Buying Steel Plate in Bulk — Four Steps You Should Follow

Raw materials can considerably impact the cost of a specified project, rendering smart sourcing a key step in the process. While steel is a versatile raw material, the process of locating, purchasing, and transporting this alloy can be somewhat hazy. As a result, Leeco has developed four important steps that must be followed when purchasing a steel plate to make sure that the right steel has been sourced at a fair price for each project.

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Step 1: Determine What is Needed

Although a steel supplier may be quite knowledgeable about the types and variety of steel grades, it is the customers who are ultimately responsible for defining the size, grade, and quantity of steel required. This first step is very important for obtaining a thorough and accurate quote from a steel supplier.

While there are a number of categories of steel plate products, the most common include:

  • Military and ballistic steel
  • Structural steel
  • Quenched and tempered steel
  • Abrasion-resistant steel
  • Pressure vessel quality (PVQ) steel
  • Marine and offshore steel

Each steel category contains grades that are appropriate for applications in various environments. These differences are usually documented with ductility, hardness, composition and strength tests.

It is the engineers who are eventually responsible for establishing which grade and type of steel are best suited to the project at hand. This is the reason why the required steel grade has to be communicated to the steel supplier.

Determine if Alternative Grades are an Option

There are certain projects that need highly specific grades of steel. Yet, there are some projects that have greater flexibility in the steel grade. For instance, if an abrasion-resistant steel with 480 BHN hardness is required, both AR 500 and AR 450 grades might be options for this project.

Knowing whether alternative grades of steel are suitable for a specific project could give customers more buying power with regards to availability and pricing, which will be discussed later in this article.

Size and Weight

Aside from knowing the required grade(s) of a project, knowing the size of steel plate required is one of the most rudimentary pieces of information needed by steel suppliers to quote an order.

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A steel plate is bought in units of thickness x width x length. By definition, a steel plate has a minimum thickness of 0.1875"– 0.24". While length and width can differ considerably, the most common dimensions of the steel plate are approximately 8 feet wide by 12 feet or 20 feet long.

Cutting tables enable the majority of steel plate suppliers to sell steel plates that are tailored to unique width and length dimensions. However, it is not possible to modify the thickness.

Although there may be slight variations, the weight of a steel plate is usually about the same, irrespective of the grade. To determine the estimated weight of a steel plate order, the quantity of plate should be multiplied by volume and density as follows:

Weight = {[Thickness (mm) x Width (mm) x Length (mm)] x 0.00000785 kg/mm3} x Plate Qty

Or, in inches and pounds:

Weight = {[Thickness (in) x Width (in) x Length (in)] x 0.2836 in/lb3} x Plate Quantity

Weight = {[0.5 in x 96 in x 240 in] x 0.2836 in/lb3} x 15 plates
     = {[11,520] x 0.2836} x 15
     = {3,267.072} x 15
     = 49,006.08 lbs

The steel’s density (0.2836 in/lb3) can range anywhere between 0.28 and 0.291 lb/in3. While the above formula offers a good weight estimate, the weight of the end material may still differ slightly.

Benefits of Buying in Bulk

When a steel plate is purchased in large quantities, the price per unit of steel will decrease. The word “bulk” means at least sufficient steel for a single truckload, which is usually around 21 tons (42,000 lbs).

With respect to a standard 0.5 in x 8 feet x 20 feet steel plate (like in the weight calculation example given above), orders of 12 or more may possibly be regarded as bulk.

Suppliers of bulk steel plate — such as Leeco Steel— pass down cost savings from equipment and labor-use efficiencies (it takes time for a human, as well as a magnetic crane, to load steel plates) onto the per-unit cost of the steel.

Although many steel plate suppliers deal in partial and full truckload orders, they can usually be competitive with one-off or small orders as well.

Step 2: Evaluate the Timeline

Requiring steel this week versus requiring steel in three months can considerably influence the customers’ choice of steel plate vendors and the overall price.

Steel plate suppliers typically have a finite inventory, which could all be housed in a single location, or could be spread across various locations, like it is done at Leeco Steel.

If the plate required by customers is available at a location close to them, then receiving the steel plate rapidly and cost-effectively is quite achievable.

Conversely, if the customers’ steel plate requirements are unique and specific (for example, needing rare grades, uncommon sizes, or specific country of origin), steel plate suppliers may have to exclusively order the plate directly from a mill — a process that can take several months.

When assessing a steel plate supplier, customers should ask whether the product they need is in inventory, and where that inventory is with respect to the delivery destination.

Step 3: Pay Attention to Freight

Freight happens to be a key factor to the availability and cost of steel plates. Indeed, time and cost will be greater if the steel plate needs to travel further. Hence, one of the first freight questions customers should ask their steel plate supplier is, “Where is the order coming from?”

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Vendors whose inventory locations are close to the customer’ final destination may be able to meet their order at those locations, thereby reducing the cost and time spent on transportation. Obviously, having a physical inventory location does not necessarily mean that the supplier will be able to meet the order from that specific location.

The second question customers should ask their steel plate supplier is whether freight is included in their quote. For instance, Leeco Steel operates with a network of freight carriers and includes the expenses of transporting an order domestically in every quote, unless otherwise specified.

If freight solutions are not provided by a steel plate supplier, the team will assume responsibilities of directing the delivery, so it is imperative to clarify this at the time of the quoting process.

Step 4: Partner with Someone Who Can be Trusted

A company’s reputation, longevity, and trust play a key role when it comes to delivering steel plates. The following are some good trust indicators to use when assessing steel suppliers:

  • Does the supplier possess ISO 9001 certification for quality management?
  • Firms that have this certification have a set internal quality management system, which guarantees that customers receive their preferred product when they need it, and with the quality they expect.
  • How many years has the supplier been in business?
  • The best suppliers are those that have developed strong relationships with mills. While these associations take time, they give selected suppliers better rates and access to products.
  • How many customers does the supplier have?
  • If this number of customers is low, there could be a reason for this, but it could also mean that the supplier deals in particular industries. It is recommended to ask for customer references if their customer base is low.
  • Where is the supplier based? In case the supplier has other locations, how many and where are they?
  • Locations not only affect the speed of delivery and inventory quantity, but they also indicate the longevity of a company. Fly-by-night suppliers may not have multiple locations.
  • Does the supplier have a purchasing team?
  • Purchasing teams are specialists at sourcing steel, purchasing, and documenting paperwork as well as identifying the best rates and/or fastest deliverability. Since sourcing steel takes an organized team effort, understanding if the supplier has an experienced, dedicated team plays a major role in the quantities and grades of steel available to customers.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Leeco Steel, LLC.

For more information on this source, please visit Leeco Steel, LLC.

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