As members may have heard from Radio New Zealand’s interview of Stewart Askey on 19 August 2016 -concerns have again been raised on the quality of steel imports.
Whilst the interview was largely on steel products used in reinforced concrete construction, comments were made in the closing remarks about sub-standard structural bolts.
The Kathryn Ryan-led interview outlined in a factual and informed manner the current QA practice on steel products, and explained why there is a likelihood that imported steel may not comply, even if test certificates may say otherwise.
As an industry, we rely on fabrication and product standards to provide the appropriate level of workmanship to ensure that design assumptions remain valid and the finished structure achieves the target margin of safety.
To this end, the steel industry has put significant time and money into developing design, fabrication and product standards that follow international best practice.
This has led to the recent publication of the draft standard AS/NZS 5131 entitled ‘Structural Steelwork – Fabrication and Erection’, which is complemented by the introduction of the voluntary third-party Steel Fabrication Certification (SFC) scheme.
When the recent non-compliance issues relating to steel used in reinforced concrete were unearthed, HERA recognised that as an industry, we are unable to separate between steel products used in concrete, steel or timber construction. Following a thorough steel construction industry consultation, we have adopted the policy that all critical building products independent of material category, should be independently third-party verified. We informed MBIE and our industry colleagues across the different material sectors of this policy decision, and have since then continued to implement it in our SFC scheme.
In response to the concerns related to the high strength steel bolts, the quality of these elements has relied on the specification (provided by designers, procurement agencies and purchasers) and the supplier maintaining quality management systems for these critical elements through appropriate testing and traceability.
Notwithstanding, the current Australian and New Zealand standard for structural bolts, AS/NZS 1252 has been lagging behind other structural steel product standards, in that the 1996 version is: based on three ISO standards that have now been withdrawn (with no ISO projects proposed to replace them); and product conformity and assembly test requirements are ‘Informative’ and rudimentary, together with the absence of type testing and factory production control (which is demanded by most international standards for structural steel products).
Finally, on a more practical level, given that AS/NZS 1252 serves a relatively small market by international standards, there is only a limited supply of manufacturers. To formalise the quality management systems that are currently in place by suppliers in New Zealand, and bring AS/NZS 1252 up-to-date with international best practice, HERA, SCNZ, ASI and ATIC (Australian Technical Infrastructure Committee) have been working on a new bolt standard since early 2015.
Members will have noticed from the draft for public comment version that was published in March 2016 that AS/NZS 1252 has been split in two parts: Part 1 provides the technical requirements in terms of geometry, mechanical properties and minimum testing; whilst, Part 2 provides requirements for validation testing of the bolt assembly for suppliers, specifiers and third-party certification bodies (to provide confidence in the product’s conformity with the requirements of AS/NZS 1252 Part 1). Furthermore, to expand the range of sources, AS/NZS 1252 nominates European-type HR bolts manufactured to EN 14399-3 as a deemed to satisfy alternative product, to condition the market for AS/NZS 1252 to be replaced by the EN 14399 series of standards in the future.
It has been claimed by MBIE that they have been unable to react to claims of poor quality building products due to lack of evidence; to encourage feedback from the market they have put in place a reporting system for MBIE complaints about building products. It is understood that MBIE has recently received reports from the Universities of Auckland and Canterbury on substandard bolts and an investigation is currently underway.
We’re concerned by the fact that, whilst the steel industry has put significant time and money into developing product standards, it is being discouraged by making this investment through the lack of mandatory policing of construction products before they are placed on the market.
Coupled with this, there is a growing deterrence from working on international AS/NZS standards through administrative costs now also being passed onto the industry.
In our view, as an industry we need to strongly support the introduction of the steps required to demonstrate product compliance. For our clients, this means they have to factor in the costs of demonstrating compliance of products sourced from different suppliers. At HERA, we believe that when prices of steel products are substantially below that of similar products through the trusted supply chain, there is a requirement to be doubly sure on their compliance.