Buying Steel Plate in Bulk Quantities

Step 1: Determine what you need.

While your steel supplier may be very knowledgeable on the variety and types of steel grades, you are ultimately responsible for defining the steel grade, size and quantity needed. This first step is critical to receiving an accurate and thorough quote from a steel supplier.

There are several categories of steel plate products, but the most common include:

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

Each category of steel contains grades suited for applications in different environments. These differences are often documented with composition, hardness, ductility and strength tests.

Also See: Exploring Structural Steel

Engineers are ultimately responsible for determining which type and grade of steel are best suited to the project at hand, which is why the steel grade needed must be communicated to your steel supplier.

Determine if Alternative Grades Are an Option

Some projects require very specific grades of steel. However, some projects have greater flexibility in the steel grade.

For example, if you need abrasion resistant steel with a hardness of 480 bhn, both AR 450 and AR 500 grades could be options for this project.

Knowing if alternative grades are acceptable for your specific project could give you more buying power in terms of pricing and availability, which we’ll touch on later in this article.

Size and Weight

How to Measure Steel Plate

Next to knowing a project’s required grade(s), knowing the size of your steel plate needs is one of the most basic pieces of information steel suppliers need to quote an order.

Steel plate is purchased in units of Thickness x Width x Length. Steel plate, by definition, has a minimum thickness of 0.1875” - 0.24”. Although width and length can vary greatly, steel plate’s most common dimensions are around 8ft wide by 12ft or 20ft long.

Cutting tables allow many steel plate suppliers to sell steel plate customized to unique length and width dimensions. Thickness, however, cannot be modified.

While there may be small differences, the weight of a plate of steel is generally about the same, regardless of the grade. To calculate the estimated weight of your steel plate order, multiply the quantity of plate by volume and density:

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

Or, in pounds and inches:

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 density of steel (0.2836 in/lb3) can range anywhere between 0.28-0.291 lb/in3. The above formula provides a good weight estimate, but your final material weight may vary slightly.

Benefits of Buying in Bulk

The price per unit of steel plate decreases when purchasing steel plate in bulk. The term “bulk” means at least enough steel for one truckload, which is typically around 21 tons (42,000 lbs).

In the case of a standard 0.5in x 8ft x 20ft steel plate (like in the weight calculation example above), orders of 12 or more would likely be considered bulk.

Bulk steel plate suppliers – such as Leeco® Steel – pass down cost savings from labor and equipment use efficiencies (it takes time, a human and a magnetic crane to load steel plate) onto the per-unit cost of the steel.

While bulk steel plate suppliers specialize in full and partial truckload orders, these suppliers can often be competitive with small or one-off orders, too. Feel free to reach out to the Leeco Steel team – via web form or at (800) 621-4366 – for quoting on your next project.

Step 2: Evaluate Your Timeline

Needing steel this week versus needing steel in three months can greatly impact your steel plate vendor choice and overall price.

Steel plate suppliers have a finite inventory. This inventory could all be housed in one location, or could be spread throughout multiple locations, like we do at Leeco Steel.

If the plate you need is at a location near you, then receiving your steel plate quickly and cost effectively is very doable.

However, if your steel plate requirements are specific and unique (such as requiring uncommon sizes, rare grades or specific country of origin), steel plate suppliers may need to special order the plate directly from a mill. This process could take months.

When evaluating your steel plate supplier, it is important to ask if the product you need is in inventory, and – furthermore – where that inventory is in relation to the delivery destination.

Step 3: Pay Attention to Freight

Transport Bulk Quantities of Steel Plate

Freight is a major factor to the cost and availability of steel plate. Of course, the further the plate needs to travel, the greater the cost and time. Therefore, one of the first freight questions you should ask your steel plate supplier is, "Where is my order coming from?"

Vendors with inventory locations near your final destination may be able to fulfill your order at those locations, thus reducing the time and money spent on transportation. Of course, having a physical inventory location does not always mean the supplier can fulfill the order from that particular location.

The second question you should ask your steel plate supplier is if freight is included in their quote. Leeco Steel, for example, works with a network of freight carriers, and includes the cost of transporting an order domestically in each quote, unless otherwise specified.

If a steel plate supplier does not provide freight solutions, your team will assume responsibilities of coordinating the delivery with a trusted 3PL, so it’s important to clarify this during the quoting process.

Step 4: Partner with Someone You Trust

When it comes to supplying steel plate, company longevity, reputation and trust matter. Here are some good trust indicators to use when evaluating steel suppliers:

  • Does the supplier have ISO 9001 certification for quality management?
    Companies with this certification have a set internal quality management system, ensuring you get the product you need, when you need it and at the quality you expect.

  • How many years has the supplier been in business? 
    The best suppliers are ones that have built strong partnerships with mills. These partnerships take time, but give preferred suppliers better rates and access to products.

  • How many customers does the supplier have?
    If this number is low, there might be a reason for it, but it could also mean that the supplier specializes in specific industries. Ask for customer references if their customer base is low.

  • Where is the supplier located? If the supplier has other locations, how many and where are they?
    Locations not only impact inventory quantity and speed of delivery, but they also indicate company longevity. Fly-by-night suppliers are not likely to have multiple locations.

  • Does the supplier have a purchasing team?
    Purchasing teams are experts at sourcing steel, procuring and documenting paperwork and finding the best rates and/or quickest deliverability. Sourcing steel takes an organized team effort, so understanding if your supplier has a dedicated, experienced team plays a big role in the grades and quantities of steel available to you.

Much of this information can be found online, but – ultimately – the relationship you have with your sales representative says a lot about a company. Leeco Steel’s sales team prides itself on being more of an extension of your team, rather than a supplier.

Get a Bulk Steel Plate Quote Today

Leeco Steel is a leader in supplying steel plate material to companies across the country and around the globe. Browse Leeco Steel’s range of steel plate grade offerings and receive a quote on your steel plate order today!