Despite the challenging period that the steel industry is facing, with the difficult economic climate and policy issues, progress is being made within the industry in terms of projects, and current developments present much scope for further growth and innovation.
This was the sentiment conveyed at industry association representative the Southern African Institute of Steel Construction’s (Saisc’s) industry event, held on July 20 in Sandton, Johannesburg.
As part of his presentation at the event, Saisc technical director Amanuel Gebremeskel indicated that there were a number of opportunities for steel construction contained in the current state of rapid urbanisation that many regions are currently undergoing.
He explained that economic progression from the primary and secondary sectors to the tertiary sector to drive urbanisation, as most tertiary activities occur in cities.
As Africa is projected to have high rates of population growth, it is the ideal region for international investors, which will lead to economic growth and urbanisation, he indicated.
Gebremeskel mentioned that urbanisation on the continent would lead to a number of problems which will have to be solved, and the steel industry could capitalise on this by providing solutions to these issues.
For example, during rapid urbanisation, people require shelter, and there is much scope for the steel industry to participate in constructing residential buildings.
For this, Gebremeskel highlighted a particular building project in Johannesburg that an Saisc industry member recently completed, which notably boasted a running track on the roof, to facilitate an additional component of healthy living. The roof structure construction constituted the use of a sloped steel composite floor.
During urbanisation, more jobs will be created, and buildings will need to be constructed to accommodate this. Gebremeskel mentioned that the appearance of an office gives workers a sense of identity, and as such, consideration should be given to buildings’ façades during construction. Therefore, the construction industry can make use of steel to construct aesthetically appealing building façades, as steel materials can easily be used to design elaborate geometries.
In terms of office buildings, Gebremeskel pointed to the Gateway Office building project, which was completed this year, and which has a steel cladding exterior. “This building looks fancy, but it is quite easy to build, made possible by pouring slabs of different sizes and using light steel cladding.”
Urbanisation also creates the need to facilitate people’s leisure activities. For example, constructing buildings for entertainment, such as movies or concerts.
Gebremeskel highlighted an example of the Sun Hotel building in Pretoria, completed this year, particularly the tall columns supporting the five star hotel. These columns make use of steel composite systems – a combination of steel and concrete – a technology that he is “very keen on”.
Urbanisation also creates the need for shopping centres. Gebremeskel highlighted a shopping centre addition currently being constructed in Rosebank, which makes use of steel composite floors and frames without disrupting shopping downstairs.
Enhancing the Industry
These problems created by urbanisation provide opportunities for steel, as evidenced by the various projects outlined earlier. However, Gebremeskel indicated that these effects also present an opportunity for the steel industry to innovate and provide more efficient and effective solutions.
Innovation does not necessarily only mean creating new steel building technology, illuminated Gebremeskel, but could also entail using existing steel technologies in new ways.
He claims that the construction industry is receptive to new technologies, as adaption rates of technology over time are ever shortening. “In our era, if you bring something new and it works, the adoption rate is very fast.”
This has been experienced within the local construction industry – which transitioned to precast as a dominant method of floor construction in just under two years by 2016, notes Gebremeskel.
He indicates that, in South Africa, another big driver of innovation within the steel industry will be the water scarcity the country has been experiencing. “Historically, I think this problem has been ignored, but it has reached a point where it can no longer be neglected.”
This is particularly relevant to the construction industry, which uses considerable amounts of fresh water. Concrete construction especially uses a lot of fresh water, and steel presents a less water intensive option, Gebremeskel posited.
Moreover, instead of constructing new buildings, steel is the ideal building construction material to build on top of existing buildings, which saves on construction costs and resources.