All About Steel

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Steel has always been a popular construction material owing to its many merits, right from its easy availability, speed of assembly, design flexibility, and so on. In fact, the material has recently caught the fancy of many users, who have turned to steel buildings as a safe, low-maintenance and high-quality alternative to traditional construction materials. With pre-fabricated or pre-engineered buildings (PEB), users have the option to explore this material’s many merits. Whether it is airports, large convention centres, ports or stadiums, developers seem to now prefer the option of PEB structures for these projects, in order to increase the pace of their work, while ensuring affordability and sustainability.

Steel is the ideal construction medium for warehouses and other industrial buildings for a variety of reasons. In addition to being economical and durable, steel also provides the simplest solution for building designs requiring large expanses of open space as well as significant design flexibility. Under the Government’s ‘Housing for all by 2022’, an estimated 20 million houses needs to be constructed , which by conventional process is definitely going to take much longer time. Hence it is imperative that innovative methods are adopted to accelerate the construction process and PEB can be the need of the hour.

New Vistas

Naturally there are several advantages of steel buildings over conventional construction processes. Firstly of course these are materials that can be made off site. This can help speeden up construction time upto 50% as compared to traditional methods. P.K. Nagarajan, CEO Tiger Steel Engineering (India) Pvt. Ltd. says, “PEB integrates all activities from design, fabrication, logistics and installation under one agency and PEB structures are 25- 30% lighter in weight due to use of tapered sections as well as high strength steel, ensuring optimsation of steel usage compared to conventional buildings. PEB components are manufactured factory controlled conditions and are of superior quality and accurate making the erection of buildings simpler. PEB can be expanded both width wise and length wise to meet clients future expansion needs.” With a clear emphasis on affordable housing adoption of Steel Skeleton Frame works either in PEB or LGS (Light Gauge Steel) with walls made out of light weight insulated panels in cement fibre boards can bring about a dramatic turnaround in the construction cost and time. Gautam Suri CTO & Founder Director, Interarch Building Products Pvt. Ltd says, “we have introduced ‘Interarch LIFE ‘, a lifestyle concept  for developing modern and elegant infrastructure in steel. Interarch LIFE is focused on enhancing the lifestyle, and creating state-of-the-art facilities and amenities in steel construction and uses the latest technology for turnkey construction of steel buildings in rural and urban development in India. It provides a customized structural steel system for Non-Industrial Pre-Engineered Buildings and offers engineering and designed Pre-engineered Steel Building Solution from concept to completion. We take innovation in engineering, and strive to go beyond the realm of conventional construction with our team of leading engineers, quality manufacturing and efficient project handling capabilities.”

Demand Drivers

Till a few years ago, India was the third largest producer of raw steel. Several renowned architects and developers have often said that India’s massive construction sector must increase the use of structural steel to accelerate the development of commercial and residential complexes, while retaining the indigenous cultural appearances. “The construction sector should consider using pre-engineered steel components in accelerating development process of new buildings as well as fabricated steel for plants. Shift from the concrete-based conventional method of constructing buildings to steel structures will half the completion time with efficiency. The industry needs to ensure that the penetration of steel in commercial, residential and industrial construction increases overall. The only way that this can increase is, if the policy framework at a government level ensures that by using steel you get a faster track construction,” opines Anshul Singhal the CEO of Embassy Industrial Parks. Steel is a highly durable metal. It can withstand a considerable amount of external pressure. Hence, steel structures are earthquake resistant whereas concrete structures are brittle. Concrete is not as resistant as steel. “It is only because of this advantage that we were able to design structures such as the Sardar Vallabhai Patel Indoor stadium with column free spans of over 50 mts, and the Wankhede Stadium designed without a single column obstructing the vision of the spectators. In addition, steel buildings are lighter than the RCC structures and hence, could possibly reduce the foundation cost and column sizes in certain cases. Steel buildings are super-quick to build on site once the members are fabricated and hence, popular when the members are fabricated in the factory and assembled on site. Steel buildings are also better resistant to wind and earthquake forces and hence are popular for designing ultra-high rise buildings,” says Amol Prabhu, Partner, Shashi Prabhu & Associates (SPA).

