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Different Structural Systems Part 2 – Steel, Timber, Aluminium, Fibreglass and Carbon Fibre

26 September 2018

Previously, the explorative strands of this guide pored through a set of key structural systems forms. Brick and mortar and tensioned concrete headlined the guide. Material hardened and cured, the solid building materials often came with steel-cored inserts, which further strengthened a building’s framework. Next on the agenda, we start part two with a close look at steel and aluminium structural systems.

Steel and Aluminium Structural Systems

This time around, the installation criteria is different. The alloys are obviously hard and load-capable, but that’s not enough, not for a major structure. Is the steel corrosion-resistant? Does it incorporate a much-needed quantity of ductility? With these questions and others answered, the metal elements, be they flanged i-beams or profiled tees, are fastened together on-site. In days gone by, hot rivets anchored the metal pieces of the gridwork. Alternatively, the beams can be welded or fastened. Aluminium frames aren’t used as load supports in larger projects, not when there’s rigid carbon steel and stainless, but the fabrication-friendly alloy is commonly used as a prefabrication solution. Back at a workshop, the lightweight aluminium sections are welded, fastened and assembled, then they’re transported, preassembled, to the installation site.

Timber and Fibreglass

Expect to find fibreglass structures in corrosive environments, but not as a key support material. In a chemical processing plant, there could be a fibreglass walkway. For a chlorine-filled swimming pool, its high-traction flooring might use fibreglass panels. Replacing corrosion-prone steel in a caustic environment, fibreglass structures support personnel and light-to-moderate loads, but not heavy equipment or structures. As for timber, this renewable building material has been supporting homes and smaller structures for centuries. Take a hammer and nail, fix planks, beams, and panels, plus a hardwood floor, and enjoy the fruits of this honest labour. However, wooden structures are susceptible to water, and they can even be attacked by wood-munching termites.

Optioning Carbon Fibre Strength

A relative newcomer to the structural systems category, carbon fibres are light and incredibly strong. The space-age material is already replacing aluminium in the aerospace sector, and it’s making inroads towards the construction industry. Thus far, only a select few composites have found their way into structures as solid support elements. Bridges, for instance, are beginning to use the material. Otherwise, carbon fibre is commonly employed as a supplementary support ingredient. It’s added to precast concrete, used as grid reinforcement mesh, and so on, but the material is more often used as a lightweight equipment or frame backbone.

And there we have it, the end of part two. From concrete through to mortar and bricks, forward to steel and aluminium, and ending up with aerospace-capable carbon fibre, the different structural support systems are many. Steel is the great load master, with its tensile strength and ductility helping structure’s reach for the sky. As for carbon fibres, this material shows a lot of promise.

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