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Allocation of Responsibilities (was: Disclaimer Notes -and- Steel connections/ fabricator

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OK, I have to chirp up on these topics.

First of all, on the issue of a fabricator using pieces of an engineer's
drawings for his shop drawings:  the fabricator is taking the
responsibility to make things fit; if using pieces of the engineer's
(implicitly incorrect) drawings causes him to make a mistake, it's still
his problem.  Backed into a corner, I know a few of them who may try to
make a case out of mistakes in your drawings, but if your drawings are
that bad, the case could probably be made whether or not they copied the
drawings.  I recognize the difference between a small extra for time
strightening out shop drawings due to bad structural drawings, versus
the bigger dollars accrueing from steel fabbed and shipped to the site
which doesn't fit; but if your drawings are that bad, I think you'd
better write the check and quit whining.  It's not, and never will be,
the contractor's or fabricator's responsibility to actually check your
drawings for you, regardless of words to the contrary written by you.  I
personally feel that it's money well spent on the contractor's part to
pay his fabricator to detail things independently, because it makes my
life easier; but it's not my call, and it's not how they do business.
They shop their subs mercilessly right up to the bid opening.

As an aside, the use of engineer's drawings (and by extension, computer
models and other information), while frowned upon by most independent
engineers, is probably one of the most significant advantages available
in true design-build.  By true design-build, I mean a situation where
the engineer and builder are employed by the same firm.  The other type
of design build, where the contractor hires an engineer just like any
other sub, in my brief experience, quickly degenerates to a lot of
finger pointing and sluffing of responsibility on down the food chain.
An engineer would have to be crazy to give access to his CAD files in
that situation.

Secondly, let me talk about this business of demanding money back from a
fabricator who wants to copy drawings.  Let's remember how this work is
usually commissioned; the engineer (at least in theory) negotiates a fee
to do what he feels is necessary.  Often it's set up as a not-to-exceed
with hourly rates and a built in profit margin.  If you're working for
an architect, it's a little more cut-throat, but you still have some
say.  The contractors (and their subs), on the other hand, bid the job.
If a contractor figures out a slick new way to do something, nobody gets
to say to him "you owe us money back because you're making more than we
think you should."  That's ludicrous.  The only control on how much he
charges is how low he thinks he needs to bid the job to get it.  If you
want to "level the playing field," as was suggested, by putting
unnecessary restrictions on the job, you're only costing the owner extra
money.  This vast difference in how each side gets paid needs to be
recognized, because it affects every interaction between the parties
involved.  Engineers who gripe about how much money a contractor makes
should try bidding for work.  It sucks.  It doesn't suit our kind of
work, because we're the ones who put enough definition on the project to
enable it to be bid; but even if our work lent itself to open bidding,
it's not the key to endless profits.

The same logic applies to connection design.  The engineer has to give
the fabricator what only he is in a position to know or do, which is
usually reactions and really strange or involved connection
configurations (such as moment connections).  Aside from that, if your
drawings are clear as to who does what, no one has the right to whine.

Mike Hemstad, P.E.
St. Paul, Minnesota

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