Diverse clientele keeps shop humming at SteelFab
SteelFab welder David Frazier works on an oil platform for Shell Oil on June 21.
Diversity is the key. That’s what C. Richard Faulkner, owner and president of SteelFab Inc. in Anchorage, says helped him grow his company and keep a full list of projects.
SteelFab is among the largest steel service centers in the state, dealing with all aspects of the industry from raw products to processing. The diversity Faulkner mentioned refers to the company catering to a wide range of industries, such as oil, mining, construction, fishing, timber, special projects or even individuals. SteelFab offers more than 100,000 tons of available products at all times.
“We build a little bit of everything,” Faulkner said.
The fabrication shop at Ship Creek has kept busy, whether building sewage treatment plants for the North Slope, float systems for Snug Harbor in Kenai or a giant pit that housed the large mechanical whales in the movie “Big Miracle.”
Faulkner said the workload develops diverse capabilities, which then draws more projects. He said fabricators who focus on one particular industry can find themselves stuck when those projects dry up.
“We can maintain a workflow where others can’t,” he said.
Faulkner said the company works in communities throughout the state and handles almost all fabrications in Anchorage.
SteelFab was founded in 1948, and the Faulkners bought it 40 years later. The fabrication facility was 9,000 square feet went they bought it. Today, it’s about 83,000 square feet, making this shop the largest processing facility in the state.
The area also houses a separate painting facility and SteelFab employs about 60 people.
Faulkner said this growth was always part of the plan because there was a need for larger fabrication facility in the state. Much of the expansion was from a 10-year project started in 1991. Faulkner said the expansions were based on the requirements of the industry, which can be very demanding in Alaska.
As a service center fabricator, SteelFab also sells steel components already cut and molded.
Faulkner said the company typically doesn’t get involved with huge projects because just a few of those could take up their entire capacity. Instead, they keep a steady run of smaller to medium-sized projects going. SteelFab Project Coordinator William Griffith said they usually have 30 to 40 work orders going on at once from different customers.
Some of the clients include the State of Alaska, Doyon Drilling, school districts, Artic Slope Regional Corp., ConocoPhillips, Hilcorp Energy Co., Fairbanks Gold Mine, the Boy Scouts and a vast array of others.
“We work for just about everybody,” Faulkner said.
SteelFab’s busy schedule isn’t always the norm in today’s market. Many fabrication shops have reported slow project lineups and empty shops.
Faulkner said that variety in the client list is how the company has thrived with steady work and growth.
SteelFab has grown so much that the fabrication shop has machinery not common in other Alaskan fabricators. For example, a few years ago the company purchased an $80,000 beveling machine that many other shops simply rent because it isn’t used often enough. This machine works on large diameter pipe that isn’t often cut that way in a state shop.
Other projects include casing work on Shell’s Chukchi project, the Special Olympics torch, tanks for the Kensington Gold Mine near Juneau and various sculptures along Anchorage intersections.
SteelFab is also the state’s only shop to be bridge certified by the American Institute of Steel Construction. The company has built bridges along bike paths and the railroad bridge near the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
Faulkner said SteelFab is also the only shop that can handle columns and had proper certifications to weld certain base plates for the airport several years ago.
SteelFab holds many other certifications, including those for coding, pressure vessels, sewage treatment plants and tanker trailers.
Another part of the diversity equation, Faulkner said, is that the company sells to individuals as well as corporations. He gave an example of many artists who need things made here.
Faulkner said such demand began when transportation in Alaska became more reliable. This meant customers wanted products faster. Before then, the company, as well as many others, only did fabrications because unreliable transportation ruled out speedy deliveries.
The sales and other components added today take advantage of modern logistics to get the product out quickly, reliably and to a larger customer base.
SteelFab isn’t done growing yet, either. Faulkner said the company is in the process of adding equipment to make things run even faster.