Steel: Framing the Future
At its conclusion in early 2007 the Steel – Framing the Futureproject findings, addressing the multi-storey building sector, had the unmistakeable ring of a call for industry reform. Robust investigation of the status of the steel construction industry over two and a half years had revealed a sector that was well behind its counterparts in the US, UK and New Zealand, with dwindling skills and average capabilities.
To contrast the Australian industry’s status quo with, for example, the UK, is to understand that ignoring the call for reform signals the nation’s divestment of what could be a thriving, innovative industry with export potential.
The Steel-Framed Building Sector of Australia’s construction industry has strategic importance to the nation’s economic health. The Warren Centre observed that unit cost of steel fabrication in developed countries and certain specialised industries was dropping in real terms, which did not appear to be so in Australia. There has also been a progressive loss of steel framing usage for multi-storey building framing to the pre-stressed concrete sector. Why was this happening, what were the implications and what could be done about it?
Contact with the wide spectrum of parties constituting the steel supply chain disclosed an overly complex system with generally poor take-up of technology.
Tried and proven, readily available technology, comprising 3D documentation, digital data transfer, automated fabricating systems incorporating component marking, plasma and laser cutting, notching, bevelling, drilling, beam fabrication, robotic part identification, positioning and welding was not being taken up as widely as Australia’s overseas counterpart industries. Furthermore this technology was now more user friendly and lower priced.
While the amount of imported fabricated steel for building construction is small, it is increasing and the importation of fabricated steel for energy and resources projects is significant. When Australia’s market slackens, overseas competitors will still be there, keener than before.