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October 2005 – Steel’s competitive edge

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Good news from Davis Langdon whose annual cost comparison between steel frames and concrete has once again proven that steel provides the most advantageous and economical framing solution (see News click here). That might come as some surprise to casual observes who have heard little about steel other than the news about raw material price rises over the past year or so. But the study confirms what the steel construction sector and savvy designers have been telling clients all along, that steel was outstandingly the cost effective framing material choice, and that other materials have been rising in price as well.

So what Corus last year dubbed the Competitive Gap between steel and concrete prices remains virtually unchanged. Using steel for frames is still cheaper than it was 20 years ago in real terms, an amazing productivity achievement that the steelwork industry – producers and fabricators as well as designers – has not received full credit for.

We will provide more detailed analysis of the cost comparison in the next edition of NSC, and there should be plenty there to cheer marketing departments. Since steel has maintained its competitive advantage and the other key messages about the benefits of steel have been getting through to more and more designers and end users, the annual market shares survey is also likely to bring good news in a few months time.

We are already hearing encouraging reports from the industry that healthy workloads are being seen in the key healthcare sector, where outdated impressions about the vibration issue have been successfully combated. Car parks are another area where inroads are being made into a sector that was not previously regarded as a traditional source of orders for steel – well it is now.

WTC debate will boost knowledge

Also in News you can read about the conference on the United States’ National Institute of Standards and Technology report into the collapse of the World Trade Center towers that was held in September. Many of the world’s leading experts on fire and structural behaviour met to discuss the implications of the results of no fewer than 43 different studies into the issues raised by the collapse.

Debates about the precise collapse mechanism and other key aspects of what actually happened after two fully fuelled and laden aircraft were deliberately crashed into occupied buildings will probably run for years yet. Which is as it should be; we want to learn as much as we can from these tragic lessons.

There will be many differences of emphasis emerging from the debates between the informed expertises that were gathered at Gaitersburgh, near where another aeroplane was flown by terrorists into the Pentagon, Washington. This sort of debate is one vital way in which knowledge grows. UK delegates at the conference report how refreshing it was to hear the issues being aired in an environment in which engineering debate flourishes. It made a welcome change from the sniping from the sidelines that they have to tolerate from sectors of UK construction who try to gain competitive advantage by shamefully suggesting that the use of steel was in some way to blame for the WTC disaster.

Nick Barrett

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