What is the role of steel industry when the country makes a serious attempt to grow from the developing stage to a developed one. Take a look at countries like USA, Germany, Japan, Korea, France and China. Economic growth was synonymous with the growth of industry, manufacturing, and steel as one of the most significant elements of development. The backward and forward linkages of steel industry are well spread out and inseparable from the growth of the economy. But there is a change in the environment accompanying the development of the countries that happened six to eight decades back. Steel had its origin in India (Sword of Porus presented to Alexander the Great, Ashoka Pillar, woodtz steel used to make arms and household items in the South in the pre-historic periods). But the world came to know the use of steel only in the last 250 years of development phase. In each of the above countries, Steel played a unique role unmatched by any other material in the growth of the economy. It was surely the most preferred material for construction and continuous research. And product development on steel had taken forward the cause of steel in sync with the prosperity of the nation.
In India the real growth of steel industry from the middle of 20th century was accompanied by a series of checks and controls that, on one hand disincentivised the entrepreneurial spirit and on the other, taught the producers to thrive on shortage scenario. Steel marketing became a prestigious occupation as a long queue of buyers in search of steel made them oblivious of the role of promotion in generating fresh demand. From the mid nineties till date barring a few glorious years from FY2008 to FY 2014, the steel industry in the country had witnessed a growth which exceeded the global growth rate in steel consumption, but is considered tardy in the backdrop of the massive potential of enhancing the level of consumption.
Since the last two decades steel has been facing stiff competition from other materials like aluminium, magnesium, plastic especially carbon fabric reinforced plastic in various traditional uses. Steel that was traditionally considered ugly, heavy, easy to melt in fire and break in tremor has been replaced by other materials. The changed scenario along with excess availability compared to slow growth in demand made us to give more emphasis on promotion of steel use in the country.
Steel lost its prominence in many uses where strength to weight ratio was not in its favour like bus body building and interiors, window sills, automobile components like fuel tanks, engine blocks, pipes, tubes and household items. Steel gained its role in all large-scale construction including that of commercial buildings, airports and warehouses. Railways traditionally relied on steel bridges. But in road over bridges (ROB) and flyovers, steel was fighting against concrete. Our engineering fraternity was by and large more exposed to RCC based construction and the engineering curricula in the degree and diploma colleges were not tuned to bring in knowledge in steel structural properties and uses. This has made the professionals, designers and architects not fully appreciative of the advantages of steel-based designs.
It needs to be appreciated by professionals, consultants, government as well as private procurement and project authorities that promotion of steel-concrete-composite designs that combine the strengths of both steel and concrete in the interest of cost effectiveness, faster and ease of construction, environment friendliness, earth quake and fire resistance would lead to phenomenal changes in the innovative designs and flexibility. A good deal of light and high strength steel has emerged namely, tubular, cold formed structurals, embossed sheets, hollow sections, galvanized structurals, thin dimensions of hot and cold rolled steel with more UTS and YS strength for a host of applications.
The need of the hour is to convince the concerned authorities, government departments and project execution agencies on the choice of construction material basis the life cycle analysis and not simply on the current costs (L1 consideration). If the constructed structures can survive natural calamities for more number of years, yield commercial benefits by shortening the construction period, lead to lesser disturbances to the public during construction, these must be suitably factored into the tendering clauses for the respective construction jobs. If the will to take advantage of all the long term benefits of steel-concrete-composite construction can be firmly registered at all the important levels, the method to implement this is not difficult to find out.
The author is DG, Institute of Steel Growth and Development. Views expressed are personal.