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The Global Steel Detailer

Posted on February 23, 2016 - Ewen Dobbie

No one disputes that the steel detailing business is experiencing a global revolution. The emergence of high speed Internet, rapid development of IT-enabling technologies; communication, 3D model-centric communication and collaboration, data management, and web-conferencing have all created opportunities for cost-efficient service models for enterprising companies locating strategic service elements in lower-cost but technologically-competent regions.

Demographics show us that in Canada, USA, Asia and much of Europe, populations are aging. We know this only too well, as the demand for experienced steel detailers in North America increases. This shortage, combined with the fact that there are very few technical schools offering structural drafting/detailing as part of their curriculum, presents a problem for the North American steel fabricators, steel detailing companies, and the steel construction industry.

Contrastingly, countries like India are now entering a cycle where a large portion of the population will be of working age. To be exact, 50% of India’s 1.25 billion population are under 25 years old, and 65% of the population are under 35 years old. Such demographics suggest huge opportunities for ongoing expansion and growth.

Foreign detailing companies working in North America are no longer considered a new threat to the North American detailer. The reality is that most, if not all, North American detailers have either adapted to the new historic ‘low price per detailing service hour’ or have perished.

In essence, many detailing companies came to the realization that their North American cost structure no longer enables them to deliver the quality product the marketplace expects and still be a viable business. In short, their costs of doing business were greater than the marketplace was willing to pay.

One can look at the effects of the globalization of services from two differing perspectives. The first perspective is one of resistance. Here, the detailer complains that the market rate for services is declining, and well…. that’s simply not right. Alternatively, the entrepreneurial perspective has companies challenge their existing assumptions and re-examines every aspect of their business, technology, processes and ultimately their strategic business objectives.

Today, modern day detailers use 3D modeling technology and have all-or-most of their detailing production done offshore. Dowco is no different. As one of the larger detailing companies in the marketplace, the company has incorporated a business strategy that incorporates an IT-enabled team overseas as 'part of' their North American production team. This is not simply sending work to be done overseas, or the practice of ‘outsourcing detailing’ as it is commonly referred. Dowco’s approach to ‘outsourcing’ is different.

Dowco saw an opportunity to create a ‘blended rate’-pricing scenario, serving to ensure the company could remain competitive in an increasingly competitive and globalized world. The companies strategy was to build a globally integrated detailing services company. Today, the Dowco Group is comprised of 5 different detailing offices (soon to be 6) spread across three countries.

What makes Dowco’s business model different from other large foreign-owned detailing companies is the number of experienced staff in North America. The company realizes the importance of project managers, and detailers having decades of real North American project experience. With a total staff count of 240 detailers, 91 of which are in our North American offices, Dowco customers are assured there is ample ‘real steel’ experience on their projects.

Dowco’s approach is not to send projects to be done in offshore locations but rather to use an IT-enabled managed task approach to project execution. Having a global IT infrastructure and having the ability to store and simultaneously access 3D Project models in the cloud, Dowco can rapidly deploy resources from any of their 5 offices worldwide. Such a process also ensures all project management and controls remain with its North American experienced staff. For customers, they benefit from time compression and a blended cost pricing model which ensures Dowco delivers full value to all executed projects.

3D modeling, detailing and collaboration technology continues to evolve as does the push for increased efficiencies driven by market pricing. Detailer entrepreneurs with the will and resolve to survive, the creativity and willingness to evolve, will become rarities. The single source or industry standard ‘go to’ detailing services company will be that company that consistently delivers high quality detailing services at competitive prices, achieved through the efficient and rapid deployment of resources from a global production infrastructure.

Exciting times ahead for steel construction and for the enterprising steel detailer.

Dowco Group - Ewen Dobbie

President, CEO of Dowco Group of Companies