A steel detailer is a person who produces detailed drawings for steel fabricators and steel erectors. The detailer prepares detailed plans, drawings and other documents for the manufacture and erection of steel members (columns, beams, braces, trusses, stairs, handrails, joists, metal decking, etc.) used in the construction of buildings, bridges, industrial plans, and nonbuilding structures. A steel detailer's projects are usually commercial, residential, public, industrial or municipal; low-rise residential projects..
Steel detailers (usually simply called detailers within their field) work closely with architects, engineers, general contractors and steel fabricators. They usually find employment with steel fabricators, engineering firms, or independent steel detailing companies. Steel detailing companies and self-employed detailers subcontract primarily to steel fabricators and sometimes to general contractors and engineers.
A steel detailer prepares two primary types of drawings: erection drawings and shop drawings.
Erection drawings are used to guide the steel erector on the construction site ("in the field") as to where and how to erect the fabricated steel members. These drawings usually show dimensioned plans to locate the steel members, and they often also show details with specific information and requirements, including all work that must be done in the field (such as bolting, welding or installing wedge anchors). Since the erection drawings are intended for use in the field, they contain very little specific information about the fabrication of any individual steel member; members should already be completed by the time the erection drawings are used.
Shop drawings, also called detail drawings, are used to specify the exact detailing requirements for fabricating each individual member (or "piece") of a structure, and are used by the steel fabricator to fabricate these members. Complete shop drawings show material specifications, member sizes, all required dimensions, welding, bolting, surface preparation and painting requirements, and any other information required to describe each completed member. The shop drawings are intended for use by the fabrication shop, and thus contain little or no information about the erection and installation of the steel members they depict; this information belongs in the erection drawings.
The detailer must comply with the requirements of the design drawings and with all industry standards and protocols, such as those established by the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) and the American Welding Society (AWS). The detailer is usually not responsible for design, including structural strength, stiffness, and stability (which are the responsibility of the structural engineer), major dimensions of the structure and compliance with relevant building codes (which are the responsibility of the architect). A detailer is generally required to submit his drawings to the structural engineer and/or architect for review prior to the release of drawings for fabrication. However, to complete his drawings, an experienced steel detailer usually suggests connections subject to the approval of the structural engineer in cases where the structural drawings have insufficient information. In these situations, the steel detailer is guided by his experience and knowledge of existing engineering codes such as the Steel Construction Manual published by AISC.
In the case of non-building structures there is typically no architect, and detail drawings are reviewed exclusively by the structural engineer of record. This design review ideally assures engineering accuracy and compliance with the design intent.