Collaborative approach key to success of steel industry

The Tait Communications headquarters in Christchurch by Aurecon was a 2015 Excellence in Steel Award Winner.

The Tait Communications headquarters in Christchurch by Aurecon was a 2015 Excellence in Steel Award Winner.

Marking the 10-year anniversary of industry organisation Steel Construction New Zealand (SCNZ) has been a good opportunity to reflect on the progress of the steel sector in New Zealand, says manager Alistair Fussell.

“It wasn’t long ago that steel lagged behind other construction materials in multi-level construction. Now it has a 50 percent market share in New Zealand, with around 80 percent of new commercial buildings in the Christchurch CBD being constructed using structural steel.”

Alistair says SCNZ expects the appetite for structural steel to continue, with several factors responsible for its rise in popularity.

“The most dramatic was the Christchurch earthquakes, which although devastating, have proved to be an overnight game changer for the steel sector. Christchurch was predominantly a concrete city prior to the disaster but given the really good performance of steel structures, this has changed significantly.”

Benefits of the latest advances in structural steel design and construction have become more widely recognised, including seismic performance, design flexibility, high strength-to-weight ratio, and speed of erection.

New associated technologies, such as rocking steel braced frames, bucking restrained braces and moment frames with sliding hinge joints have also been embraced by the commercial construction sector, he says.

“SCNZ has developed a design guide for rocking steel braced frames, and we are currently drafting another for buckling restrained braces to assist the industry with these new technologies.”

The Auckland building boom has been another positive driver for the steel sector, with the cohesion of industry players under the umbrella of SCNZ (with support from HERA) another important factor, says Alistair.

“The steel industry has been very proactive over the last decade. It has some good leaders who have united members and encouraged them to work together to promote the industry. Although there is still healthy tension and competition between our members, they realise that if we can improve the business excellence of our industry as a whole it becomes more professional and attractive for clients and builders who want to use us.”

This collaborative approach has worked particularly well in the Christchurch rebuild, where companies have worked together on numerous projects to meet tight timeframes, he says.

“The temporary AMI stadium, which was built in just 100 days is a high profile project carried out in this way. The local steel fabricator engaged to undertake the project brought in three different North Island based fabricators to help get the job done. This has happened on many other projects of different sizes and scales in the city.”

The portability of steel enables this kind of approach, says Alistair.

“As long as companies can get the prefabricated steel onto a truck, train or boat they can send it virtually anywhere in New Zealand to meet a need, as long as there is someone at the other end to put it up.”

As the voice of New Zealand’s diverse steel construction industry, SCNZ promotes the benefits of steel solutions in building and infrastructure projects, helps its members to retain business, and encourages them to operate to world-class standards.

It represents more than 300 member companies, including manufacturers of structural steel and steel products, distributors, fabricators, designers, detailers, galvanisers, and paint and building supply companies.

Alistair says the fallout from the Mainzeal collapse has led to SCNZ running regular regional forums, where it communicates with members around the principles of sound business, and understanding what it means to operate as a sub-contractor in what can be a high risk, low control environment.

“Some of our members were impacted quite badly by the Mainzeal collapse and were owed a lot of money in retentions and unpaid invoices for work they had completed. A big part of our work at the regional forums is to help our members to minimise this risk. As an industry we’ve also been involved in supporting other sub trades in the issue of retentions.”

Alistair says SCNZ was pleased to see the government make changes to the Contract Act Amendment Bill to provide some protection to sub contractors.

“These changes are a direct result of SCNZ and our members working together and cooperating with others in the construction sector on industry issues.”

He says in 2013 the steel sector was also encouraged by the government’s implementation of five new principles around government procurement rules for public service departments, which promised to shift the emphasis from achieving the lowest upfront costs, to promoting balanced decision making that considered the social, environmental and economic attributes of a project as well.

“Unfortunately we’ve seen a lack of implementation of these rules with the principles and policies put in place not being applied to government contracts. We are lobbying hard to MBIE and other government agencies, as we are keen to see them meet their obligations in this regard. This will continue to be a work in progress for SCNZ.”

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