RFI's Can be Really Freaking Irritating, We (Detailers) Can Do Better for our Fabricators
Updated: May 26
Steel construction is a complex process that requires precision and attention to detail. One of the most important aspects of steel construction is the Request for Information (RFI) process. RFIs are critical to the success of a construction project, as they provide a means for stakeholders to obtain clarification on design documents and other important project information.
So why are they Really Freaking Irritating from time to time? One of my favorite aspects of my role within X-Steel is the opportunity to travel around the country and meet different fabricators. Whether they are an existing client or a potential lead, I love to chat with the teams, tour their facilities and get to know the who, where, and how on the production side. On a recent first-quarter sales trip through the Carolinas, Georgia, and over to Mississippi, I began to notice a recurring topic in every meeting.
I always ask our fabricators about their “pain points” either with our team or with whomever they partner with for detailing services, and on this particular trip through the southeast around every single table, we talked about silly, wasteful, and useless RFIs. Whether it was a CEO, Head of Sales, C
hief Estimator, Project Manager, or Drafting Manager, to a person, in every meeting, someone brought up frustrating RFIs.
In our industry, RFIs serve as a mechanism for resolving design issues and clarifying specifications. Quality RFIs ensure that all parties involved in the construction project are on the same page, which is essential to achieving project success. Here are a few things quality RFIs are intended to accomplish in steel construction:
1.RFIs ensure that designs are constructible
Constructability is one of the most critical aspects of steel construction. Designs that are not constructible can lead to delays, cost overruns, and quality issues. RFIs are a key tool in ensuring that designs are constructible. By asking questions and seeking clarification through the RFI process, project stakeholders can identify potential issues before they become major problems.
2. RFIs improve communication
Communication is essential in any construction project. In steel construction, there are many stakeholders involved, including architects, engineers, contractors, and fabricators. Effective communication is essential to ensuring that everyone is on the same page. RFIs help improve communication by providing a mechanism for stakeholders to ask questions and obtain clarification on project details.
3. RFIs help manage risk
Construction projects always carry some level of risk. RFIs help manage risk by identifying potential issues and allowing stakeholders to address them before they become major problems. By identifying potential issues early in the
process, project stakeholders can take steps to mitigate risk and ensure project success
4.RFIs ensure quality
Quality is critical in steel construction. RFIs help ensure quality by providing a means for project stakeholders to identify and resolve issues related to design, materials, and construction processes. By addressing these issues early in the process, project stakeholders can ensure that the final product meets or exceeds project specifications.
Alternatively, here at the primary pain points my colleagues pointed out as the issues they are facing every day d
uring the approval process:
1. Last-Minute RFIs
As detailers, we need to get our RFIs in early. More than one of the fabricators I spoke with told me horror stories about detailers sending a list of RFIs a couple of days before a submission milestone date, then trying to blame the fabricator for the scheduling delays because they were waiting on RFI responses. Taking the time upfront to have your most experienced team members do thorough drawing reviews, and having early client kickoff meetings can help avoid last-minute inquiries.
2.Wasteful, Redundant, and Silly RFIs
In my early detailing days, I had a senior checker on my team constantly telling me, “It’s right there on the drawings” when I came over with a rookie question. And while the information available on today’s drawings is probably worth a separate blog post, the input I got from my fabricator contacts is that a lot of times lately the information is indeed there or in the specs and they still get a laundry list of RFIs. There’s no need to request the information if it’s already there. Again experienced & talented team members with strength for attention to detail are the antidote to wasting the fabricator’s PM’s time getting answers that are right in front of you.
3. No Gateke
eper to help avoid unnecessary RFIs
“I just wish my detailer had somebody capable of pulling the trigger” is a paraphrased quote I heard on two separate occasions. Not every question is a question that needs to be asked. If you are familiar with your fabricator’s detailing standards, shop tolerances, and field tolerances then there is no need to generate an RFI when you see a 1/8” dimensional break on the contract drawings. This was an actual scenario that was shared with me during one of my visits. Make sure there is someone on your team with the industry experience (drafting, in the shop, and the field) to make judgment calls that can save your fabricators time and annoyance.
In conclusion, quality RFIs are essential to the success of steel construction projects and they aren't going anywhere anytime soon. They help ensure that designs are constructible, improve communication, manage risk, and ensure quality. Leverage the talent and experience of your detailing, checking, and project management teams. Communicate with and learn your Fabricator’s standards & expectations in the shop and the field. And by prioritizing quality RFIs early and eliminating those that are late & wasteful, project stakeholders can work together to achieve project success.