Magazine article Corrections Forum

Modular Steel Construction

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Modular Steel Construction

Article excerpt

The corrections industry continually needs to look at alternatives to its way of purchasing and bidding for items, to keep costs in check. In the past jails and prisons have been constructed of concrete with rebar steel inside. During the past few decades they have turned to precast modular cell construction, which has saved them time and money while providing quality.MODULAR corrections industry continually needs to look at alternatives to its way of purchasing and bidding for items, to keep costs in check. In the past jails and prisons have been constructed of concrete with rebar steel inside. During the past few decades they have turned to precast modular cell construction, which has saved them time and money while providing quality.

Over recent years, another alternative on the scene: modular steel construction.

While precast concrete construction used for a longer time, modular steel construction has been gaining ground and winning contracts and kudos for corrections projects. Modular steel construction has been used for decades in other industries that have prefabricated entire segments of superstructures, such as steel bridges. In fact, the first truly modular bridge systems were developed beginning in the 1930s in the U.K. in order to meet the needs of the British military in remote environments, reports the U.S. Federal Highway Administration.

CF spoke with several modular steel companies to find out what is driving steel as an alternative. We found it offers a low cost and fast construction option. What are some of the variables that need to be reviewed by a corrections agency looking to choose a construction material? Speed of construction and cost are two main determinants, but others are important considerations too.

But first we digress as far as the performance of steel. Corrections customers can view some "very objective testing standards, ASTM standards," says Mike Smith, president and CEO of SteelCell of North America, located in Baldwin, Ga. "Once established you have a type [of material] that meets the performance specifications, and you've established the durability, it evens the playing field." And steel, of course, meets this criteria, he says.

Compared with onsite construction, both modular precast and modular steel offer the advantage that the cells can be made in a factory, with access to skilled workers, control over the elements and quality control measures in place. Smith states that as far as the cost comparison between precast modular concrete and modular steel, with all factors being equal-that is, the finishes, the site, and what is specified inside the cell-"there is not a significant cost differential either way," states Smith. "Cost is dictated by the equipment and the design."

Of course, cost of steel depends on market conditions, including supply and demand. In the past two years, steel usage has been on a slow, steady rise worldwide, but the prices have remained low. Following a 1.2% increase in 2012, the World Steel Association this year projected global steel usage to rise 2.9% to 1.454 Mt, according to Zacks Investment Research (www.zacks.com). This is based on the premise of an expected recovery in global steel demand by the second half, led by emerging economies. While China, India and Central and South America are expected to lead the charge, steel consumption in the U.S. market was pro- jected to be up 2.7%, falling from the 8.4% climb last year, due to continuing fiscal concerns.

However, as this year progressed, it appeared the U.S. steel market would remain flat in 2013. In late September, www.AMM. com, the online arm of American Metal Market, reported that demand in the steel plate market remained flat in the third quarter, and said it appeared that it might remain that way until the first of the year. "The steel industry has been hindered in 2013," AMM went on. "Overcapacity has been a perennial problem. Stiff competition in the United States from cheaper imports and from domestic producers with new or expanded facilities or under-utilized existing facilities continues to result in a significant oversupply of steel compared to demand. …

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