Staying Safe

Safety is of utmost importance in any structurally-engineered project. Steel has a vital, if not essential role, in this big transformation. By using steel technology with the combined knowledge of high precision engineering, it is possible to deliver a 500,000 sq. ft. warehouse in under 10 months which can ensure that the business model is viable due to early rental revenue due to faster occupancy. “The conventional construction technologies “non-steel” make it hard to unlock returns on your capital investment due to time constraints, unpredictability and cost escalations which impair business models. Due to the presence of organized re-engineering companies in India, we can fix a lump-sum building price and guarantee back-to-back rentals to our customers. Steel is a highly durable metal. It can withstand a considerable amount of external pressure. Hence, steel structures are earthquake resistant whereas concrete structures are brittle. Concrete is not as resistant as steel. Steel structures have a good load carrying capacity unlike concrete structures, which have a low load carrying capacity. Lastly, steel structures are easy to transport as they are lightweight. Steel structure construction is a safe option, there are no health hazards of using steel structures in construction,” says Singhal. Designers need to be educated on the key aspects of fire proofing of steel structures since steel members typically fail at much lesser temperature than the RCC members.  “Therefore, designers need to understand the fundamentals of fire safety and fire proofing to ensure safe evacuation of people from the steel buildings in case of fire. One of the biggest challenges faced by contractors during erection of steel framed buildings is the safety of the steel workers while erecting the buildings. Effective training of workforce, use of hard hats and harnesses while erecting the steel members and total inspection of all completed work are some of the areas we focus on while working of steel framed buildings,” says Prabhu.

Going Green

Steel buildings have many green characteristics including recyclability and durability. Steel is the preferred material for all steel structures and PEBs use steel, which is more than 90% recyclable. “In addition, steel buildings contribute to a project through improved energy efficiency and use of environmental friendly materials. As per the Green Building Norms PEB provides Natural Lights Lighting System, Air Ventilation using temperature control, SRI value of Roof sheeting, roof System compatible for  solar panels Installation and low VOC content in  paint consumption,” opines Nagarajan. The increasing emphasis on green building construction and fast construction seems to be adding to the growth of PEB in India. Overall, the commercial construction market has witnessed the use of PEB in India but the residential section is yet to further explore this massive constructional shift by adopting PEB as the viable solution. “Pre-engineered construction is inherently green products and has comparatively smaller impact on the environment in comparison to conventional brick and motor construction. The energy efficient methods used in producing the steel used for these structures and the high recycled content help in substantially reducing greenhouse gas emission. Interestingly even after demolition, these buildings don’t accumulate wastage like asphalt, concrete, brink and dust. The only by product is metal scrap which is 90% recyclable,” avers Suri.

Tech Talk

Construction of steel buildings does require a greater amount of skilled workforce than the conventional construction. It is for this reason that manufacturers need to invest in training exercises for all concerned staff to transfer knowledge. PEB vendors have highly skilled workforce to install the pre-engineered building components. Vendors provide induction training of more than 7 days to new joiners before deploying them on site “Topics like awareness of MHE, PEB building components, site general guide related to wind/Temperature and more are covered by them. This is ensured by developer’s PMC before starting work on site. Entire contract is given to PEB vendor including installation. Methodology of installation is submitted to the developer, which is subsequently validated and approved by reputed consultants appointed by them. All MHE are arranged by PEB vendors with necessary certificates to ensure smooth progress at site. Maintenance of all machineries are ensured by PEB vendor and included in a pre-planned maintenance programme which helps in avoiding hindrances or stoppage of work. All snags and functional requirements of developer and end user are addressed during the installation stage of projects,” says Singhal. With steel being so versatile, robust and ecologically sensitive, it is safe to say that the future is safe and steel.

This story appeared in Construction Week’sMay 2018 issue here: CW_May 2018_Steel Buildings

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