Member Profile – Joe Biggs

The member profile for our 2020 Autumn Edition of the Eye for Detail features Joe Biggs, the owner of Queensland-based firm, JBD Steel Detailing.
Joe is on the board of the ACMA and was previously, a long-standing member of the AISD Queensland, including many years on the Management Committee.

What’s your detailing story pre-JBD days?

I started my drafting career with a civil/structural engineering firm straight out of school, my first days were filled with ammonia plan printing down the hall, and then progressed to drafting, all on the drawing board back then. It was a few years later when the firm designed the Cloncurry Cultural centre in Western Qld. It had curved rooves and the fabricator asked my boss to do the shop drawings, he said “Yes, no worries, I’ll get the young fella onto it” In hindsight, I doubt anyone else including me had ever seen, let alone done any shop drawings as there was absolutely no instruction or direction. The entire set of shop drawings were born from 100’s of pages of calculations (the roof was made up of unparallel, diagonally laced, curved trusses). Upon completion of the fabrication the steel was transported to site from Toowoomba and the erection commenced. I recall coming to work one morning and my boss greeting me with “we have a problem, the riggers are saying nothing is fitting together and they need to know why, they’re waiting for your call!” In mild panic I returned to the 100’s of pages of calculations to see what I could see – TBH not much, just numbers LOL but I could not see any glaring errors. It was later revealed that the steel was laid out on the ground, the temperature was in the 40’s and the truss geometry altered enough due to the heat that the bolt holes where more than a diameter out and the angle on the end of the truss was well past plumb. A retry early the next morning had everything fitting together perfectly and calm was restored to my cadet life 😊
You never quite get used to calls like that and the wondering if you missed one tiny detail.

Is there anything about the early days in your career that you miss now?

Certainly don’t miss drawing boards, clogged 0.15 ink pens and keeping thousands of calculations in your head, but I do miss the much better design drawings that went through the hands of a chief draftsman who “rationalised” the design and liberally applied the “kiss” theory. The cost saving of simplicity far outweighs the small extra tonnage of steel required.

What’s the history of JBD?

JBD started its journey as a building design business as requests from friends for house designs mounted up, this was all, umm ahh, “after hours work”. I was then asked to detail this new construction method “Tilt Panels” 😊 that was gaining momentum in the late 1990’s. JBD transferred to full time detailing soon after and along with the tilt panels came the structural steel. Twenty-three years later – 30 guys and gals later – half a dozen office upgrades later – and here we are, detailing projects across the country and around the world.

Has there been a defining project or period for JBD?

The defining period for JBD was jumping straight on 3D detailing from the very beginning, and then more recently 3D laser scanning.
A defining project is a little harder to choose, on reflection there is a fantastic list – However, the Malaysian Pavilion at World Expo – Milan would have to be my personal pick (so far). A world first structure, an international design team from (4) countries, addressing meetings with the Malaysian government and devising the entire detailing and build methodology from nothing with a very real deadline. A success personally and for the JBD team.

What are the most satisfying aspects of your work?

Seeing difficult projects coming into the office and straight forward, complete and “correct” projects leaving the office. But most definitely the most satisfaction is when we’re seen, valued and thanked for what we brought to the project.

What was the primary motivation for joining the ACMA? or maybe, What do you see as the biggest benefit of ACMA membership?
Having not come up through a detailing office, joining the ACMA and meeting other detailers was great. They were/still are very willing to share knowledge and together we all advance the industry and steer its direction. Detailing can be a very isolating profession, the contact with ACMA members has always been a great boost.

What do you see as the main challenges facing our industry?

Detailing has always had a value proposition issue. Being outgoing about what we do and the value we add to the project team is not our natural inclination, we are much more comfortable being behind the scene doing what we do well. We bring 100 times our worth to any project but being paid for that value is more difficult. This makes it a challenge to attract new people into the industry long term.
Detailing is a pretty simple game, there are very few of us in the industry, so the industry dive to the bottom on price is always mystifying and does not help the overall effectiveness of what we contribute to projects. We need to start thinking of detailing as a profession and less about seeing ourselves as a service. We need to see the years of learning we do, the hours we put in and the risk we take on. Value yourselves folks!

What software package does JBD use and what were the deciding factors that prompted your choice?

Ah – that’s a very good question. From the beginning we ran Strucad and had (16) licences at the end, we still use it today and it’s still very competitive even though it was “put out to pasture” quite a few years ago. In more recent years we have added Tekla to our fold, although it is regarded as the industry standard, I’m a firm believer that it’s the driver not the vehicle that makes for a good product and fabrication experience. We chose Strucad originally for its ease to learn, we then put the time into training the cadets to be good technical detailers, who know what they are doing when it comes to constructing on a virtual platform. JBD has continuously trained cadets (some 22) over the 23 years, eleven of these are still here today. The ability to train detailers easily has been a lot of our success.

Was there a defining event that helped the decision to go down the 3D survey path?

Yes, there was. Right from the start of this technology we could see the benefit for JBD, the ability to turn brown field into green was too tempting. It was a sizable gamble at the time with the equipment being quite expensive, there was no one to show us the way and at the time we had to run the data through (6-8) programs to get it usable for detailing. The defining event that made it all worthwhile came virtually the day we decided that we had tested enough and had this technology figured out. That day I had a phone call with the CEO of one of our great clients (18+ years) it went something like this.

JB “Hi, I wanted to have a chat with you about this technology we have available and how it will change your world. We’ll never have to site measure and work with drawings on the back of envelopes again”

CEO “We’ve just been discussing with a client (major national retailer) why they should continue to give us their work when it always goes wrong, there’s always delays and always variations. You’re saying this could change this? “
JB “Absolutely will”
CEO “Be in our office at 10am tomorrow to show us what you have”

We missed our plane that morning, (caught the next) hadn’t prepared a presentation and certainly did not expect a room full of company heads, consultants etc. Within 10 minutes of showing them what we could do the CEO mandated that from that point, all brownfield projects would use our technology and be handled by JBD, no exceptions.

Do you think detailers are given the recognition they deserve for all the “non-detailing” work they do?
Detailers should first measure and value themselves, their skill and their work output, the industry will then do the same. Detailers need to demonstrate, define and sell the “non-detailing” (from understanding buildability to the increasing area of design finalisation) work they can do and not expect someone to “notice” the above and beyond work they do. It will take time and alignment (of detailers), common terms and language to cement “what we actually do” to forge positive industry change.

Do you have any comments regarding the value of quality Australian detailing?
Understanding the myriad of Australian Standards, Codes and buildability constraints is pretty tough to teach. It can take many years to develop these skills. Australia is possibly one of the more complex countries to detail for. In my opinion this makes our Australian grown/taught detailers more skilled on average.

“As specialists in structural steel, timber and concrete panel workshop detailing, our goal is to provide our clients with the expertise and support they need to quickly and profitably manufacture all types of steel, timber and concrete structures, both commercial and residential.” – Joe Biggs, CEO & Founder, JBD Group