Technical Editor Bruce Meechan visits Britain’s traditional ‘metal-bashing’ heartland to discover how one company is giving steel framing a very modern ring.

Having paid a brief visit to Metsec’s stand at the Offsite exhibition prior to Christmas, I accepted an invitation from the company’s Marketing and Business Development Director to visit the premises at Oldbury in the Midlands: to find out more about its divisions which embrace dry-lining systems and cable management systems as well as high performance purlins and light gauge steel framing for all types of building structure.

Despite the company’s strong performance over recent years – defying the downturn in construction after the financial crisis – Richard Allen still sees two rather illogical barriers to even better growth figures, which he is trying to address.

The first came to light during a series of focus group meetings involving industry professionals. These revealed that the name ‘Metsec’ is commonly used in construction as a verb or generic term – including by some people who didn’t know the manufacturer actually existed.

The second, though, could be easier to understand, given the construction trade’s notorious reluctance to adopt new practices: even when there are many good reasons for doing so. Richard reflected: “Despite the potential for steel framing to save them time, cost and hassle, some people still perceive there is a risk to using a non-standard method of construction. Their reluctance to adopt modern methods of working – normally by reverting to in-situ concrete – means they are missing out on the cost and programme savings which could be afforded to them. The lightness of the Metframe system can allow you to employ shallower foundations as well as offering great acoustic, thermal and fire performance. And overall you can just build that much faster than with a reinforced concrete frame.”

So how does the Metsec offering deliver these many benefits? “When you look at the products that we sell,” Richard explained, “in essence there is nothing that complicated about them. Our Metframe system for instance features cold-roll formed C and U-sections; the complexity comes in understanding how they work together to create a 12-storey structure.

“It is very much in our design capabilities that we add value for our customers, and why Metsec has come to be regarded as a thought leader within the sector. We have some very clever engineers using the latest design software: including TEKLA and Revit.”

Responding to the industry’s bilateral use of UK and European standards, Metsec’s software allows projects to be designed in line with either the British Standard or Eurocode. Its range is also CE marked to Level 4.

He continued: “When it comes to our purlins systems we aim to make the structural engineer’s life easier, offering them free software for designing the different systems. For instance inputting the building’s location will automatically take account of typical snow load and wind loading for the area. Then given the building’s dimensions it will calculate the most efficient purlin design, using the optimum amount of steel.

“Then for the fabricators, they want something which is easy to erect; where the logistics are in line with the build programme. Because we operate on a very short lead time, we can adjust delivery dates to match any problems they might have with the weather or variations from the client.

“It is design expertise which enables us to carry out all of our contracts in such a way that we can create cost savings for our customers. Take for example Smithfield in Manchester – our ability to map out the full elevations to the building for the client, and seeking ways to value engineer the design meant we were able to remove a considerable amount of hot rolled steel – offering Galliford Try real cost savings. Elsewhere our lightweight steel framing systems have had a lot of success using our infill walling system with student accommodation as well as a number of social housing projects: and we are keen to do more.”

Across all of its different divisions, Metsec’s interaction with consultants and clients is led by its specification sales teams, all of which – with the exception of dry-lining – are split up regionally.

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