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Firm a frontrunner in structural steel

Kim Stewart Nov 11
Firm a frontrunner in structural steel

Long gone are the days of marking out steel by hand using chalk and measuring tape. A revolution in automation has transformed every aspect of steel fabrication over the past 30 years and nowhere is this more evident than in the effi cient Christchurch workshop of Chapman Engineering Ltd.

Chris Chapman, who founded the business more than 30 years ago, says their investment in technology has transformed the whole process of steel fabrication, along with detailing and erection on site.

At the workshop, they have progressively stepped up from a simple computerised beam line machine to a more sophisticated Peddinghaus high speed steel drill and finally the very latest machine that can cut, drill and mill using a tool changing system.

“We added more equipment too, including a plate line machine and a Peddi writer that marks steel to show where to weld things on and the right part numbers that go there.

The only thing it doesn’t do is hold it there and weld it for you!” Every piece of steel processed through the workshop is tracked carefully, with everything barcoded as it goes.

The workshop fabricates around 130 tonnes of steel a week and is often busy on several contracts at the same time. “We can have anything from three to five jobs on the go at once.”

Complementing the workshop team of fabricators, welders, office staff, draughters and quality control specialists are the company’s truck and crane drivers, along with riggers to erect the steel.

In total, Chapman Engineering employs around 50 staff and also runs a fleet of trailers, truck units and cranes for every job.

“We have really broken it down to a Henry Ford style system where each guy knows his job and does his job. It’s different to when I started out, when you’d try to do everything. We have moved way beyond that today.”

Over the past year or two, Chapman Engineering has fabricated and erected vast quantities of steel for various construction contracts, including the University of Otago Dental School Redevelopment (740 tonnes of structural steel) and many key Christchurch buildings including Steel & Tube Glassworks Development at Hornby (500 tonnes), the Westpac building at the Terrace (575 tonnes), the ANZ Centre (1440 tonnes), the International Car Rental Precinct (195 tonnes) and the Hazeldean Carpark (1050 tonnes).

“The ANZ Centre was a very complex project because of the shape of the building and design. We couldn’t use standard columns. “It involved fabricating boxes made from 20mm and 25mm plate welded together. “Each column weighed 10 tonnes. We made a big jig in the workshop to build them in. … Every job has its own complexities.”

Chris observes that putting up structural steel onsite usually involves a fairly small team.

Firm a frontrunner in structural steel

Chapman Engineering has fabricated and erected vast quantities of steel for various construction contracts including the new Westpac building at the Terrace in Christchurch.

“A crane driver and three riggers can invariably put a building together, supported by a supervisor and another guy dedicated to tensioning all the bolts.”

Chapman Engineering has also completed contracts in the education sector, including Rolleston College and a new block at Cashmere High School. Its expertise is in demand throughout New Zealand.

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