SME Steel Contractors, Inc., offers a full package of fabrication, erection and project-management services for structural steel. Barbara Kram provides the details on the top structural steel supplier in the western United States.
If SME builds it, they will come. SME Steel Contractors, Inc., fabricated and erected the structural steel at the San Francisco Giants’ field of dreams, Pacific Bell Park, along with many other high-profile places and spaces.
SME fabricated and erected the structural steel for many hotels on the Las Vegas strip, including the Mirage, the Bellagio and Treasure Island. The company recently fabricated and installed the 40-story Aladdin Resort and Casino, including the low-rise casino and the retail shopping space. SME will soon erect the steel for a 1.9 million square-foot convention center for the new hotel, Mandalay Bay. In the San Francisco Bay area, SME has many current and pending projects including a major renovation in the Union Square shopping district.
Specializing in commercial construction, SME provides general contractors with a single source for the complete steel package. Its capabilities include fabricating and erecting structural and secondary elements, and it supplies miscellaneous steel for decking, stairs, railings and other features. Founded in 1992 as a wholly owned subsidiary of SME Industries, SME Steel Contractors, Inc., is a privately held company with the capacity to produce 50,000 tons of steel per year. SME’s customer base is concentrated in the intermountain area of California, Utah and Nevada. Its work also extends to the Pacific Northwest.
SME is acknowledged as one of the best fabricator/erectors west of the Mississippi because of its capabilities in providing the highest-quality product, full-scope responsibility, cost containment and schedule performance. The company continually reviews budgets with general contractors and owners over the life of the project to keep costs under control. Craig Moyes, SME’s president, says, “We offer our total-resource abilities as a package for our customers. We are the total steel company.”
Since structural steel is the backbone of a building and its erectors are among the first contractors on a job site, SME sets the project’s pace, personality and punctuality. “We make sure that the right steel is at the project on the right day,” Moyes says. “This function is critical to the whole construction endeavor. Because of that, our project management group focuses on this aspect to keep the right products coming to our customers when they’re needed. We have the ability to do turnkey jobs, and we’ll vendor out the joists and structural steel if we have to.”
SME’s ability to deliver in this fashion is a crucial component of its customer service. “Timing is so critical for our product because if we get that building off on time, the next guy comes in on time,” says Gordon Holladay, SME’s chief financial officer. “To an owner and general contractor, that’s everything.”
In commercial construction (compared to the relative inflexibility of government work), steel contractors must accommodate the site owner’s ideas for the project. “Entrepreneurial types like casino owners might want to change the whole entrance or put a swimming pool on the third floor,” says Holladay. “I believe that we get continued work in Las Vegas because we have the wherewithal to respond to those kinds of changes.”
SME is also organized to accommodate fast-track projects. The company orchestrates its steel fabrication with precision scheduling and in a tempo that meets construction site needs. “We fabricate the steel in the sequence that our erector wants to hang it,” Holladay emphasizes. “As you fab it, so you ship it and as you ship it, so it gets erected.”
“It’s really all planning and scheduling to make the whole operation work,” adds Argan Johnson, executive vice president. “We work backward from what is needed at the site to determine how much time we need for fabrication, then factoring in ordering material for just-in-time delivery and how much time you need for the customer approval stage.”
Artists at Work
SME has more than 300,000 square feet of fabrication facilities. The company performs heavy fabrication in its Pocatello, Idaho, facility, a shop with 50-ton cranes and 60-foot by 300-foot bays. It stages in-line fabrication for lighter work in a facility in West Jordan, Utah. The miscellaneous steel fab takes place in a fabricating plant in Las Vegas, which the company purchased two and one-half years ago from Southwest Steel. The company’s sophisticated fabrication equipment includes plasma tables and burn tables to cut parts, and specialized machinery to burn copes and miters onto the ends of beams. SME has also developed its own machine welding system.
Everything is coordinated to fulfill the detailing — the drawings with the steel specifications, which flow from the engineering drawings made from the macro-level architectural drawings. “Three things have to come together in a shop: the material, the man and the detailing,” says Holladay. “Every fabricator has in front of him a piece of paper that tells him where to drill the hole, attach a piece and how long the stick of steel should be. It’s like a musician in an orchestra who has sheet music.”
SME supports its “virtuosos” with the latest computerized fabrication operations. In the early phase of a project, the company’s CAD design and three-dimensional detailing system interfaces with the general contractor’s and architect’s systems to optimize steel frame design and preempt costs and delays. SME’s detailing system features CNC manufacturing data and electronic transfer of design information to enhance shop drawing production efficiency. The system programs shop drawings into automated equipment so that drills, saws, punches and burn tables are all computer coded and connected.
What’s perhaps most unique about this operation is that SME’s automated materials-handling system is a straight-flow production process. Its linear fabrication uses light overhead cranes to move steel onto a conveyor system, eliminating heavy overhead cranes to maximize efficiency in time, output and job tracking. Each conveyor line is organized according to how much time it will take to fabricate the steel. For example, one line might be for steel that is fabricated in less than an hour, another line for work that takes two to three hours and another for work done over several days. This setup enables SME’s approximately 350 craftspeople to produce more than 200 tons of fabricated steel per day routinely, a production rate matched by few other companies.
Backbone for Growth
In addition to its fabrication personnel, SME has more than 20 professionals dedicated to project management. Civil engineers, support draftspeople, data-entry technicians and field erection superintendents all serve on the company’s project teams. Plus, SME employs an administrative and business staff of several dozen.
Just as steel is the backbone of the building, SME’s top-flight erection crews are the backbone of its job-site success. “Our erection teams are considered the best in the western United States, and they are often the key to the repeat business we get,” Moyes states. “As a business overall, we’re very people oriented. We get good people and we keep them through motivation and pay.”
SME draws on the Ironworkers Union for its skill, experience and dedicated team performance. “Our relationships with them are unsurpassed,” Holladay says proudly of the company’s work with the union locals. “They like us. We like them. We bend over backward for them and they bend over backward for us. They know who the people are who take care of their men.”
Given the shape of the construction market in SME’s customer territories, more repeat and new business is on the way. Moyes says, “Las Vegas will keep growing, and there are enough construction projects on the board to ensure growth for us at least three years out. New casinos, malls, office buildings and convention centers will provide a lot of business for us. Southern California also looks to be a strong new construction market over that same time frame.”