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Structural vs. Nonstructural Steel: Know the Differences

You don’t have to travel far in the United States to be familiar with names like the Sears Tower (now known as the Willis Tower), the Empire State Building, or the Chrysler Building. These names are as common in America as the corporations they are associated with. They all have one thing in common: they are all made of steel.
There is considerable agreement that the first steel building in the United States was built in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It left city planners searching for answers to the city’s primarily timber frame, which had damaged hundreds of buildings. The result was the 10-story Home Insurance Building, which was built in 1885 with a steel skeleton and reinforced concrete.
Steel has proven to be one of the world’s most significant and popular building materials. In reality, the construction sector requires more than half of the world’s steel production.

Why Steel?

Steel is used in a lot of industrial applications. It’s critical for the automobile sector, medical, chemical and oil companies, and a range of other industries. However, in the construction industry, not all steel is created equal. Steel classified as “structural steel” is intended for use in construction.
While this may appear to be a simplistic naming approach, structural steel has extremely precise and stringent standards that must be satisfied. However, in order to fully understand the concept of structural steel, it may be good to first study how steel is manufactured.

Structural Steel

This newly formed steel has a high strength-to-weight ratio and is valued for its toughness, ductility, and flexibility. To create structural steel, the alloy must be further reduced to a carbon content of between 0.5% and 0.25% by weight. Structural steel must not only pass strict testing for its capacity to resist pressure, but it also generally takes particular forms that identify it, such as I-beams, z-shapes, tees, bars, and rods.

Structural steel is utilized all over the globe to construct building structures, as reinforcing and support rods, and as cladding sheet products. As an extra bonus, today’s steel is 100 % recyclable and has proven to be a huge benefit to environmental protection.

In Finland, for example, the HAMK Sheet Metal Center used steel solutions to lower its power and heating expenses by more than half. However, structural steel has use outside of the construction industry. It’s used in crane booms, truck parts, freight vehicles, and transmission towers, and many other things.

Non-Structural Steel

Not all steel used in construction is structural. Non-structural steel (steel that does not meet specified reduction levels) is used in a wide range of construction applications. This comprises HVAC equipment, ductwork, stairs, rails, and shelves.

Other industries rely primarily on non-structural steel. Stainless steel is used in the automobile industry for trim and grills, as well as exhaust systems. Furthermore, new pollution reduction regulations have prompted automakers to use steel in structural components.

Steel is highly valued in the healthcare profession due to its ease of sterilizing and corrosion resistance. Steel is used in medical equipment, operating tables, and devices like MRI scanners.

In reality, you don’t have to go far to see steel at work in the culinary sector — as part of electronic devices, in our household appliances, and a variety of other applications. So, the next time you see a high-rise silhouetted against the sky, take a moment to thank steel for making the world a safer, cleaner environment.

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