Made of Steel
By Bindu Gopal Rao
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 scheme, an estimated 20 million houses need to be constructed, which is definitely going to take much longer to do by conventional processes. Hence, it is imperative that innovative methods are adopted to accelerate the construction process, and PEB may be the need of the hour.
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 speed up construction time up to 50%, as compared to traditional methods. PK Nagarajan, CEO, Tiger Steel Engineering (India), 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 optimisation of steel usage compared to conventional buildings. PEB components are manufactured in 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, states, “We have introduced Interarch LIFE, a lifestyle concept for developing modern and elegant infrastructure in steel. Interarch LIFE is focused on enhancing lifestyle, and creating state-of-the-art facilities and amenities in steel construction, and uses the latest technology for turnkey construction of steel buildings for rural and urban development in India. It provides a customised structural steel system for non-industrial pre-engineered buildings, and offers engineering and design pre-engineered steel building solutions from concept to completion. We undertake 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.”
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 the development process of new buildings as well as fabricated steel for plants. A shift from the concrete-based conventional method of constructing buildings to steel structures will halve 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, CEO, 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 without a single column obstructing the vision of the spectators. In addition, steel buildings are lighter than 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, therefore, are popular for designing ultra high-rise buildings,” says Amol Prabhu, partner, Shashi Prabhu & Associates (SPA).
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 5,00,000 sq-ft warehouse in under 10 months, which can ensure that the business model is viable because of 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 organised 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 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 on steel-framed buildings,” says Prabhu.
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 green building norms, PEB provides a natural lights lighting system, air ventilation using temperature control, SRI value of roof sheeting, a 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 segment is yet to explore this massive constructional shift by adopting PEB as a viable solution. “Pre-engineered construction uses inherently green products and has a 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, brick and dust. The only by product is metal scrap which is 90% recyclable,” avers Suri.
Construction of steel buildings does require a greater amount of skilled workforce than 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 a highly skilled workforce to install pre-engineered building components. Vendors provide induction training of more than seven 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 the developer’s PMC before starting work on site. The entire contract is given to the 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 the 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 the 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.