5 min read

The impact of lightweight modular steel systems on construction.

Jake Lyons
Jake Lyons

Technical Sales Manager


What are the impacts of lightweight modular steel systems for the construction industry?

Today we flash back to our very first podcast where we were joined by Nigel (UK director of SIKLA) to discuss proprietary modular steel work systems. 

This podcast will give you an overview of the following topics: 

  1. How the introduction of lightweight steelwork has helped change the construction industry
  2.  Why is offsite manufacturing becoming the go-to option for companies outside of construction 
  3. The main driving factors behind the construction industry adoption of DFMA (design, fabrication, manufacture and assembly) 
  4. How COVID has put the spotlight onto off-site manufacturing  
  5. How MIDFIX are driving the change towards off-site modular steelwork 

How has the evolution of lightweight steel framing systems changed the construction industry? 

Before the first lightweight steel framing systems came to market around the 1920’sbuilding with steelwork was an expensive, timely and dangerous business.  

As the construction industry and trading bodies started to introduce codes of practice, standards and health and safety laws, it was down to the construction industry to innovate cost effective ways to build. 

In 1924 Charles Attwood (Attwood system) invented the original Unistrut system which revolutionised the way pipe support and electrical containment systems could be installed. The system made up of channel and fixings became the standard across many industries and was rapidly adopted by the construction industry. 

The construction industry has continually looked to drive down costs, meet tighter project deadlines and provide complete accountability. Within the last twenty years, there has been a greater emphasis on employing sustainable working practices and an effort to reduce carbon emissions across the whole of the supply chain. 

It is the emergence of these factors that has driven the construction industry's desire to move towards lightweight steel modular systems prepared off-site. 

SIKLA saw the demand to develop a compact range of lightweight modular steelwork. Steelwork that could be quickly assembled onsite by semi-skilled workers to create a versatile range of structures. 

Nigel explains “we took the strut-based system and developed it into Framo modular steelwork. It was in 2006 where we believed we could substitute PFC’s, box sections and I-beams to a degree with our modular steelwork”.  

Before lightweight modular steel systems, every component was welded onto a steel frame, even down to the smallest supports, has there been a drive towards a proprietary modular approach? 

A: Contractors demand the following: 

  • Complete transparency across the whole of the supply chain; from pre-design, tender, design all the way through to delivery and installation 
  • Contractors want to know how a modular option works, what are its defects, transparency of load calculations, stress counts because ultimately they are responsible 
  • Contractors want re-assurance, cost savings and project completion deadlines 

What other industries are utilising offsite manufacturing principals that the construction industry could reference for best practices? 

A: Design for manufacture and assembly has become an extremely popular phrase and its come over from the automotive industry and their need for continuous improvementThis phrase is often abbreviated to DFMA. 

Offsite manufacturing is not new to the industry. It has been advocated by the Government and we have seen a number of benefits for companies who have embraced this method. Quality assurance, time and cost saving, increased labour efficiencies, reduced wastage and H&S benefits. 

With rapid growth of fast-food restaurants and the desire to increase market share, restaurants have been opening at a fast pace. Traditional methods of construction are not fast enough, therefore restaurants have turned to off-site manufacturing.

Likewise, within the civil engineering sectors, with the new smart motorways being built, central reservations are being built off-site and simply assembled on. 

What are the main driving factors behind the construction industry adoption of off-site DFMA (design, fabrication, manufacture and assembly)? 

  • Governments desire to invest in a country’s infrastructure 
  • The need to create sustainable working practices 
  • The demand for the reduction in carbon footprint to achieve the net zero carbon emissions target of 2050 

Benefits are well-known: 

  1. Reduction in health and safety accidents as the risk is taken  away from the site = cost saving 
  2. Room for design error due to the adaptability of a modular steelwork system = cost saving 
  3. Reducing labour rates – there are no hot-works, semi-skilled labourer can assemble the modular frame = cost saving 
  4. Decreased onsite deliveries = cost saving 
  5. Sustainable due to less waste = cost saving 
  6. Reduce carbon footprint – helping to meet the net zero 2050 target = cost saving 
  7. Technical data such as load and stress calculations can be traced back = cost saving 
  8. Quicker installation time = cost saving 

Is the Framo modular steelwork system compliant with all standards? 

