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January 2007 – Ground well paved for further advance

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The turn of the year is a good time to take stock of progress made and lessons learned for the future. The year just passed was a good one for the constructional use of steel, by any measure. Record output by BCSA’s members was reported. The UK’s steelwork sector remains the object of international envy, clients report delight with the cost effective, timely delivery of flexible and sustainable projects, and competitors remain on the back foot. The technical support, research and marketing back up that delivers this level of quality continues to break new ground

Highlights of the year? There are so many to choose from. Sustainability is clearly going to be increasingly important as a business driver, making it all the better that the BCSA’s Sustainability Charter was successfully launched. The first steelwork contractors have already been audited and are now able to prove their sustainability credentials. BCSA also chalked up a milestone in celebrating its 100th year of successfully representing the interests of steelwork contractors, membership increasingly being regarded as essential to compete in demanding markets.

The SCI reached its 20th birthday and was able to report growing membership and a long list of new publications aimed at making steel easier to use. For example, in January NSC reported on a new design guide from SCI allowing further economies to be made in the fire safe design of buildings. There was also a revised design guide on the vibration of floors that proves how easily floors on steel framed buildings meet, and exceed, the required performance standards.

From Corus there was a major development in the launch of the new name for its range of structural sections; the range was also significantly expanded in a move that one construction weekly magazine saw as ‘the biggest shake-up in structural steel manufacturing for half a century’. Independently produced Market Share and Cost Comparison surveys commissioned by Corus showed that steel still enjoys substantial cost and programme advantages over other framing solutions, and this was reflected in increasing shares of key markets.

Steelwork contractors made substantial investments to ensure that their fabrication and other production related facilities remain leading edge, delivering significant advantages to clients. The industry’s safety performance remained better than the industry average and new safety initiatives are underway. The Structural Steel Design Awards showcased the best of the innovative steel designs turned into successful projects, dazzling the judges with their quality and earning high praise from key clients.

As we reached the year-end work was progressing rapidly on the extension to Corus’s Medium Section Mill and new Automated Distribution Centre at Scunthorpe. Together these major investments deliver sections of higher quality than ever before, on a just-in-time basis if required.

So all in all, not a bad year of achievement. From rival framing material interests we heard nothing of any significant new developments at all, and no sign of the concrete industry investing in anything useful like fire testing of its own materials. The tactic there remains to spend money on misleading advertisements that disgrace the publications they appear in and, we can be sure, fail to influence any engineer capable of analysing the technical evidence.

The prospects for 2007 look equally promising. Nobody can accurately predict what will happen to the size of markets, but it seems reasonable to expect that steel will at least hold its own in key markets and make progress in the sectors that are being targeted for growth. There is a busy programme of research underway that will continue to issue in improved guidance and technical support for designers, all of which we will report on in NSC. Using steel is easy already, as the market tells us, and work is in hand to make it easier still. No misleading advertising will change that fact.

Nick Barrett

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