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The strong chain that links steel

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Steelwork contractors are widely acknowledged for their key role in the construction supply chain, but what is less widely appreciated perhaps is steel construction’s own supply chain, which is highly integrated and able to provide the full range of services to deliver the complete building or structure.

There is plenty of evidence of that in this issue of NSC. Many of the commercial and leisure developments of the last 20 years or more would be undeniably less interesting and innovative – both architecturally and structurally – without the ability to bend steel. Curved sections adorn many key developments and many designs couldn’t be delivered without the advances that have been made in bending, as you can read in our feature on bending developments.

Higher strength steels are coming into more common use, and until recently it might not have been possible or economically viable to bend these steels. Tighter and more intricate bends are now possible because of advances made by the specialist companies involved, thanks to investment that has been made in increasingly sophisticated equipment and research and development.

Lightweight cold formed steel products are another important feature of steel construction projects and we take a look at the close relationships that have developed between suppliers in this sector and steelwork contractors. This includes just in time manufacturing methods which ensure the short lead-in times that many projects demand.

Steel construction’s more traditional advantages are seen to great effect in our article on the Tate Modern extension, particularly in providing the 18 metre spans needed for the new galleries in a building that has been hailed as signalling a new era for modern and contemporary art in the UK.

Easily achieved long spans might be a traditional steel construction benefit, but it is being capitalised on by leading edge clients in the most modern industries, as we see in our report on the Amazon distribution centre. Not long ago a 250,000 sq ft warehouse was remarkable but Amazon’s latest ‘shed’ is a striking one million square feet, with spans up to 35 metres.

The useful part of steel’s life cycle doesn’t end when a building or other structure is completed – steel’s ability to be reused and recycled has been developed thanks to the efforts of many members of the supply chain. We can see this feature being taken advantage of by the ‘state-of-the-art’ design to provide temporary accommodation for London’s New Covent Garden Market.

The building will be needed for six years while a permanent home for the world famous fruit, vegetable and flower market is being provided nearby. During that time the large clear spans that only steel can so easily provide will create an efficient and attractive, modern environment for one of the world’s busiest flower markets. The building will then be dismantled for possible re-use or recycling, thanks to the skills honed by specialists in steel’s ever strengthening supply chain.

Nick Barrett

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