The rise of fabricated steelwork imported from low costs economies is the biggest challenge facing the structural steel industry in New Zealand, says Steel Construction New Zealand manager, Alistair Fussell.
“Learning to live with this challenge is a key focus of SCNZ and the industry moving forward. Clients have choices in a global market. Our industry has to continue to adapt, innovate, remain relevant and understand our clients’ future needs to ensure we continue to deliver solutions that meet the demands of the market.”
SCNZ is looking at options to roll out an industry-wide development strategy in terms of understanding the needs of clients and stakeholders, and where the construction sector is heading in the next few years.
“We are developing a capacity model to forecast future demand, using fact based labour resource data combined with construction intelligence sourced from MBIE, engineers, builders and developers.”
Compliance of imported product to recognised standards will remain a key issue, says Alistair.
“All we can ask for is a level playing field with imported product when it comes to compliance. Our key current industry compliance initiatives include the development of a comprehensive joint Australia/New Zealand fabrication and erection standard and a local fabricator certification scheme. The new fabrication and erection standard is based on international best practice and includes new requirements to ensure and demonstrate compliance of structural steelwork regardless of origin.”
In 2014, SCNZ launched the Steel Fabricator Certification Scheme in conjunction with HERA, which provides independent, expert certification of New Zealand fabrication firms.
“We now have 21 SFC qualified firms. The certification gives them a point of difference ahead of overseas manufacturers.”
Alistair says the “end goal” is to have more compliance guidelines, qualified construction reviewers, certified fabrication companies, third party certified structural steel products, and rigorous processes in place for demonstrating the compliance of non-certified steel mills.
“We want to make sure our industry is the best regulated in terms of compliance and quality.”
Alistair says the local steel sector continues to invest substantially in research, technology, people and new workshops.
Six state-of-the-art new steel fabrication facilities have been built in New Zealand since 2007, helping to boost capacity, improve productivity and reduce the cost of locally produced structural steel.
“Innovation and research will continue to be an important part of our sector going forward. We’ve greatly benefited from past research which has resulted in a better understanding of fire engineering, reduced the cost of fire rating, and led to the development of a better performing seismic loading system. A lot of work is still going into that space.”
He says the local steel industry embraced 3D modeling technology early on, so is in a strong position to facilitate integration of building information modeling (BIM) between designers and builders.
“We are also lending technical support to design professionals to achieve better performing, cost effective solutions.”
Technology is the major point of difference that is helping local companies to compete against the low cost countries with their cheaper labour, says Alistair.
“Many of our companies continue to invest significantly in state-of-the-art, computer-controlled equipment, with some even starting to get into robotic equipment. Maintaining this investment in technology, research and innovation is going to continue to be a big part of our story if the structural steel sector in New Zealand is to continue to grow, evolve and be successful.”