Dr. Michael G. Barker, PhD, PE, Professor, Civil & Architectural Engineering, University of Wyoming, Director of Education, Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance, USA

As part of a series of Q&As, constructsteel is interviewing experts within the construction sector on aspects of steel’s performance and sustainability in the built environment.

Increasing the market share for any product can be a difficult task. In its simplest form, an increase in market share requires taking sales from a competitor selling the same or similar products. In almost every industry, the competition is fierce as companies fight for the business of new and existing customers. After all, no one is in business to lose sales.
The bridge industry is no different. The competition for steel is mainly concrete. In most markets, concrete has a well-established network of suppliers, customers, and industry organisations. The concrete industry is typically perceived to be active in working with owners, designers, and contractors to develop cost-competitive and simplified solutions for bridge design, fabrication, and installation.

For well over a century, steel has dominated the over 200 m long-span market. It has been a battleground to compete in the medium and short span market. However, steel can compete and win in this sector. Steel has many attributes which make it the ideal choice for short and medium span bridge construction:

  • The light weight of steel provides significant cost savings: smaller abutments, use of local crews, fast installation, and lighter equipment add up to savings.
  • Prefabricated steel bridges accelerate construction and reduce on-site labour requirements, traffic disruptions, and overall project costs.
  • Steel bridges have service lives of over 100 years, decreasing life cycle costs and the need for replacement.
  • Steel is the world’s most recycled material and is infinitely recyclable, so it can be repurposed from one bridge project to another.

Unfortunately, some still perceive steel as expensive and sophisticated in the short and medium span market – a misconception that has inhibited the industry for many years. In order to change this misconception and gain market share, a strategic response is required, grounded in a need to change customer perceptions, which includes:

  • A persistent strategic marketing and education program to break through the fallacies that exist within the marketplace.
  • Standardised designs with simple and repetitive details to expedite and economise the design process.
  • Innovative tools and cost-effective solutions to accelerate the design, fabrication, and construction of a steel bridge.
  • Sustainability and life-cycle cost analysis that objectively compares steel to concrete in terms of initial costs, future costs, and service life of the structures.

In order to implement such a plan, an organised multi-faceted initiative is required. The initiative necessitates a full steel industry effort working in unison to accelerate change in the marketplace. Fortunately, there already exists such a market development program to assist in transforming global efforts into opportunities – constructsteel. Leveraging the success of the Short Span Steel Bridge Alliance in the United States, the partners of constructsteel are dedicated to disrupting the global bridge market through the implementation of a strategic plan to grow the market for steel. Over the next few years perceptions will change, innovative solutions implemented, and market share gained for steel in the global bridge market. Get ready.