The Past, Present, and Future of Steel in the Construction Industry

By June 19, 2017News, Your Advantage

Steel is the world’s most trusted material, so it’s no wonder so many buildings and infrastructure are built with it. That’s right: the majority of steel goes into the construction industry, mainly because steel structures are strong, sustainable, and can be built quickly at a low price.

Steel’s flexibility and versatility also means that designers, developers and architects can use it in any number of ways to turn their visions into a reality. This has been the case for centuries, though the ways in which we use steel have changed, and in the future, the construction industry will certainly be disrupted, or evolve at the very least.

Here, I’ll detail the past and present of steel’s use in construction, and outline what the industry’s future could mean for our product.

A History of Steel Buildings

Though iron has been around for centuries, its usage in construction is more modern than you might think. It began around the Industrial Revolution, which was characterized by mass production and the development of new materials, modern steel included.

One of the first major uses of steel for construction purposes was in train stations. After the usage there proved profitable, its use expanded to include churches, private buildings, and more. In the late 1800s, the first steel-framed buildings and skyscrapers emerged.

Steel building became popular in the early 20th century, and became widespread around WWII, during which it was used for military shelters and oil storage. After the war, steel was more readily available and became the universal standard. Some of the most iconic landmarks, like the Empire State Building, were erected with steel as a main construction element.

At the end of the 20th century, advanced steel production enabled railroad construction across the world, expanding new frontiers in remote locations.

Steel in Construction Today

If you have ever been in construction or have decided to build your own home, you may have noticed just how many steel products go into a residential building. Steel is used in the foundation, HVAC, electrical panels, appliances, decking, and hardware/brackets, just to name a few. There are so many different uses for steel in a residential home alone. So, you can imagine how many other types of steel products go into a commercial application.

That is why steel has reigned supreme in construction for over a century. It’s used today for every building application imaginable, and has become even more versatile in usage. It can be combined with other construction materials, like glass, and cold-rolled and galvanized flat products that have high-elastic limits, toughness, and weldability.

Things have changed in the industry over time. For one, steel is no longer a labor-intensive industry, which initially resulted in cuts in the workforce. International markets are also more competitive, with a majority of steel being produced in China, Japan, and India.

As it is 100% recyclable, yesterday’s steel buildings have been used to build the structures of today, while today’s steel buildings will almost certainly be recycled into the buildings of tomorrow. That said, given the durability of steel structures and the efficacy of future-proofing methodologies, it could take a while before tomorrow arrives.

Steel’s Future in Construction

At Pacesetter, we are always taking emerging trends into account as we continue to produce and distribute quality flat-rolled steel products. It is our belief that steel’s longevity, versatility, and sustainability will only lead to more applications in construction, not less.

That said, there are a number of exciting new trends in the construction industry that will likely impact the steel market in some capacity. Due to the emerging era of tech and connectivity, the steel industry has already begun adopting novel steel modular frame systems for use on construction sites.

Ultimately, steel is well-suited for modular construction, which will become more common as building information modeling, spurred by new technology, advances. Newer materials like graphene, though fascinating, are unlikely to eclipse steel soon.

Lastly, assuming human aspirations continue on their current trajectory, the need for steel in construction will only expand as continued need for solid infrastructure does. With populations growing and cities expanding, demand will only continue to climb.