A: Framo has a CE mark of approval and manufactured to the BS:1090. The manufacturing of this modular steelwork system meets all the accreditations and production is executed to class 2.  

What are the negative preconceptions that contractors have of off-site modular steelwork? 

  1. Cost – contractors argue why is a proprietary lightweight steel modular system more expensive than a piece of 41x41 strut 

As the UK’s main distributor of Framo we need to convey the benefits of this off-site modular steelwork system. One of the best ways to achieve this is to raise awareness of the benefits and how it meets a contractor's requirementsThe two key concerns are: 

  1. How can I extract the most value out of each project?
  2. Can I meet the project deadline?

A: As an example, a simple way to look at it if you were a buyer would be to take a 100mm box section.  

  • Black steel out of the mill delivered to your door is cheaper 

However, when the following costs add up, a Framo modular steelwork is better value: 

  • Welding and jiggling to add connection points onto the primary steel structures (brackets, cantilever arms etc) = cost 
  • If it is being installed outdoors then material needs to be hot dip galvanised = cost 
  • The difficulty of transporting materials on-site especially for plant room skids or inside a riser = cost 
  • The number of skilled workers required on-site = cost 

How has COVID-19 put the spotlight on off-site manufacturing? 

Due to the global pandemic, every industry has had to adapt to changing working practices, especially the construction industry. Within the construction industry a high number of people work within close proximity. As a result of social distancing becoming mandatory there is a necessity to reduce staff on-site. This has made the prospect of off-site manufacturing and the use of lightweight modular steelwork an attractive option. MIDFIX has met all stock requirements throughout the pandemic enabling construction projects across the country to continue. 

What are the main advantages of the Framo lightweight modular steel systems? 

  • Reduced installation times 
  • Compact solution: all you require are feet, connector fittings, cut sections and a self-forming screw 
  • Available stock ready to be shipped from the UK 
  • No requirement for hot worksdue to its design with the 10mm elongated holes you can readjust the position of connections 
  • We can integrate the system into completed plant room skids 
  • Connections and adaptors to fit onto primary steel structures 
  • Lightweight – 50% lighter than steel 
  • Carbon footprint is reduced – Framo can be flat packed 
  • Easily support AHU frames and chillers 
  • Connect to any surface – concrete, steel, non-penetrative roof supports 
  • The full exterior surface can be utilised for supporting connections 
  • Hot dip galvanised finish making it ideal for outdoor assemblies

Are proprietary lightweight modular steelwork systems suitable for supporting high-pressure pipework? 

A: Framo is specified for many types of pipework including pipework found in chemical process plants. At the heart of the Framo modular steelwork is the self-forming screw. 

The self-forming screw forms its own thread, is completely airtight, and shake profile with high tensile strength. The self-forming screw technology has been utilised within the automotive industry for holding together gearboxes. The screw enables you to connect Framo to normal end support with four screws within 30 seconds with the correct self-calibrating torque power tool. 

Are lightweight modular steelwork proprietary systems suitable for crane-lifting for a riser job? 

A: Lightweight modular steelwork is designed with the same principle as with structural steel. For a riser project, we need to examine how can we lift modular steelwork from a truck bed into the building's shaft? 

From an off-site manufacturing perspective, the assembled structure would be designed, built, and assembled off-site. Pipework supports and electrical containment would be fitted onto the structure before delivery. SIKLA have designed their Framo system with lifting points (which can also be recycled) for lifting simply into the shaft of the building.

How are MIDFIX helping drive the change towards an off-site modular approach?

MIDFIX are experts in onsite and offsite supports for the mechanical and electrical industries. Delivered through design, engineering, fabrication and industry trainingOn-site installers can build a modular support system quickly and the contractor can be reassured that this will save costs, time, and add value to the project.  

There are three unique reasons why MIDFIX are capable of driving the change: 

  • MIDFIX are in a unique position our in-house design and engineering team can design, fabricate and deliver  
  • We are the only company that can tailor bespoke design solution backed up with structural calculations, stress analysis and thermal expansion reports for where required 
  • MIDFIX are the UK’s largest stockist of Framo modular steelwork and are the only company capable of providing a complete design and engineering solution across the whole range of Framo  

Offsite construction and net zero

Topics: Modular Steelwork