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Concrete is steeling the show

AGENDA

IN THE run-up to the 2008 Olympics, it's not just Beijing that is changing its public face.

A massive building boom has swept through China over the past two years.New projects are sweeping away huge chunks of the old cities as the pace of development accelerates at breakneck speed - and the UK construction industry, along with the rest of the world, is feeling the impact.

Although there is a general rise in the level of raw materials purchased by the Chinese, steel is being snapped up so quickly that some manufacturers have experienced difficulties keeping up.

As China is still building its infrastructure - roads, bridges, office buildings, factories and power plants, for example - it could take another 25 years for the country to reach the same stage as its more industrialised counterparts.

In addition, China's factories need steel for cars, trucks and other products to meet an escalating demand.

Last year the Chinese produced approximately five million cars and almost all were sold within China.The steel for these vehicles, however, along with that used in construction, is largely imported - thus impacting cost across the globe.

In the UK, dramatic price increases have hit the steel market.This has had its biggest effect on construction by creating a fluctuation in costs between the tender stage and the start dates of the build process - often leaving the contractor as the party hardest hit.

This is most apparent for those pitching to the public sector, as the tendering process is traditionally much longer than that of private jobs.

As the price fluctuations are so rapid, there can be major discrepancies between the original quote and the costs when work commences, which can leave these contractors in a vulnerable position.

Contractors are looking for ways to use less steel in the construction process, leaving concrete as the most viable alternative.A reinforced concrete frame used to support a structure is just as effective as a structural steel frame.Traditionally both solutions have had areas where they could claim to be better than the other but different contractors, with different skill sets or priorities, would often choose one over the other on a regular basis, leaving the argument over the optimum method unsettled.

In the current climate of inflated steel prices, however, the fact that a reinforced concrete structural element has 96 per cent less steel than a structural steel element is making more people pay attention to the possible cost savings of using concrete frame construction techniques. In reinforced concrete only very small strands of steel are used to work with the concrete to resist applied forces, with a maximum of 4 per cent of the area of any structural element being made up of steel.

Concrete is one of the most versatile materials available in the construction industry, providing a wide range of structural options. For the contractor, alongside the myriad of benefits presented by this versatility, the cost-efficiency of concrete makes it one of the most significant options in today's climate.The contractor's client also reaps the benefits on handover of a safe and affordable building with minimal long-term maintenance.A winning solution for all.