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Requesting Design Assistance: Unistrut Engineered Systems

Over the years, we’ve built a reputation as the go-to resource for Unistrut-related projects. 

Whether you need pricing for a materials list that has already been created, design and materials to self-install a system, or complete turnkey service that includes installation, we can typically help.  Assisting clients with materials pricing is a relatively straight forward process that involves locating the items in our database to check availability and lead times.  Pricing a finished structure made from Unistrut—for example, a grid, walkway, pipe supports, or medical equipment supports–is very different from quoting a pre-generated materials list, and here’s why…..

Sometimes folks mistakenly assume the Unistrut structures shown on our website are standard, stock items.  Although we have “standards” for categories such as medical supports, rooftop walkways, and ceiling grids, in the vast majority of cases, our “standards” are just a starting point.  The whole point of designing and building structures with Unistrut is to create a site-specific solution that meets your specific needs.  Remember, no two projects are the same, whether it’s elevations, building structure, loads, or the structure’s location in a room.

You might be wondering about the need for a site-specific solution when something “standard” might work just fine.  We field this question often.  It’s not common for folks to equate a “site-specific solution” with something that is more expensive, or to assume we are suggesting a more robust solution than required.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Unistrut Site-Specific Solution - Exam and Surgical Lighting Support Systems

Let’s take exam and surgical lighting support systems as an example.  Pricing on lighting support structures doesn’t typically vary much between manufacturers, but the details of how the equipment is attached to the structure change from one brand to the next. Each OEM has slightly different requirements (e.g., the hole pattern, threaded rod size, elevation above the ceiling for mounting plate, and if a mounting plate is needed), which in turn, means there are slight variations in light supports from one manufacturer to the next. Incorrectly assuming that someone’s standard detail is how the system needs to get built is often a time wasting and expensive proposition, especially if the components used don’t match the vendor requirements.  All too often, these unfortunate circumstances aren’t detected until weeks later when the equipment is installed.

That said, a site-specific support structure is less about different OEM requirements than what we encounter in the installation area.  Each room presents different combinations and placement of overhead MEP obstructions (plumbing, electrical conduit, and HVAC ductwork), and every install area has additional wrinkles, including combinations of structural steel, concrete thicknesses, etc.  So even if every light support structure was 100% identical, regardless of manufacturer, we would still need to account for the unique nature of the available mounting structure and room specific MEP obstructions.  A site-specific support structure isn’t a sales ploy to suggest more than you might need—it’s all about providing a solution (an engineered system) that will work for your application and getting things right the first time.

The same considerations apply to structures such as rooftop walkway systems.  We have standard detail drawings for standing seam and built-up roofs, for example, but we seldom design a rooftop walkway consisting exclusively of straight 20 foot sections.  The rooftop walkway system for your building will contain many of the same parts and design concepts included on a system across the way, but the path the walkway takes—and the physical composition your roof–are different from your neighbor’s.  We easily accommodate these differences with Unistrut—but there isn’t a universal approach or a one-size-fits-all solution available from the pages of a catalog.

Now that we have used a few examples to illustrate why site specific Unistrut structures are more common than one might think, we should say a few words about drawings.  Sometimes folks are put off when they learn that their quote on a site-specific solution includes a line item for drawings.  Many GC’s don’t want drawings or realize their importance.  In fact, we have instances where GC’s ask us to strike the line item for drawings from their proposals.  Drawings are invaluable for site specific solutions because they ensure everyone is on the same page—and they explain the system to the installers.

Information To Better Understand Project Requirements

In addition to the drawings we prepare when designing a site or room specific solution, we rely heavily on client supplied drawings to clarify the scope and details of a project.  We understand client-supplied drawings are often tentative, and far from perfect, but even simple sketches provide valuable clues about your specific project requirements.  The questions we typically ask a client prior to preparing system quotes hinge on what we see (or don’t see) in their drawings.  Below is a sample of additional questions we use to better understand client requirements:

Medical Equipment Supports:

  • Drawings from the equipment vendor and detailed scope of work
  • Loading information on lights and booms
  • Information on the building structure, such as bar joists, steel beams, concrete deck, and information on the elevation, spacing, and orientation of the structure

Structural Grids:

  • Ceiling plan showing the desired layout of the grid (e.g., 4′ x 4′, 6′ x 6′, etc.)
  • Proposed grid elevation
  • Information on the building structure, such as bar joists, steel beams, concrete deck, and information on the elevation, spacing, and orientation of the structure
  • Any loading requirements or particular information relevant to the grids

Rooftop Walkways:

  • Roof plan showing dimensions of the desired system, including length and width.
  • Information on the roof (standing seam, flat roof, etc.) so that we can determine the proper base/attachment method

Catwalks/Platforms/Mezzanines:

  • Basic dimensions, including height, width, and length
  • Basic sketch or drawings detailing the application, including stair or ladder access requirements
  • Pictures of the proposed installation area
  • Information on what we are attaching to (e.g., floor, building structure above). If connecting from building structure above, we will need information on elevation, orientation, etc.
  • Railing and finish requirements

Parting Thoughts: How To Get Started & Quotation Process

Let’s wrap up the discussion of site specific solutions by addressing two frequently asked questions—how do I get started, and more importantly,  how long does the quotation process take?

You may think that picking up the phone is the most expeditious way to get started, but with engineered systems requests, this really isn’t the case.  In fact, for fastest assistance, start first by sending us your drawings or sketches.  This way, when we do speak by phone, we’ll have a more productive conversation and our team members will better understand your needs.  What’s more, we’ll identify potential question marks that may not seem all that important to you, but these seemingly minor missing details are often critical for us to accurately quote your project.

Timeframe is determined by two factors: the number of active, in-house projects and more importantly, how quickly the necessary client information (including drawings or sketches) is supplied to quote the system.  Clients are sometimes surprised to learn the extent to which they control how quickly a quotation is returned, but if you think about the process, it makes sense.  Engineered systems don’t come from the pages of a catalog and they aren’t quoted from a pricing book. That said, we understand many of our clients work in fast paced business environments where lengthy delays can mean the difference between winning and losing a contract.  As such, we do our best to turn every engineered systems quote as quickly as possible.

If you have a Unistrut application requiring a site specific solution, remember to follow two steps for fastest assistance:

  • Send us a rough sketch or drawing to help us better understand the scope of work
  • Along with the drawings, include a brief written note covering any additional details

Requesting a quotation on a Unistrut structure is more involved than pricing information for a pre-determined materials list, but following the steps outlined in this post is the fastest path to assistance.  We look forward to hearing from you soon!