Steel’s Use in Architecture, Construction, & Other Infrastructure Projects

March 21, 2023 | Categorized in:

view from bottom of a steel building looking up

Since the creation of the Bessemer process in the 1800s, steel has revolutionized our world, and our current lifestyles wouldn’t be possible without it. Railroads, gas pipes, power plants, electrical powerlines, bridges, ports, and vehicles all rely on the mass production of this resource. Even cargo containers and cranes transporting consumer goods across the globe use steel. From the rebar reinforcing architectural concrete to the ball bearings that make our world go round, steel is the backbone of modern society.

Benefits of steel in infrastructure

Steel is a preferred building material for skyscrapers, car parks, and many other infrastructure projects due to its cost-effectiveness, weight-to-strength ratio, and versatility. A mixture of iron and carbon, steel bonds to and costs less than concrete. Not to mention, using pre-cut steel saves countless hours of labor compared to more care-intensive materials. On top of that, steel can become a corrosion-resistant product requiring hardly any maintenance via the simple, centuries-old galvanizing process.

When maintenance is needed, sections of steel are easy to replace, and the replaced components can be melted down and re-molded for another project without loss of strength. North America recycles nearly 80 million tons of it each year. To summarize, characteristics that make steel a favored construction material for residential and commercial infrastructure include:

  • Ductility – has high tensile strength and load-bearing capacity
  • Renewable – reduces carbon emissions and has low environmental impact
  • Lightweight – saves on transportation costs
  • Durable – less maintenance is needed compared to other materials
  • Strong – can create more capable foundations with fewer components
  • Versatile – bonds and fabricates with ease

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Which industries demand the most steel?

Building and infrastructure consume over 50% of steel production worldwide — followed distantly by the mechanical and automotive sectors. Steel’s use in housing and construction spans multiple business sectors like architecture, transportation, farming, and energy. Below are a few examples of steel’s uses within these industries.

Steel in architecture

Besides structural shapes like rebar and I-beams in building foundations, HVAC systems, windows, fasteners, plumbing, and molding on stairwells all use steel. Our office buildings, schools, parking lots, and sidewalks all begin conception with an order of pre-fabricated steel parts. Steel allows us to build astounding architectural achievements like the Eiffel Tower in France or the Chrysler Building in New York. Exposed steel also adds stylistic flair to modern buildings, such as the Beijing National Stadium or the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Transportation infrastructure

Because the transportation sector relies heavily on steel, any investment in transportation projects directly impacts competitiveness in the steel industry. Planes, trains, automobiles, and boats depend on steel during manufacturing and afterward for infrastructure like waterways, roads, and portal frames for airport hangers. Other than railways, cargo bays, airports, and highways, steel is also important in the following transportation structures:

  • Bridges – even wooden bridges use steel framing, plates, and bolts for weather-resistant connectors and fasteners.
  • Tunnels – underwater, underground, and under cities, tunnels use steel for its corrosive-resistant and durable properties.
  • Bikepaths – a popular trend in the United States, transforming old railways into bike paths uses the steel tracks as a basis for the foundation.
  • Elevated walkways – load-bearing steel grates on pedestrian walkways and bridges are a staple of long bike routes and inner-city construction.
  • Waterways – water channels use steel locks (or gated sections) to manipulate water levels, allowing cargo ships to traverse rising elevations.

Water, gas, and electricity

Steel is critical for constructing the transportation framework of consumable resources — water being the most crucial of which. Some channels and canals carrying ships also serve irrigational purposes for farms and cities. Desalinization plants creating potable water from oceans and seas also need steel tubing. Furthermore, pumps, hydraulic systems, dams, and sprinkler systems wouldn’t exist without steel components.

Additionally, steel infrastructure supports gas, oil, and electrical lines. Hydroelectric power, oil pipelines, electric lattice towers, and natural gas pipes are a few examples of how steel helps fulfill our energy needs. Whenever someone turns on a light, they use electricity generated in a turbine with steel parts carried by steel cables wrapped in aluminum.

Other uses of steel in the energy sector

The renewable energy sector and carbon reduction processes both call for copious amounts of steel. Photovoltaic solar panels need steel for mounting brackets, and carbon dioxide absorber towers need it for high-temperature and caustic-resilient parts. Ethanol, biodiesel, and oil refineries also use structural steel for construction.

Get the steel you need for any infrastructure project today

Are you searching for a supplier with decades of experience helping construction teams and companies source quality steel building materials? From foundations to bracing, Service Steel Warehouse has you covered. We offer high-quality products and provide a wide variety of services, such as heat treating, cutting, and galvanizing. Call our sales team today or request a quote online to see how we can quickly supply the materials needed for your project’s unique specifications.