Des went on to explain the challenge of perception: “The comparison is one of image – timber has a much ‘softer and more welcoming’ image and light steel frame is a more technical approach with designs being harder to visualise – so the industry needs visual design representations of what is achievable. If you talk to a lay person, they will not put steel ahead in the sustainability stakes but does this matter when most decisions are not based on this?
“You need to play to the industries strengths - steel needs to offer a ‘whole package’ solution, an entire wall buildup – from internal linings through to the facade – this would de-risk the construction processes for architects.”
Darren Richards agreed that better communications are required, and the Light Steel Frame Association is now leading the charge in correcting misconceptions and promoting the strength to weight and fire safety benefits of light steel frame.
Michael Sansom from the Steel Construction Institute (SCI) played the role of ‘devil’s advocate’ stating: “We in the industry know the attributes of light steel framing but for context we are facing a climate emergency. It is generally believed that operational carbon has been addressed and that we must now move on to reducing embodied carbon. However, evidence of the ‘performance gap’ demonstrated by CIBSE – TM54 Evaluating Operational Energy Performance of Buildings at the Design Stage – confirms that there is still much to do to reduce operational carbon. I can appreciate, more than most, the longterm benefits of steel and we have to look at the circular economy where recycling and reusing is massively important.”
Neville wholly supported this adding: “Once we start looking at reusing metal components structural verification presents challenges but the real elephant in the room in the sustainability challenge is cost – once clients find out the true cost, they revert back to steel and concrete.”
Emily agreed but added a note of caution: “Embodied energy is the most difficult part of the puzzle to solve. We have to collaborate to achieve the true ideal of the circular economy because you cannot claim one material will do every job. Steel is so efficient it is perfect for the job it is designed for but once we start looking at reusing, its bespoke nature presents challenges.”
Acknowledging that more collaboration is required Jim Roach from ARV Solutions stepped in at this point to stress: “I think there should be more collaboration not only within the light steel industry but also across the offsite material sectors. By adopting a united approach, offsite technologies will have a greater impact in influencing the construction industry to adopt modern methods of construction and move away from outmoded traditional on-site approaches."
Darren then steered the conversation to the manufacturing environment and how the light steel sector is addressing waste and inefficiency in the construction process – pointing out that inefficient developments typically achieve very wasteful buildings.
The steel manufacturing environment is more automated and has become incredibly efficient at value engineering and minimising waste through design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA) approaches and the advances in digital engineering with better use of Building Information Modelling (BIM).
Chris Gatehouse from Tekla picked up the conversation: “From a modelling point of view there is no waste – the software is engineered to allow customers to optimise precisely to their design requirements. With cold rolled steel the only waste is the swarf and offcuts produced in the manufacturing which are minimal and can be recycled.”
“One thing that is not considered as part of the sustainability equation is the utilisation percentage of steel – all offcuts are recycled and there is no waste at all. I would really like to see comparisons with other utilisation percentage metrics with materials such as timber.”
Darren then moved on to discuss how more value is being added to the manufacturing process through the introduction of a systems approach such as pre-insulating panels in the factory which Fusion Building Systems have been doing for some time and the panelised through-wall approach that is now being pioneered by companies such as EOS which include boarding and insulation – taking waste out of other components that interface with steel.Darren posed the question: “Are we underplaying and under selling the levels of sophistication in the steel industry?
Robert Clark responded with a resounding ‘yes’ highlighting just one example: “We have been working with a national housebuilder and through using Revit digital technology, Fusion Building Systems has managed the design process. Just through eliminating waste and time inefficiencies, vast savings per unit have been achieved. With a traditional approach to construction there is a massive amount of waste of materials and time – the savings were so vast we could not initially believe it ourselves.”
As a contractor Emily King highlighted the need to get this message out there saying: “I attend many forums and there is a need for the light steel frame industry to get these positive messages out there. I have to present proposals to clients and the more knowledge I have, the more informed my recommendations.”
Des O'Dwyer supported this view: “It’s easy to get wrapped up in the technical detail but you need to simplify the message - it’s about educating architects – we do not come out of university with an in-depth knowledge of every material system – you just need to present a package of benefits and applications.”
