Steelfab takes on Wood Bison, Slope, and coal stacks

Photos/Elwood Brehmer//AJOC

In Alaska, oftentimes if you can’t do it yourself, it won’t get done at all. Richard Faulkner has built his business on that principle.

Faulkner and his wife Janet have run Steelfab since they purchased the North Anchorage fabrication facility in 1989.

“We do anything and everything you can think of to a piece of steel,” he said.

The couple has grown the business from about a half-dozen employees when they took over the operation to nearly 50 full-time workers today.

What was once little more than a few-thousand square-foot shop has been transformed into an 85,000-square foot metal works complex complete with a massive paint shop and a 73-by-380-foot fabrication floor.

On March 19, Steelfab welders were assembling pens to transport wood bison for the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center alongside exhaust stacks being prepped for Golden Valley Electric Association’s coal-fired power plant in Healy. Farther down the shop, Faulkner led a tour of about a dozen Northern Industrial Training students passed a massive steel module that was being broken down for transport to the North Slope.

All the work on the large steel modules Steelfab builds is done in-house, he said, and they are built to be used hard. Heavy corrugated walls provide strength for everyday work and protection in the event of a mishap.

Faulkner recalled an incident in which a Steelfab module was dropped six feet while being unloaded from a barge on the Slope.

“It bounced,” he said.

The 50-by-30-by-26-foot module Steelfab just finished was built to house a 45,000-pound Caterpillar loader tractor, Faulkner said. At about 160,000 pounds, it disassembled into 50 pieces and can be put back together in about four days, he said.

The company usually makes about 15 to 20 each year.

In the paint shop, formed sections of steel tubing destined for ExxonMobil’s Point Thomson natural gas liquids development were getting a final protective coat.

Steelfab modified drill casing for Shell’s offshore work several years ago.

In addition to the fabrication work, Steelfab serves as a steel warehouse for the public. Faulkner has up to 1,500 tons of product available at any time. At any time his contract list could include a multi-million dollar project for a drilling company or Slope support contractor and a few hundred-dollar order for someone building a personal trailer.

“We have to be able to do multiple things occasionally,” Faulkner said. “We’re a certified bridge facility in the state of Alaska — the only one.”

On top of the major bridge certification from the American Institute of Steel Construction, Steelfab is also listed by the institute as a certified building fabricator and sophisticated paint facility.

Faulkner’s shop has further certifications from the American Welding Society, the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors and is approved for tank fabrication by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Keeping up on the qualifications is costly, Faulkner said, but it allows him to attract a wide range of business that keeps his employees busy and business steady. It also helps Steelfab compete with Outside fabricators, he said.

“Companies in Alaska are held to a higher standard of fabrication” by customers because of their cold climate building experience, he said.

Faulkner told NIT students soon to be looking for work that his business practices might make it harder to get in the Steelfab door, but that they can count on reliable employment if they hold up their end of the bargain.

“Our work is fairly steady through the winter. We work for the drilling contractors, the oilfield contractors; those sorts of outfits do take up the winter,” Faulkner said. “Then once we hit the summer — right about now — we’re working for (construction) guys just getting started.”

Steelfab does not bid on large capital projects and therefore doesn’t ramp up its workforce for major jobs only to cut employees when work slows.

“My goal has always been to have a steady workforce — keep them busy 40 to 50 hours a week, 12 months out of the year,” he said.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

11/19/2016 - 6:40pm