HERA recently commissioned an external market research company to figure out what NZ society thinks of our metals industry.

The outcome was nothing short of interesting.

Why? Because when asked if the steel industry was prepared for future technologies and innovation – only 47% felt we were. And of that, 79% responded that future-proofing the steel industry through design innovation was a key item for our industry to look into.

It suggests a perceived perception that our industry is a little behind the time. But, also a real opportunity for us to seize if we want to position ourselves more strongly in the construction sector.

A need to leverage off favourable sentiment towards our industry

As mentioned, future proofing the steel industry through design innovation was identified as the key item by some 79% of the respondents. The survey listed fifteen components such as:

  • Automation/advanced manufacturing
  • Prefabrication
  • Robotics/Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Additive manufacturing/Welding
  • Industry 4.0, and the
  • Internet of Things (IoT)

Design innovation is the engineering process through which the public perceives steel as a more favourable material over others.

Innovation takes place in a variety of ways. It depends on what type of metal products are in question, and what is practical and cost effective to implement or fabricate.

We know that elegant, lighter, stronger and longer lasting steel structures and products are constantly on the mind of design engineers. If practical the geometries are often inspired by nature (biomimicry). This is achieved through shape optimisation.


Topology for the win!

Designing a lighter structure means optimisation is needed but it shouldn’t compromise performance. For example, traditional castellated beams (with large cut outs in their web) are a very attractive alternative to full section I-beams for use in large span buildings. Sinusoidal, circular, hexagonal, and rectangular openings are also possible – just to name a few. They are certainly pleasing to the eye when exposed!

Another level of enhancement is using perforated webs. Finding out the optimum number and dimension of perforations is done through topology optimisation.

Typical topology optimisation uses Finite Element Analysis (FEA) to figure out the best shape and to reduce weight to metal structures or components. It is a step by step numerical procedure to successively remove low stressed material which is not used efficiently.

Without being topologically optimised, parts weighs more than they need to. Software lets you find out the optimal shape based on the support and loads on the volume of material.


Design guides and specialist software

Avoiding cracks and fracture is another way of enhancing steel positives like making them stronger or tougher, or more solid and durable.

This can be achieved following good design guides and avoiding sharp corners with stress concentrations or similar.

Low and high cycle fatigue is also an active field of research. Specialist software are available to predict the fatigue life of bulky metal components – like a car engine under thermo-mechanical loadings or welded parts.

Fatigue life is defined as several loading (stress) cycles of a described nature that a part can sustain without failure being developed.

This is of interest to manufacturers – as this is one type of warranty periods on their product. For consumer goods this is often calculated for high cycle fatigue, which is generally well over 1000 cycles with low demand on the material before final rupture.

On the other hand, welded structural members are designed to withstand earthquake forces, which are often of very high magnitude with plastic deformation in each cycle but with a limited number of cycles. This is the so-called low cycle fatigue.


What next?

At HERA, we believe consistently addressing design innovations in everyday design processes (like the above) is crucial.

Not only does it greatly enhance the public perception of steel and metals in general, but also sets us on the pathway towards designing more innovative, sustainable products.

We have actively used advanced FEA to support our member companies in their non-standard design projects. This has been done in steel, composite steel-concrete and weld related applied research for over two decades.

If you have a project that could do with some design innovations injected into them through our FEA capability – feel free to contact myself to see how we can kick start the process.

If you’d like to access the survey data used to inform this article – please get in touch with our Innovation Centre Manager, Greg Buckley to join our Digital Content Innovation Cluster. All participants of this interest group get exclusive access to this data, as well as support to improve their key messaging and communications to key stakeholders, and training session.