This year’s metal framing issue prompted me to do some research on the state of the steel industry and construction. The American Iron and Steel Institute reported that although steel shipments are up more than 2002, in construction and contractors’ products, steel shipments are down 12.3 percent compared to last year.
Another important item in the last year is the relief tariff passed by the Bush Administration for the steel industry. The Steel Network reported positive progress since the tariff was passed. In a study commissioned by the American Iron & Steel Institute and the Steel Manufacturers Association, Dr. Peter Morici, professor of international business at the University of Maryland, found that the temporary import duties have created an opportunity for the U.S. steel industry to consolidate and rationalize production, and that the industry is taking advantage of this opportunity.
The study addressed claims that higher tariffs would cause upward pressure on products, such as autos and appliances, and that foreign producers would gain a greater competitive edge over American manufacturers. The report claims that after one year, “none of these effects has materialized to any significant degree.”
In construction, the possibilities of metal continue to grow, despite the decrease in shipments. One very strong market for steel is Hawaii. Ralph Valentino, president of the Hawaii Pacific Steel Framing Alliance, says that changing technology is affecting the Hawaiian market strongly. He is observing the changes as they occur to ensure his organization and its members remain at the forefront of the newest methodologies for steel framing.
“Steel framing is going in several directions and that’s good,” he said. “However, we’re concentrating on the core stud and track sections now so that everyone can get into it learning the standard. Modifications to shapes and connection methods will continue to morph the tried-and-true C shape, the screw method of fastening, methods of construction and even the strengths of materials.”
Valentino embraces all this change in a positive way because it creates even more possibilities as to what can be done in steel construction in addition to its advantages over wood.
“This is an exciting time to be involved with ‘new’ methods of framing,” he added, “even though steel studs have been around for about 70 years (mostly used for non-bearing curtain walls up until the mid-1990s). The benefits of light-gauge steel framing continue to grow. Just ask someone who’s had to buy wood in the last two months how their costs have skyrocketed!”
The price of wood may have skyrocketed but the price of steel is expected to increase as well. According to GypsumToday.com, some manufacturers will raise prices by 8 to 15 percent. The site reported that price increases in many areas of construction supplies are occurring and will be passed to the purchasing contractor.
One thing remains certain: Steel and construction continue to complement each other and evolve together.