January 26, 2007

Focus on Steel

Skilled Labour

Canuck steel in demand for U.S. projects

Experience, training bodes well for Canadian steel fabricators


Times are good these days in the U.S. for some of Canada’s largest structural steel fabricators.

Take Canam’s Quebec-based Structal Division, for example. It has landed a number of major contracts over the years in the U.S. and is currently working on two high-profile projects in New York City: a $40 million steel fabrication contract for the new Yankee Stadium and a $70 million job to fabricate and erect structural steel for Citi Field, the new home of the New York Mets.

Luc Pelland, president of the steel giant’s Structal Division and the man heading up the two NYC stadium jobs, says one of the reasons for Canam’s success on American soil is Canam Steel Corp., an office it setup in the U.S. to gain a bigger piece of the American pie.


When all the structural steel bids for Boston’s landmark Convention Center went over budget, the Massachusetts Convention Center authority chose to pursue the project with a Canadian steel fabricator, Canam Steel. Through extensive value engineering, more than $20 million was reduced from the original bid price.

“It means our sales presentations are done by Americans to Americans.”

Canam also has four manufacturing plants in the U.S., although most of the steel for the two stadiums is fabricated at its steel fabrication plant at St. Gideon, Quebec.

While Canam’s contract price was undoubtedly a major factor in winning the two stadium contracts, Pelland says it is not necessarily the prime determinant.

"It's a self administering program."

Doug Luciani CWB

“I don’t think it is only low bid (that wins contracts) because that would negate reputation, customer service, financial capacity and engineering and fabrication expertise.”

The quality of steel fabrication and design engineering are paramount to securing hefty contracts, he says, noting that Canam employs a staff of engineers and detailers to help optimize an owner’s design. It also provides a project management team to ensure that the job is on time and meets budget.

Workmanship and a flare for marketing are important keys to opening doors south of the border, suggests Mike Gilmor, president of the Canadian Institute of Steel Construction.

Canuck steel fabricators like Canam and Hamilton-based Walters Inc. have used those keys often, he adds.

While Walters Inc. doesn’t have any significant U.S. jobs on the go currently, it has built a reputation for itself stateside.

“I can say that the U.S. market, like any other foreign market, provides challenges relating to financial security, local industry practices, and of course currency fluctuations that require caution and due diligence to overcome,” says owner Walter Koppelaar.

One reason that U.S. developers look to Canada is because of its high-quality structural welding standards. Canadian welders are required to go through rigorous testing every two years and every company must meet welding certification requirements for procedures biennially in accordance with welding and Canadian building codes.

By comparison, U.S. structural welding code requirements are lax. Welders there are only tested once during their employment with a company, unless their abilities come under question. Some states, however, do require additional testing beyond the welding code (AWS D1.1.), explains Doug Luciani, president and CEO of the CWB (Canadian Welding Bureau) Group.

To meet the Canadian welding code standard, welders are tested by a third party, the CWB, whereas American welders are tested by their employer, says Luciani.

“It’s a self administering program.”

He notes that in addition to the standard butt joint welder test required for U.S. welders, Canucks are required to do a fillet-weld test for certain assemblies with 90 degree corners.

The Canadian Welding Bureau’s work doesn’t stop there. It is also responsible for qualifying at least one welding supervisor for each company and a welding engineer in many circumstances. In other cases, the CWB approves all welding procedures done by a company and it conducts a company audit every six months, Luciani says.

The American and Canadian welding codes are technically similar on such aspects as pre-heating material and storage of consumables like welding wires or electrodes.

In an effort to maintain consistency between the welding work in the U.S. and Canada, Luciani, as a representative of the CWB, sits on the committee for the U.S.’s AWS D1.1 structural welding code.

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