Why use steel in infrastructure?
In almost any large scale infrastructure project it is likely that steel will have been involved in its realisation. Steel is utilised globally in the construction of infrastructure, from large and small bridges to tunnels, airports, train stations and car parks. It is a versatile and durable material that provides efficient and sustainable solutions to the unique engineering challenges these projects often represent.
Steel used in infrastructure can offer high fatigue performance, making it ideal for use in projects where reliability and endurance are key. Steel bridges have a proven life span extending to well over 100 years. Any signs of deterioration are readily apparent, without the need for extensive investigation. Many common problems, such as corrosion, rarely compromise the structural integrity of the bridge and can be swiftly addressed by repainting the affected areas. Sections that do suffer from fatigue can also be fully demounted and replaced, further increasing a bridge’s service life.
A key factor in why steel can feature in such varied and challenging projects is its adaptability. In car parks, for example, steel allows for column-free space where large numbers of cars can be parked. Meanwhile, its flexibility allows floor plans to be arranged to suit the shape of the car park and allow for a much more fluid flow of cars. These qualities also inform its use in train stations and airports, allowing for structures that combine stunning architecture with the functionality to support busy transport systems that may require expansion at a later date.
Speed of construction allows disruption to be kept to a minimum, if not completely eliminated. Structural steel components are relatively low in weight, meaning that large sections of infrastructure can be prefabricated offsite, drastically reducing on-site construction time. In some circumstances, complete structures can be moved into position overnight. For large scale infrastructure projects these efficiency gains are vital to help keep costs down and meet strict timetables.
Steel offers a number of sustainability benefits when deployed in infrastructure. It can be used to create energy efficient building envelopes, it has high flexibility in long term use, does not rot or shrink, can be easily extended, adapted and can be completely refurbished, recycled and reused once its initial service life is concluded.
Also, should the need for replacement occur, steel is recoverable and recyclable, with a decent proportion of structural steel either finding its way back into the steelmaking process to create new steel products or being reused, with little or no degradation in performance.