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April 2005 – International effort will boost use of steel

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News of a major International drive by steel manufacturers to enhance the attractiveness of their products to construction should come as welcome news to UK constructional steelwork designers and contractors. A 10% rise in the use of steel in construction is the aim of the £10M, five-year programme being led by the International Iron and Steel Institute and supported by major producers including Corus.

A range of new initiatives is to enhance the competitive edge of the industry, including market research, technology benchmarking, knowledge management, an international architectural competition and demonstration building. This is all great news. It is in the interests of the UK constructional steelwork industry to have similar healthy industries elsewhere. Steel has been remarkably successful for the UK construction industry and if it were as widely used internationally then we would not so often feel that we are climbing learning curves alone; colleague industries would learn from the UK and pass back to us the benefit of their own lessons. International cooperation and technology exchange hold out great prospects for all constructional steelwork industries.

The UK industry of course has a vast reservoir of accumulated knowledge and experience to pass on already. As BCSA President Tom Goldberg pointed out in his speech at the National Dinner, one of the things that have been learned is that the use of steel is promoted mostly by solid technical knowledge and practice in key areas such as design codes, specifications, fire engineering (see below) and composite construction. All of this is coupled in the UK with an increasingly efficient steelwork contracting industry. Nobody ever has perfect knowledge, however, so the IISI-led initiative should enable any gaps to be at least identified and perhaps filled.

Intumescent success

The marked success of off-site applied intumescent fire protection is not quite hidden away among the other good news of the 2004 Market Shares Survey, but it deserves a bit more attention drawn to it. Few, if any, predicted how successful off-site application would become when a small group of fire engineering specialists, engineers and manufacturers first got together under the auspices of the Steel Construction Institute to produce P160, which has had to be updated after eight years to cope with an unexpectedly rapid pace of change and uptake of off-site application.

The off-site intumescent coating application industry is expected to fire-protect over 70,000 tonnes of structural steelwork this year, which represents about one third of the market for intumescents. There are many reasons for the success of off-site application. There are advantages to be gained in terms of cost, speed, improved safety, and quality control.  Quality control will quite rightly be uppermost in the mind of anyone thinking about fire protection, and it is worth noting that the quality control procedures contained in the new model specification are regarded as even more stringent than those which apply on site, which themselves lack nothing in rigour.

Nick Barrett

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