Steel construction: reinforcement and metal structures — zero sum game

Steel construction: reinforcement and metal structures — zero sum game
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Achievements, problems and hopes of Russian steel construction

Despite the general recession in the Russian construction sector the use of metal structures is still growing. Actually, steel construction has a number of advantages, although there are some problems in their application. The way how problems are solved is discussed in the article. 

Construction decisions

The construction sector is the largest marketing area for the metallurgy industry. Before the economic recession, it accounted for the consumption of about half of all steel products.

The economic problems of 2015—2016 impacted on construction more than other spheres. In particular, the demand for reinforcement decreased by more than 25% during two years, from 9.0 m tons in 2014 to 6.6 m tons in 2016. An insignificant increase is anticipated this year, but it will take several years to restore the previous output.

There is a sector in which the consumption of steel products keeps growing, and this is steel construction that uses metal structures. In 2016 their production added at least 8% when compared with 2015 and totalled over 3.3 m tons.

The Russian market of metal structures is divided into several segments each having its own processes which then determine the development of the sectors for the next few years.

First of all, metal structures are widely used in the construction of industrial and agricultural premises. This sector did not stop growing even in the years of the economic recession. According to Rosstat’s data, in 2015 putting such buildings in operation (calculating their total area) increased by 4.7% when compared with the previous year, and in 2016 the growth rate increased to 12.3%.

The reasons for such a leap are evident: the policy of import replacement brings results in the spheres of industry and agriculture. Meanwhile, the investments in capital assets have been reduced in Russia for the last two years and new greenhouse complexes, cattle and poultry farms, logistic centres, production facilities and enterprises have been built.

Steel construction: reinforcement and metal structures — zero sum game

The growth in agriculture and related industries is likely to continue this year. At least nobody is going to cancel the sanctions against Russia, and it means that counter-sanctions will stand good. Besides, in spite of the rouble’s tendency to strengthen this year, its rate seems to be staying rather low and is low enough to stimulate the import replacement and to support the Russian non-resource exports.

Less prosperous are the prospects for commercial and social steel construction. The main surge in this sector was registered in 2011—2014, during the consumer boom, when office centres and retail and entertainment complexes were built all over the country. However, a large area is presently empty there, which is why there are so few construction projects in the commercial segment being implemented, and they will not be demanded soon.

The Olympics of 2014 in Sochi and the forthcoming Football World Championship of 2018 have played an important role in the development of the metal structures’ production industry in Russia. Actually, every new stadium project and other sport objects applied unique solutions in the sphere of steel structures. First, some of them had to be imported, but then Russian companies mastered the output of unique products, such as large-diameter high-test welded pipes, joints and hardware, steel-wire ropes, etc.

Having said this, the construction of stadiums is coming to an end, and a long pause is then likely because Russia will hardly hold large sports competitions except for the Universiade-2019 in Krasnoyarsk after the Football Championship of 2018.

Due to the low free market price for oil and the budget deficit the state is not likely to finance different “prestigious” projects. There is, however, still a reserve of stock materials created in the first half of the decade which may be used in the future.

Infrastructure construction is an important source of the demand for metal structures. Thus, the construction of the Kerch bridge will take about 250,000 tons of metal structures, but the problem is that it is the only large-scale construction project in Russia at the moment. The construction of a bridge across the Lena, in nearby Yakutsk, for instance, has been postponed for an unknown period of time.

Infrastructure construction is presently not in the best condition. Such projects are rather costly and are often extended in the current climate. In 2015—2016 the construction of automobile roads, bridges and highway junctions decreased significantly. Some projects for WC-2018 have been reconsidered and reduced.

Nevertheless, there is hope that infrastructure development will be financed additionally soon. At least, this was spoken about at the Russian Investment Forum in Sochi in the end of February: construction projects may become one of the most important sources of economic growth in Russia.

And last but not the least, metal structures may be used in housing construction, although the demand of this sector is the lowest. The main reason for the low demand is the absence of practice, norms and regulations, as well as standards for the use of metal structures in housing construction. 

The proof of the pudding is in the eating

The absence of standards, norms and regulations which prevent the industry from developing has been discussed at all forums and conferences on steel construction held in Russia in recent years.

The standardisation system that currently exists in the construction industry has turned out to be unprepared to keep up with the growing rate of scientific technical progress. Neither was there a mechanism of innovations’ implementation in the practical experience of construction.

In particular, until recently there was no mention of light steel thin-walled structures made of zinc-coated steel in official documents, although their use seemed very prospective in low-rise construction as it decreased the terms of building due to the simplicity of assembling, reducing expenses and increasing reliability and service duration.

This is why new technical requirements had to be created and adopted, which naturally slowed down the work and caused developers to be less interested in the use of metal structures. Examples of their successful usage in housing construction, and not only in low-rise ones, are scarce. They were spoken about at industry conferences, but there were few willing to use them.

Nevertheless, the situation is gradually changing. An important role was played by the Association of Steel Construction Development, which both promotes the widespread use of metal structures and develops norms and regulations.

Experts from the Association took an active part in the development of two new state standards concerning I-iron girder (215 types of rolled and welded products were included) and welded pipes used in engineering structures.

Rules and regulations for designing steel and concrete structures and light steel thin-walled structures were developed. The latter will come to power in June, 2017.

A code document determining the anti-fire requirements to structural steelwork of multi-family residential buildings was implemented as a standard of the organisation. Formerly, it was insufficient fire protection that was one of the barriers against the wide-scale use of metal structures in housing construction.

At the end of 2016, according to the Rosstandard’s order, a new technical committee on standardisation, TC 144, was created to deal with steel structures. It will surely render it possible to further expand their use in the Russian construction industry.

Both builders and metallurgists are interested in the development of production and consumption of metal structures in the construction industry.

Some Russian enterprises started producing profile pipes for hot houses; a new galvanising line for the production of thick rolled metal used in light steel thin-walled structures will be put in operation in the middle of 2017 at Cherepovets metal works.

The cooperation between the producers of modern advanced materials and constructors is bound to grow.