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Knowledge economy growth supported by sophisticated steel

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Finding examples of benefits being delivered to developers and contractors by the selection of constructional steelwork as a framing solution is never difficult, the pages of NSC alone are regular proof of that. Sustainability is obviously, and with good reason, a major concern all along the supply chain, and steelwork contractors have been keen from the onset of the climate change battle to play an active part.

Flexibility of steel is emerging as a key sustainability feature that supports the UK’s net-zero drive and the number of examples of that is growing apace. We see an outstanding example in this month’s NSC, with a 42 storey office block at London’s Canary Wharf being saved from demolition and being ‘reimagined’ to meet changing building user demands thanks to the use of steel. Nearly every floor was reconfigured during the extensive refurbishment. Adapting the building involved clever structural engineering, and careful thought from skilled and experienced steelwork contractors.

Those skills and experience are becoming more valuable almost by the day. The UK is facing a skills crisis, with warnings about the potentially severe consequences of not being able to source even lower skilled workers for the infrastructure building programmes that the UK seems about to embark on. Developers and main contractors will take note that an increasingly important part of the calculation about what framing material to use on a project will be availability of skilled labour.

The days of using materials that demand large numbers of diverse trades on site at the same time may be drawing to a close faster than they were before. Increasing automation and off-site production can only go so far in reducing the need for on site working for the traditional alternatives to steel. Steel construction on the other hand has always been a predominantly offsite activity, carried out in factory type conditions by a highly skilled and well paid workforce enjoying welfare and health and safety advantages to a standard denied to many site workers. Attracting workers to these relatively highly paid jobs has never been a limiting factor in ensuring that fabricated steelwork is delivered cost effectively, on time and to the highest quality standards.

Fabrication machinery is under constant development which helps ensure that fabricating remains a cost effective and speedy process that allows frames to be delivered to site for as required, minimising the space taken up on often congested sites. These highly sophisticated CNC machines are driven by software that is also being continuously improved. If artificial intelligence and increasing automation that we have read so much about recently have anything like their predicted benefits, then constructional steelwork will only become more and more cost effective as design and manufacturing capabilities expand.

Constructional steelwork is at the heart of an increasing sophistication in how buildings will be designed and built. Steel is also a key provider of the sustainable buildings in which digital and other advances will be made, as what is being called the knowledge economy grows. In this issue we report on a visit to No 3 Circle Square in Manchester, a speculatively built mixed use block aiming at BREEAM ‘Excellent’ and EPC A ratings in an area already known for its high number of technology and research based companies. This demonstrates high confidence in Manchester’s potential as one of Europe’s ‘Top 20 digital cities’; as well as confidence that steel is the construction material for the future.

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Click on the cover to view this month's issue as a digimag.