Tips on Selecting a Special-Fabrication Supplier

Special fabrications can address unique design and processing requirements.
Feb 01, 2005
Volume 18, Issue 2

Dan Mathien
The bulk of a biopharmaceutical processing unit can be assembled with off-the-shelf components. However, special fabrications — especially fluid components — enable fabricators and manufacturers to meet critical construction deadlines and move projects forward with minimal or no delays.

Now, manufacturers and system fabricators recognize the value of special fabrications for their processing systems. Although special fabrications are not needed for every job, many projects require complex configurations of fluid components using more than one-size-fits-all products at some point during construction. Oftentimes, special fabrications are simply a more cost-effective solution for process applications, especially if called out in the design phase. Special fabrications can help simplify system design, reduce system footprint, and minimize field welding and installation costs.

What distinguishes special from standard? Essentially, special fabrications are any product or fluid component that is configured to order or designed for a specific application. Special fabrications historically can range from simple alterations in dimensions for individual fittings to the production of an entire skid, as well as the engineering, design, and development of a complex configuration of valves, manifolds, tees, and other components. More often than not, they become necessary because of changes in design that come to light only during construction.

Figure 1. This 3-liter cooling chamber was specially fabricated to feed water to mechanical seals in a pumping system.
CASE STUDIES In one case, a manufacturer required a 3-L cooling chamber to feed water to mechanical seals in a pumping system. The chamber required a 1/2-in. coil, a pressure switch, ball valves, sight glasses, a liquid level probe and a fractional pressure gauge. The special fabricator designed a chamber that was functional and reliable, and the installation was successful. To meet the buyer's specification, the custom-fabricated chamber was burst-tested to 200 psig for one minute at 150ºF (Figure 1).

In another case, a manufacturer required an inline strainer similar to a supplier's stock item but had limited space for installation. The supplier designed a custom strainer to fit in the space required with shortened back-up tubes and a full line of replacement mesh overscreens. The special-fabricated part worked so well that the manufacturer has placed more than 80 orders for the same custom part since the initial installation.

SELECTING THE RIGHT SUPPLIER In both cases mentioned above, the special fabrication was successful because the supplier designed quality parts quickly. When evaluating special-fabrication suppliers, it is important to evaluate each competing company's track record to raise the odds for project success.

Because the need for special fabrications tends to occur late in the construction phase, many fabricators and manufacturers tend to make the ability to meet the construction deadline the only criterion for selecting a supplier. While it is imperative that a special-fabrication supplier complies with time constraints, other criteria are equally important. The wrong choice can lead to major problems, including quality issues, lengthy site delays and downtime, and validation difficulties.

Steps can be taken to ensure the selection of a special fabricator that meets a project's specific needs while maximizing productivity and efficiency. Price is not the main determinant of whether the supplier can provide the best solution for an application. The first step in selecting a supplier is evaluating the breadth of services they offer. Some suppliers offer limited services, while others provide comprehensive services that help ensure reliability, quality, and long-term performance.

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