Fascination with Fabrication
R.A.D. Fabrication, LLC puts the steel in construction
While studying mechanical engineering, Bob Daly was intrigued by the physical properties of metals.
As President of Indianapolis-based R.A.D. Fabrication, LLC (R.A.D.), he’s turned that fascination into a thriving company that fabricates and erects the structural steel columns and beams that support office towers, apartment complexes and other buildings.
Fabricating and erecting the steel skeletons of buildings represents some 60% of the company’s business. But where buildings go, stairways, balconies and railings are likely to follow. These and other “miscellaneous steel” components, like signs and decorative pieces, account for another 20%.
And, over the last several years, the R.A.D. team has also developed a singular subspecialty working with fire departments in two states to reconfigure steel shipping containers into durable, cost-effective training towers and buildings for firefighter training programs. Currently accounting for the other 20% of company revenues, it’s a growing part of the business plan.
No Experience, Strong Curiosity
Ask Bob what background he had before he established his own steel fabricating company and he’ll answer: “None.” He founded R.A.D. in 2007 while an 18-year-old mechanical engineering and technology student at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. His headquarters was the family garage, his staff consisted of himself, and his major business was building custom straight-axle conversions on trucks. The R.A.D. part of R.A.D. Fabrication reflects his given name, Robert A. Daly. But he goes by Bob.
“I was just drawn to welding,” Bob says. “The lattice structure of metal intrigues me. When you weld, you’re melting the molecular structure down and it’s reconfiguring itself—and I think that’s very cool. You can do a lot of things with it.”
He may have created R.A.D. in 2007, but while he was building it, he was also working for a company that constructed water bottling plants throughout the United States. He didn’t fully focus on his own company until 2012.
“By that time, I had broadened the business into fabricating shipping containers and trash bins, and I bought a building in downtown Indianapolis,” Bob says. After three years, he moved to a five-acre site on East Michigan Street in downtown Indianapolis so the operation could expand into structural steel fabrication and erection. At that point, he had about a dozen employees.
Still at that location, the company today maintains a workforce of about 28, varying according to business needs. They serve customers in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio but have taken on projects as far away as Colorado and Nevada.
New Builds, Renovations and High Swimming Pools
“Our core business is fabricating and installing the structural steel skeletons for new buildings and for the renovation of existing buildings,” notes Jami Reed, R.A.D.’s Director of Operations. She adds that the company also takes on jobs erecting steel provided by other companies, if that’s what a general contractor needs.
“We focus primarily on multifamily apartments and condominiums and on commercial projects like office complexes, retail stores and assisted living facilities,” she says. Those include retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Marshalls and Walmart, restaurants like Wahlburgers and assisted living facilities like the Trilogy Harrison Trail Health Campus in Ohio. She adds, “We’ve done apartment complexes up to 10 stories. We’re working on a hotel that runs to 12.”
More than half of R.A.D.’s structural steel work focuses on ground-up construction but about 40% of it involves the renovation of existing structures. Typically, in steel work, this means replacing or adding steel columns and beams to strengthen the buildings being renovated. Jami cites an arguably extreme example: a swimming pool installed on the roof of the 11-story 222 North Meridian Tower in downtown Indianapolis. And, it’s not unusual for such work to include erecting steel rooftop frameworks to support upgraded mechanical equipment.
Many renovations, she notes, involve upgrading historic structures like The Assembly, an old Ford Motor Company factory converted into apartments, and the Morton School Senior Apartments complex, both in Indianapolis. “The challenge in this work is that it comes with a lot of stipulations about protecting historic and aesthetic aspects of the structure,” she says. “There are a lot of things we can’t touch while bringing its underlying structure up to date.” A notable case in point: The iconic Pagoda structure at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In-House, On-Site and in the Plans
As an engineer focused on the malleability of metal, Bob takes a particular interest in working with plans and making sure they’re feasible. He’s especially good, Jami suggests, at working with general contractors, architects and engineers when issues arise with things like elevation or structural strength.
“I do enjoy focusing on the design side,” Bob says. “I especially relish problem-solving with the design team, coming up with different possibilities and working with everyone to figure out what needs to be done and getting a solution they all agree on.”
R.A.D. maintains an in-house workforce that fabricates projects’ components and a field team that assembles and installs the parts at construction sites.
“We buy raw iron—I-beams, hollow structural section columns, plates, brackets and bolts—from suppliers and prepare them at our shop,” Jami says. “We have eight to 10 workers doing the in-house parts—fabricators, welders, painters. They cut the pieces to size, drill holes and slots, weld on plates and brackets and do all the other steps needed to make them ready for assembly. Layout men make sure the work points are specified on every part.” In the past year, R.A.D. acquired a 60-foot-long beam line fabricator for the workshop to speed up and simplify drilling, sawing and other steps involved in fabrication.
Once prepared, the pieces are transported on trucks to the work site, where the field team assembles and installs them. That’s a staff of 10 to 15 ironworkers—more welders, connectors, laborers and, at this end, a field team layout man who makes certain all the components are arranged so that they match the plans.
“Our most important resources are our employees,” Bob says. “They’re the heart and soul of what we do. They’re dedicated, skilled craftsmen.”
He adds, “Our welders are all certified. That’s essential to our quality and I feel we’re far superior to most welding operations. We developed our own welding training program and have a certified welding instructor on staff.”
“We have more than two dozen welding techniques available—variations of gas metal arc, gas tungsten arc, shielded metal arc and flux-cored arc welding–that we use both in the shop and in the field. Our welding capabilities are top quality.”
Training Under Fire
Early on after its founding, R.A.D.’s business took up the fabrication of shipping containers, the large steel boxes used worldwide to transport all manner of goods on ships, railroad cars and trucks. A dozen years later, he’s putting them to a different use by creating innovative constructions for live-fire firefighter training.
Working at the Indianapolis shop and on-site at fire department training academies, the company reconfigures standard 40 foot by 8 foot shipping containers—known variously as “Conex” and “modular” containers and, officially, as International Organization for Standardization (ISO) containers—into building mockups that can be used to simulate structural fires over and over again.
“We can modify these boxes by joining two or more together, taking out walls, putting in doors, windows and ventilation systems, exterior stairwells and rappelling towers,” Jami says. “They can be stacked to create multiple levels. Typically, this means two stories, but we built a five-story structure for the Fishers Fire Department in Indiana.”
“Inside, the containers can be reconfigured with moveable walls and maze panels to create rooms, hallways and other layout elements. Flash-fire chambers can be insulated and fires can be simulated with propane gas or with Class A fuels like wood and paper,” Jami adds.
“One big advantage,” Bob notes, “is that they’re modular. As sturdy steel boxes, they’re durable—a properly designed one will last for years, through many fires. But when a unit does finally become burned out, it can be removed and replaced to start all over again.”
“We’ve built these mockups for fire departments in Fishers, Peru, Martinsville and several other cities in Indiana and Missouri,” he says. “We’re in negotiations to build a large one next year for the Indianapolis Fire Department.”
He adds, “This is a field where we hope to see significant growth. It’s not only a business opportunity, but it’s something that contributes to the expertise and safety of our society’s firefighters and the communities they serve. We feel good about that.”