Light steel construction is used extensively in the UK in a wide range of building applications. The precise nature of the value benefits of light steel construction will depend on the application and project specifics. However, there are generally five overriding value benefits associated with light steel construction – safety, quality, speed, strength and lightweight. These lead to supplementary advantages, such as early completions, fewer snags, elimination of shrinkage and minimal re-work.
Michael Sansom then raised a very significant point concerning the recycling and reusing process: “The light steel framing sector can learn from the hot rolled steel industry where SCI has produced a prototype database which we can upload all IFC files so we can retain all the design, manufacturing and structural information for all the steel elements used in a building. By capturing and storing all the information at the end of the building’s lifecycle steel components can be reused with confidence as we have all the properties captured and documented.”
Darren totally agreed and said this is an area for the Light Steel Frame Association to progress and develop in association with their steering group and working with technical partners within SCI.
Alex Small had several points he wanted to address starting with enabling reuse: “Standardisation and a system approach is the driving force behind our consortium led Seismic project which is working on the future of construction for schools and healthcare facilities. It is a logical development with impressive results on light steel standardisation and by supplying a documented kit of panelised or modular parts, everything becomes reusable at the end of a building’s life.”
He then turned to embodied carbon and gave participants insight into the future: “There is a huge amount of work going on in steel production, we are working in partnership to develop the largest cluster of hydrogen plants in Europe and our goal is to be carbon neutral by 2050.
“Hisarna is a radical new technology completely transforming the way we make steel which can use 50% scrap steel and reduce carbon emission by 80%. A steel industry united around the recycling and reuse of components will offer massive embodied carbon benefits. If the business model is based on this, we are far more likely to offer buyback and leasing options for light steel in our future plans.”
As the discussion evolved it was agreed that all the messages downstream of steel production are good news stories and steel brings major safety, adaptability and longevity benefits to construction. All steel producers have strategies for reducing embodied carbon and reports have plotted the route to low-carbon primary steel making which demonstrate that it is achievable at relatively affordable costs but there was a consensus that it is better for this to be led by European producers which operate under more stringent regulations.
Associate Director of SCI, Michael Sansom considered the circular economy and shared some thought provoking facts: “In the UK we are largely self-sufficient in steel, by that I mean we can pretty well produce all the steel we need through recycling our latent stock to satisfy market demand. But steel is a global commodity, and we live in a global community. Many nations are still evolving but in developed economies there is a stock of 12 tonnes of steel per person and if we can get to that point globally – then we have eliminated primary steel production worldwide.”
This point emphasised the fact that the demand for recycled steel is going to go up and there is a pressing need to grade and ID tag every component so that when it does come back into the market – quality steel ready to be recycled is easily identifiable.
This sparked a healthy debate with Darren stressing how this information could be included in the ‘as built’ BIM Model but Alex said: “As steel manufacturers already keep this data, to drive the maximum possible benefits, they should be custodians of this information.”
Chris Gatehouse raised a note of caution: “Embedding the data in the BIM model can be laborious and problematic, the most reliable and efficient solution is to link back to the manufacturer’s data.”
Michael picked up on this point: “The SCI are developing a portal to store and log information on steel components for recycling and reuse, it makes good sense to collaborate with Tata Steel and Tekla.”
Darren also agreed to take this forward to the Light Steel Frame Association’s steering group and engage with manufacturing members as they could play a crucial role in progressing this for the future good of the industry.
Darren Richards representing the Light Steel Frame Association presented a roundup of the Focus on Framing roundtable event and thanked all participants for their valued input: “When we gather a group of construction industry professionals together and pose some challenging questions, we cannot predict the outcome. This has been a frank and honest discussion which will take the industry forward with the support of the Light Steel Frame Association. There are areas for improvement, and it is quite clear that this event will result in some key collaborations.
Many thanks to ARV Solutions,EOS, Intelligent Steel and Trimble Solutions/Tekla for sponsoring the Virtual Roundtable Event and thanks to all participants for their time and contributions to the online discussion.
Read the latest issue of LSF Magazine here