Stainless steel has unique properties which can be taken advantage of in a wide variety of applications in the construction industry. This paper reviews how research activities over the last 20 years have impacted the use of stainless steel in construction. Significant technological advances in materials processing have led to the development of duplex stainless steel pipe with excellent mechanical properties; important progress has also been made in the improvement of surface finishes for architectural applications Structural research programmes across the world have laid the ground for the development of national and international specifications, codes and standards spanning both the design, fabrication and erection processes. Recommendations are made on research activities aimed at overcoming obstacles to the wider use of stainless steel in construction. New opportunities for stainless steel arising from the shift towards sustainable development are reviewed, including its use in nuclear containment structures, thin-walled cladding and composite floor systems.
Stainless steel has many desirable characteristics which can be exploited in a wide range of construction applications. It is corrosion-resistant and long-lasting, making thinner and more durable structures possible. It presents architects with many possibilities of shape, colour and form, whilst at the same time being tough, hygienic, adaptable and recyclable.
The annual consumption of stainless steel has increased at a compound growth rate of 5% over the last 20 years, surpassing the growth rate of other materials. The rate of growth of stainless steel used in construction has been even faster, not least due to rapid development in China. It is estimated that in 2006, approximately 4 million tones of stainless steel went into construction applications worldwide, 14% of the total quantity consumed.
Stainless steel has traditionally been used for facades and roofing since the 1920s. There are also early examples of it being used structurally, for example in 1925 a reinforcing chain was installed to stabilize the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, London. Nowadays, stainless steel is used in a very wide range of structural and architectural elements, from small but intricate glazing castings to load-bearing girders and arches in bridges.
This paper seeks to summarise the recent technological advances in the stainless steel sheet which have had an impact on usage of stainless steel in construction. New applications which have emerged over the last 20 years are described. Areas of research needed to respond to current market and procurement challenges are discussed. Finally, new opportunities arising from the shift towards sustainable development are described.
Stainless steel producers are continually developing their manufacturing processes with the aim of reducing costs, lowering emissions, shortening lead times and improving quality. These improvements have helped to control the cost of stainless steels, within the constraints set by the dependence on raw materials.
Perhaps the most significant recent advance impacting the construction sector has been the use of duplex grades for structural applications, which offer a combination of higher strength than the austenitics (and also the great majority of carbon steels) with similar or superior corrosion resistance. Table 1 compares the composition and mechanical properties of the two widely used austenitic stainless steel coil, 1.4301 and 1.4401, with those of three duplex stainless steels. (The ferritics in the table are discussed in Sections 3 Expansion of construction applications over the last 20 years, 4 Research in response to market and procurement challenges.) Duplexes have tremendous potential for expanding future structural design possibilities, enabling a reduction in section sizes leading to lighter structures. It is worth noting that although they have good ductility, their higher strength results in more restricted formability compared to the austenitics.