How is a Girder Different From a Beam?

Since a girder and a beam have the same function, some assume that a girder is just another word for a beam. However, just as all thumbs are fingers but not all fingers are thumbs, all girders are beams but not all beams are girders. Girders are a type of beam with the capacity to support large loads, including other beams. Girders have some significant differences that are important to understand.


Basic Distinction Between Girders and Beams

Beams are the primary part of the structural framing system that will carry the load. Beams are intended to bend to resist and redistribute the load. Girders, on the other hand, are more rigid, as they are there to support the beams and provide the main horizontal support for the structure. The girder is built to support significant, all-encompassing loads such as structural pillars or beam responses. In general, if it is there to support other beams and carry the load bearing weight, it’s a girder. 

An Inside Look at Steel Beams

A beam is an important part of any structural steel frame and is designed to support dispersed loads like a roof structure. Their main role in a structure is to keep it strong and stable. Beams are the perfect fit for basic structural frameworks.

Beams are generally sleek and tall, and are categorized in many different ways, depending on what the build requires.

Type of support they offer: 

  • Fixed
  • Continuous
  • Cantilever
  • Trussed
  • Simple support

By their geometrical design: 

  • Curved
  • Straight
  • Tapered

And by their connections:

  • I-beams
  • T-beams
  • C-beams

Girders are normally referred to as metallic beams and are constructed as I-beams or box girders. While there is no official size that designates a girder from a beam, girders are generally shorter and sturdier than beams, and for good reason. 

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What are Girders Used For?

Girders are the main supports of a large structure and will support the smaller beams. Girders are intended to be the primary structural supports, and they have a much larger load-bearing capability. They can carry dynamic and rolling loads. Girders are used in large structures, including bridges, road flyovers, and trusses. The girder is the primary beam and will take the bulk of the load bearing role of whatever structure it is supporting. The girder will support the load of the beams, and then will transfer the load to the columns and vertical supports below.

Custom Fabrication for Beams and Girders

There are differences in the fabrication process for beams and girders. When designing a beam, fabricators will look at how it will transfer the load to the girder. Custom fabrication is often the most effective way to ensure that the exact horizontal support required is present in the beam. In girders, the basic necessities are an important part of fabrication. The girder fabrication must be done in a way to ensure the stability and load bearing capabilities.

Finding the Right Team to Determine Your Needs

The project managers in your fabrication shop will work closely with the fabricators to find exactly the right supports necessary for every project, whether it is a bridge, highway flyover, commercial building, or anything else requiring a strong, reliable structure. Having the right girders to support the load is crucial to a strong structure capable of withholding the beams and supports. 

Girders and beams both provide support to a large metal fabricated framework, but should not be used interchangeably, as they do provide different functionality to the design. When planning a building project, it is important that all involved in the planning process understand the differences and use both to design a structure that provides strong support. Working with an experienced and knowledgeable fabrication team can provide the right design that includes both beams and girders.

Quality fabrication shops are plentiful. However, not every custom metal fabrication shop can take your project from beginning to end. Swanton Welding has built a reputation of quality and reliability over the years, and our extensive experience and turn-key capabilities have made us the industry leader we are today. We are confident our team will be an incredible asset to your next project. Contact us for a quote today.

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