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Lessons to learn from overseas

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Derek Tordoff

BCSA Director General Derek Tordoff has just returned from an international fact-finding trip to learn how other steelwork industries are faring. Implementing some ideas from overseas could help steel advance in several market sectors, he finds.

As national economies around the world grow and develop, their building processes need to become more efficient. Steel’s usage then increases as steel’s off-site manufacturing processes result in accurate and “greener” structures, which are safe and fast to erect, resulting in overall best value.

A consequence of this is a steady decline in the use of concrete: according to the Concrete Centre, the UK now has “one of the lowest per capita consumptions of cement and concrete in the world”. Global statistics from the Concrete Centre show, for example, that the 2002 consumption of cement in kg per head of population in Spain was 1063, Italy was 721, Australia was 396, Sweden was 299 and the UK was only 192.

These figures for concrete are reflected in construction market share statistics; again according to the Concrete Centre: “Steel’s market share against concrete in the UK has grown by 2% pa since 1978 and steel now enjoys a market share of 96.5% of industrial buildings and 70% of multi-storey buildings”.

The UK now has the global highest market share for steel in single and multi-storey buildings, but there are still UK market sectors where further growth can be expected. For example steel’s share of the multi-storey residential market (five storeys and above) increased from 39% in 2003 to 44% in 2004. Other growing market sectors include hospitals, schools and car parks.

However there is more that can be done to further improve the situation in the UK; steel’s market share continues to grow in other countries and there are lessons which can be learned by looking at what is happening globally. For example:

  • Canada: implementation of full scale steel construction “teaching aids” at Universities and Colleges
  • USA: a structured approach to understanding and forecasting construction market dynamics and future market trends
  • South Africa: development of an in-depth steelwork estimating course to provide a better understanding of cost drivers
  • Australia: a comprehensive steel construction kit for students to help them to learn the design and construction techniques
  • New Zealand: a movie for architects of the steel construction process (starting with a “walk through” 3D model)

There are global trends in other areas which impact on the UK, such as increasing raw material prices. UK cement prices increased dramatically in January and last year saw some of the steepest global price rises for steel in recent memory as the industry faced worldwide cost rises for raw materials (iron ore, scrap and coke) and freight shipping.

However greater stability has returned to the steel market and prices for fabricated steelwork used in the construction industry are expected to be more stable in 2005 than during 2004, with increases in the range of some 5% forecast for the whole of the forthcoming year.

In real terms, steelwork prices are still at the same level as 15 years ago.

The volume of steel construction output last year was the best for 15 years at 1.3million tonnes and steelwork contractors’ order books are healthy; problems are not anticipated with supplies of steel or availability of fabrication capacity.

To sum up, the future for steel construction is good with new market opportunities, new support tools for designers and specifiers, plus greater price stability.

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