Nerves of steel
India’s steel demand may grow 3.3% this year on higher demand from construction and manufacturing sectors, the World Steel Association (WSA) said. In India, steel demand is expected to grow to 76.2 million tonnes in 2014, following a 1.8% growth in 2013, the WSA said in its short-range outlook for 2014 and 2015.
Indian steel structures market is growing at more than 10% a year and has surplus of 4.5 million tonnes over the past few years. The structural steel market has experienced a higher growth compared to steel as well as construction GDP. Despite global economic slowdown, demand for structural steel is likely to maintain steady growth.
Steel is also extensively used for pre-engineered buildings, which is fast gaining popularity due to relatively simple and standard designs. In India, structural steel has traditionally been fabricated on-site, mainly due to lack of infrastructure for transporting heavy sections from an off-site workshop to project site. Moreover, there is often insufficient space at a site to set up a fabrication workshop, while inexpensive skilled labour is at a premium.
Alakesh Roy, managing director, Zamil Steel, says, “If fabricators and vendors can avail of complete rolled sections then production can be done at the factory. We would not require executing fabrication at the site or design. So workers can work on the site premises and build the structure. All that the fabricator will be required to do is transport the material and fit it up.”
If you look at it from the point of view of civil construction (the cement and concrete section) each lift, considering the standard size of three metres, takes a month’s time. As buildings go higher, then the vendor will require that many numbers of months for the lift alone.
In terms of sourcing, most vendors in the western region source steel products from within Maharashtra. For certain sections they have to look at Chhattisgarh and Orissa where most of the rolled sections are available at a lower cost. If there is a larger interest in structural steel, then it would make sense to set up rolling mills in the western region. Traditionally, Maharashtra has never been a structural steel fabrication hub. It is more focused on automotive and other engineering but not heavy engineering. The heavy engineering is located in Chennai or in central parts of India, says Roy.
Using structural steel in building segment helps in faster construction and overcome space constraints at project site especially those having large clear spans. It also has high-load bearing strength with low weight and causes lower pollution compared to concrete. Steel can even be reused at the end of its life cycle.
Steel production causes less pollution than most other industrial materials including cement. Further, steel can be recycled 100%, and its value generally appreciates over the time while other building materials’ value depreciates over the time. The responsibility to increase steel in construction is tasked to the private sector who would take the decision based on the attractiveness of the sector. A senior spokesperson at Essar Steel says, “It is nice to see that private investments in fabrication and steel intensive construction have been increasing in the last few years and designers are now more amenable to using steel based designs in their building architecture.”
Ajay Rattan, general manager, sales and marketing (Lysaght), Tata Bluescope Building Products, says, “Faster and economical solutions are being achieved in recent times especially through the evolution of pre-engineered buildings and the usage of decking systems. Most industrial projects are now being completed by using rafters, purlins (C & Z types) and girts as structural materials.
Over the years, steel has become the most preferred material in construction in various forms. Some of the major reasons for choosing steel are:
Strength: Steel sheets when used as decking material, offer excellent locking mechanism with concrete thereby providing a strong structure especially for casting of multiple slabs.
Durability: Profiled, colour coated steel sheets when used for roofing and walling application provides aesthetically pleasing appearance that can last long for up to 20 years.
Ease of availability: Compared to other building material like sand, cement, aggregates etc, steel has the most unique advantage in terms of availability in various forms that can be readily used.
Roy of Zamil Steel, however, is irked that steel continues to be treated as a commodity. “If you go across universities today, metallurgy is no longer a preferred study. I think the steel industry per se on the technological and the development front is seeing a plateau effect. Steel is not treated as a technological upgradable product or sustainable for the future. There’s a general conception that there are no more advancements to be made on this product. It’s only recently that novelties like colour coated sheets or structural mixers of higher grade and thicknesses are being introduced. But in terms of basic raw material and the composition and the durability and the longevity the graph is seeing a plateau effect.”
Since land is scarce, developers are sure that more buildings will be required to go vertical as there’s little scope for horizontal expansion. “So factories, warehouses, retail, etc will go vertical. So that is where structural steel will play a huge role,” adds Roy.
Rattan says, “Tata BlueScope Building Products has been catering to the changing requirements of its customers, and with this it has introduced Lysaght Smartdek 51, an innovative high strength zinc-coated structural decking system profile. Smartdek 51 is designed for construction of composite floor slabs. It is specifically developed for the Indian construction industry and is one of the most economical structural steel decking systems in the country. Its unique features have helped to reduce both time and cost overrun during the execution of various projects.”
This has been very well accepted by the Indian construction industry and till date approximately 1.6 million sq. ft. of area has been covered with Smartdek 51 in India alone. Some of the major projects where it has been used are Delhi international airport, Mumbai international airport, Mumbai Monorail, NTPC-Barh, Mahatma Mandir-Gujarat, Inorbit Mall-Hyderabad, etc.
It is a historical fact that India did not have good plate mills for a long time and was dependent on imported high-strength steels. Today, all the high strength steels needed for construction and infrastructure are available in
Technical innovations aid flexibility in expansion and allows for future expansion in length, width and height. With large clear spans, buildings can be supplied in clear spans up to 90 metres. This is particularly suitable for structures like aircraft hangars and sports facilities. Standard companies offer superior quality. Those with plants and capacities, completely manufacture in plant to ISO 9001 quality assurance standards. Additionally, high quality paint system is available for steel and cladding to provide a long maintenance free service life. Also, buildings are supplied with roof and wall insulation to reduce energy cost and improve comfort level inside the buildings.
The government requires working out a solution that will increase per capita steel consumption in the country. Our consumption of steel is very low in rural areas; the government should try and make people use steel in rural areas for all construction purposes and should announce more road and infrastructure projects. There should be strict quality parameters so that inferior quality steel is not imported from countries like China.
The current cement to steel ratio in India is only about 0.3 which is much lower than the benchmark in advanced countries. The spokesperson of Essar Steel says that taller buildings tend to cost less when they are made from high-strength steel framing due to lower foundation costs, faster delivery, and lower labour cost and skill level.
Steel-framed buildings tend to incorporate designs that assist proper airflow and temperature controls. Even after demolition, such buildings don’t accumulate wastage like asphalt shingles, concrete, bricks and dust. Aluminium and steel can also be recycled for other applications too: pre-engineered buildings are 70% recyclable and steel is almost 90% recyclable. Using pre-engineered material results in a much better end product and a higher LEED or green building rating per project. The pre-engineered steel structure and roofing systems in the new Indira Gandhi International Terminal 3 building in New Delhi have helped the project earn a platinum LEED rating.
And then there is cost. Steel price rises will affect the market however we are confident that this is only a temporary limiting factor to buy in towards a steel building. As the complexity and nature of building in a mega city or country like ours increases, the need to have simple and efficient projects that complete faster, and will automatically want to use more pre-engineered and manufactured systems of construction that require less space time and mess.