219.885.7600
Corporate Address: 6120 River Rd., Hodgkins, IL 60525 | Phone: (708) 482-7500
Plant Addess: 86 N. Bridge St. Gary, IN 46404 | Phone: (219) 885-7600

Construction in Focus

by Mark Golombek | Jan 07, 2019
Measure Twice, Cut Once: The Risk of Lowball Bids
Industrial Steel Construction (ISC)hails from Gary, Indiana, at the site of the previous American Bridge Fabricators headquarters. American Bridge was a division of U.S. Steel, and that facility was closed in the late 1970s and acquired by Joseph Hish, who is the current owner of ISC. Over the last thirty years, Joe has rebuilt the facility, improving the cranes, repairing the building, adding new LED lighting and sophisticated fabrication equipment to bring the massive facility up to present day technologic standards.

The enormous facility encompasses 160 acres and 1.6 million square feet under roof with almost one hundred overhead cranes. The building is enormous, and ISC can assemble a bridge inside before shipping it. In this way, the company can assure that every dimension is correct, every bolt fits, every splice plate is exactly as it should be, before it is disassembled and shipped.
"If you are in an outdoor environment where there is snow, ice, wind, rain and sleet, that can make it very difficult to accurately assure dimensions. Doing it inside a building, you can do that exactly right. This is a huge advantage for us. No other fabricator in the U.S. has that capability "says ISC Director Pat Loftus.

The other advantage for ISC is that it can ship the disassembled components by truck, rail or water. There is access to Lake Michigan, and ISC has shorefront dockage and can load directly onto an oceangoing barge and ship either domestically or internationally from Gary. This strategic advantage allows it to
serve a much larger geographic market.

ISC's niche is in sophisticated bridge fabrication. The more complicated the project, the more suited ISC is to be the fabricator. A good example of this can be seen with widening of the Huey P. Long Bridge in New Orleans.

"The existing bridge could not be closed down as it was a vital link to the city, but they had to expand its capacity. The solution was to add exterior truss structure to make the existing bridge significantly wider. We fabricated roughly 22,000 tons of steel
for that project," says Pat.

This was a complex project that had to be highly accurate as it needed to be installed in place alongside the existing bridge. The gargantuan parts were fabricated inside the shop, then assembled, disassembled and shipped to New Orleans.
The project took three years to accomplish and was completed in the time budgeted.

The computer numeric control (CNC) process and fabrication equipment at ISC is truly advanced, and there are areas of fabrication that are highly automated. The company recently incorporated robotic welding equipment provided  by  the Lincoln Electric Company to make the pieces that go into cross frames that connect the major girders. This equipment can weld some of these on a fully automated basis.
significantly wider. 

One of the processes that many people may not know about is the application of the final protect ion system of the bridge structure. "Over the past five years, we have developed a process called metallizing, where you actually spray a molten vapor of zinc aluminum onto the steel structure to give it a cathodic protection over the long term. This requires additional surface preparation automation that we have installed at ISC," says Pat.

ISC has also recently added a sophisticated metallizing line in its coating facility with multiple huge metallizing guns that can apply the zinc aluminum rapidly. It produces girders with metallized surfaces, without slow in g down the production process.

Despite the expertise and capabilities of ISC, competition is fierce. In the U.S. fabrication market, there are several other large, highly-competent professional fabricators with which ISC competes. The competition becomes even more intense if it includes a massive project, as foreign competitors then take an interest.

"Our goal is to bring ourselves to a level where we are fully competent in competing with any fabricator in any country. Unfortunately, federal funding for highway work and bridge construction is extremely erratic and cyclical," says Pat.

In the U.S., there are two to three years that have adequate funding to make improvements on infrastructure, but that is followed by three to five years where the federal government is simply not providing enough funding to even maintain the current system, and production levels drop significantly lower. This is where the industry lies today.

"The federal government is in a stagnated partisan structure, and states are scrambling to find revenue sources to maintain and improve their bridge structure. In some cases, that is successful, but in others, not so much," says Pat.

Pennsylvania has had to implement a gas tax that is helping it imp rove local bridge structures. Louisiana put the issue to a vote, and the population rejected the tax increase. Its department of transportation is struggling desperately for adequate funding.

Pat goes on to explain that, in this environment, the fabrication industry is forced to look elsewhere for steel supply. If there is a big project, the spike in demand may push contractors to go with public/private partnerships and
go offshore for the steel supply to places like China or Italy.
 
"This is the direction we are headed. We look at it as more of a global opportunity and not just limited to the Midwest or the U.S.," says Pat.

ISC is close to steel mills and can utilize rail, barge and trucks for shipment. This is another significant advantage, as it is right on the water, near the source of production. Seventeen rail lines come into its facilities, so ISC can bring in as much steel as it needs almost effortlessly. The company has a very close relationship with the steel mills, and that supply is very helpful.

Vice President and General Manager Bill Edwards has total operational responsibility for fabrication and brings decades of shop experience and safety awareness. In this industry, that is of paramount importance.

"We are working with very large and heavy pieces of steel. They are being moved with overhead cranes, conveyor systems and forklifts. There has to be a regular commitment. You can't just react when something gets injured. It has to be accomplished in a pre-emptive fashion," says Pat.

Regular meetings have all of the shop personnel review safety procedures in an ongoing process to ensure the safety of the worker. ISC has a very good safety record, and part of this is due to the excellent labor force it has. Fifty percent of its work­ force has been with the company for more than ten years. Out of that, half have been employed there for over twenty years. These people would not stay if they felt that safety was not made a priority.

This kind of technical work requires a lot of training. When a new piece of equipment is introduced, the company decides which people would be the best operators. Then an extensive training program follows.

"The people that run the robotics, for instance, love doing it as they get to produce a lot more high-quality product, and it is an easier physical job. The machine does most of the work, and they would simply control a robotic arm for example. It's a win/ win...more productivity with less effort," says Pat.

In ten to twenty years, Pat hopes that the U.S. can get past the partisan politics to recognize that for this to continue to be a great country, there has to be a great infrastructure and transportation system. Said system will allow goods and services, trucks, ships, material and people to more quickly and freely respond to the market.

"We have been sitting stagnant now for a long time, allowing our infrastructure to decay and are not expanding it. We are losing our position in world leadership because we are losing our ability to grow commerce and to move goods and services. Our ports are not up to world standard, nor are our highways. Hopefully, in the next ten years, this changes, and we can concentrate on the maintenance of existing bridges and building of new ones," says Pat.