perhaps its biggest value comes at the fabrication stage. 

Keith commented: Manufacturing to the CE mark, as we do, traceability is a crucial factor. Previously, our staff would fill in time sheets with what they had been working on, such as plating or welding, and this information would then be manually transferred to a spreadsheet for the Material Identification Traceability System (MITS) and its weekly reports.

PowerFab provides South Durhan Structures with more visibility and traceability on where every fabrication order is up to

Unsurprisingly, this was a very long-winded method, which took up a considerable amount of time. However, this has now been transformed and streamlined, thanks to the addition of digital technology on the shop floor. Through the use of smart tablets, all of our fabrication team have easy access to Tekla PowerFab and can immediately mark off a job once completed. As well as helping us to see who has done what, it also provides a live view of production and a greater understanding of the production program, with instant visibility and traceability on where every order is up to.

Chris added: As well as providing value at a business level, using tablets on the shop floor has also benefitted our fabrication team, providing them with easy access to the information they need when they need it. For example, in a particularly complex connection or weld, team members would often have come to the drawing office to query it or request to view the 3D drawings. Now, through Tekla PowerFab, they can instantly access and view the model and drawings on their tablet and interact with it, zooming in, panning around, etc. 

Through Tekla PowerFab, the fabricator accesses and views the drawing on their tablet

Everyone is connected, both to each other and the job. This central information system enables a far more collaborative and coordinated way of working, from estimation and procurement to the drawing office and into the fab shop.

Taking this theme of connectivity and coordination further, it’s not just fabricators that stand to benefit from a digital information management system but their customers, too. At South Durham Structures, the new and enhanced level of digitization has enabled them to offer an even greater level of customer service, as Chris explained. 

One major benefit we’ve seen is the ability to solve customer queries and promptly provide almost instant production updates. For example, we recently had a customer querying where a particular part of their order was. Using PowerFab, we could instantly trace the job and see that it had been completed and loaded onto the next delivery to the site. With the old paper-based system, this would have been a far longer and more time-consuming process, likely resulting in us having to walk around our site and physically look for the steel. 

Viewing production status of project using Tekla PowerFab and Trimble Connect

It’s all about aiding more effective communication. Having this greater level of visibility ourselves enables us to, in turn, be more transparent to the customer, facilitating a positive customer relationship.

Keith Corner, Operations Director, South Durham Structures

Keith concluded: As well as the automation and efficiency benefits that you get from a digital workflow, especially when compared to the previous paper-based method, perhaps the real value of PowerFab is its enhanced visibility. All the information you need is available right at your fingertips, whether on a tablet or a computer – no more having to carry around paper files. It saves time, saves paper, and is ideal for better business management, and I know it’s going to be key in helping us to drive the business forward.

Learn more about Tekla PowerFabthe complete and connected steel fabrication management software suite