Navigating the Complexities of Steel Sourcing: The SDI Members’ Guide to Buy American Compliance and Quality

The Steel Deck Institute (SDI) stands as a unifying body for members spread across the United States, Canada and Mexico. This network not only includes subsidiaries of domestic steel mills but also encompasses those who stock both domestic and foreign steel. For design professionals, understanding how SDI members align with the Buy American Act and other domestic sourcing legislations is critical. These regulations are not just legal requirements but also speak volumes about the commitment to national economic growth and quality assurance.

Understanding Compliance: Buy American Act (BAA) vs. Buy America 

BAA Compliant

The Buy American Act, passed in 1933, is enduring legislation that stipulates the U.S. government’s preference for American-made products.  It encompasses a two-part test to establish compliance:

  • Manufacture in the U.S.: The end product must be “substantially transformed” within the United States
  • Domestic Content: Over 60 percent of the components must be mined, produced, or manufactured in the U.S. 

Despite this, some  domestic steel mills may  utilize slabs melted abroad. However, to be BAA-compliant, the final product must be 100% manufactured in the United States. Waivers to this law exist, but for SDI members, compliance typically means using domestic coil and manufacturing the deck within the U.S.

Exceptions and waivers to the BAA may be allowed based on one of the following circumstances:

  • The use of a Domestic product is impractical or inconsistent with public interest
  • The Domestic product is not reasonably commercially available
  • The use of Domestic product would lead to an unreasonable increase in the total cost of the project

Buy America 

The more recent Build America, Buy America Act, established in 2021, takes an even stricter stance. It requires that all iron, steel, manufactured products, and construction materials utilized in federally funded infrastructure projects be produced in the United States. This extends to the entire supply chain, mandating that all steel and iron components must be mined, melted, and manufactured within U.S. borders.

Fortunately, most SDI members are equipped to meet these stringent domestic sourcing regulations, as long as they diligently check for these requirements in RFPs or bid documents. Manufacturers can substantiate compliance by providing signed BAA Forms or domestic mill certificates.

Quality and Composition: American Steel Vs. International Counterparts

When it comes to quality, American steel has long held a reputation for high standards. SDI members must ensure that any foreign-sourced steel aligns with the ASTM A653 or ASTM A1008 Structural Grade 33 at a minimum. Reputable steel mills from around the globe, including Vietnam, Mexico, and Brazil, are known to produce galvanized coil that mirrors the quality of domestic mills. This creates a competitive international marketplace where American and foreign steel must meet rigorous benchmarks to be considered for use in construction.

Comparing Steel on a Global Scale: Quality, Price, and Availability 

American steel is often compared to its international equivalents in terms of quality, price, and availability, and several factors contribute to differences in these categories.

  • Quality: The quality of steel produced is fundamentally linked to the standards and regulations set by authorities like the ASTM. While there may be minute variations in the composition and properties of steel produced in different countries, the global standards ensure that such disparities do not significantly impact the steel’s performance in construction.
  • Price: Price competitiveness between foreign and domestic steel mills tends to fluctuate based on several factors. These include local demand, currency exchange rates, and the presence of tariffs or subsidies. Domestic steel may occasionally be more expensive due to higher labor costs and stringent environmental regulations that foreign mills may not be subject to.
  • Availability: As for availability, it’s critical to factor in total lead times. Foreign-sourced steel may offer competitive pricing, but when the additional time for ocean freight and port processing is included, procurement can stretch up to six months. This extended timeline is a crucial consideration for SDI members when planning for construction projects.

The SDI Members’ Compliance Strategy 

SDI members navigate a labyrinth of compliance and sourcing by maintaining vigilant adherence to regulations and a robust understanding of the global steel market. By leveraging detailed documentation like BAA forms and mill certificates, they not only adhere to legal mandates but also ensure their products meet high-quality standards. They also have to balance the immediacy of domestic sourcing with the potential cost savings of international sourcing, all while considering the implications of long lead times. SDI members can meet BAA and Buy America compliance if they are aware of the requirement in the bid process and before production. Design professionals and steel deck customers should clearly identify any domestic sourcing requirements during the bid process. 
For SDI members, staying abreast of the complex landscape of sourcing regulations and maintaining a competitive edge in quality and price is a dynamic challenge. As stewards of the industry, they must judiciously source steel that not only meets stringent U.S. standards but also supports the nation’s economic and infrastructural goals. In doing so, they uphold a tradition of excellence that has long defined the American steel industry, while navigating the global marketplace with informed precision.

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