By Jo Bailey
Members of Steel Construction New Zealand have voted unanimously at the organisation’s AGM to introduce Steel Fabricator Certification as a compulsory requirement for all structural steel fabricator members.
Steel Fabricator Certification (SFC) is an industry-led quality assurance scheme developed jointly by SCNZ and the Heavy Engineering Research Association (HERA) in line with best practice European standards. It was launched in 2014 and marked a major milestone for the industry.
The new mandate provides an important point of difference for locally fabricated steelwork compared with offshore competitors; and means that SCNZ membership will be about much more than simply paying an annual fee, says Alistair Fussell, who has just finished as manager of SCNZ after six-and-a-half years.
“Our members have recognised the benefits of the SFC scheme and we are delighted with their strong show of support to make it a mandatory requirement.”
He says the local steel industry has to compete with imported prefabricated steelwork so is focused on “upping its game” in several different aspects.
“Our fabricator forums focus on service delivery and business excellence, and we see the SFC scheme as an important element in raising the quality bar by providing independent, expert certification of New Zealand fabrication companies.”
Until the introduction of SFC, as with many construction materials, the current compliance regime for structural steelwork relied on the most part, on self-inspection and self-certification, an approach dependent on the expertise, ethics and quality systems of the fabricator, and knowledge and expertise of engineers and welding inspectors to assess if the steel supplied is compliant.
Under SFC, independent auditing body HERA Certification has been established to audit and certify steel fabricators to ensure they have both the welding and the fabrication quality management systems in place to consistently produce fully compliant steelwork.
Alistair says the scheme reduces the risk to procurers and specifiers, such as engineers, architects and contractors as it ensures participating structural steel fabricators are capable of manufacturing product to the specified quality standard and that certifying companies have the appropriate personnel and quality management systems in place.
“This is especially critical in the current climate with a high demand for materials where a procurer or specifier may need to engage a fabricator from another centre who they haven’t worked with before. If the fabricator’s systems and personnel are independently assessed under the SFC scheme, it provides more certainty, helps the specifier manage compliance risk and get a better feel for who they’re dealing with.”
New members must now qualify for SFC prior to being inducted into SCNZ and then ensure they maintain the required standards.
“Since the SFC scheme was launched 23 out of 90 fabricator members have applied. Although this may appear to be a small number, it includes the big hitters in the industry, ensuring around 75 percent of the local industry output is now meeting international best practice. This already represents great value to end users in terms of quality assurance.”
Queenstown Engineering, Southern Cross Engineering and Steelworks NZ are the latest group of structural steel fabricators to achieve SFC certification. Representatives of SCNZ and HERA together with the Mayor of Hastings, Lawrence Yule presented their certificates at the AGM.
The additional 60-plus SCNZ members still to be certified have four years to meet the new requirement. This time-frame will allow sufficient time for the certification, a process that involves an initial audit followed by annual reviews.
Alistair says the busy construction sector has made it a challenge for some companies to begin the certification process, although with the new mandate all have indicated they are committed to putting aside time and resources to complete it.
“The last 12 to 18 months have been busy with the sector operating above peak levels which were last experienced in 2007 before the Global Financial Crisis. It makes the implementation of the SFC scheme a challenge but the will is there and our members are certainly behind doing it.”
Bob Hawley, SCNZ Chair and General Manager of Red Steel, says: “Our fabricator members have shown overwhelming support for the SFC scheme and to raising industry standards. We are committed to providing compliant product of the highest quality for building and infrastructure projects up and down the country.
Hawkins Construction Auckland Regional Manager Terry Buchan says: “Compliant product that meets New Zealand standards is of paramount importance to our building and infrastructure projects. As a major customer to the structural steel industry, we applaud SCNZ and its members for taking this positive step to bolster the quality assurance of the fabricated steelwork produced locally. It’s a welcome development that will give us increased confidence in New Zealand fabricated product.”