Performance investigation of light steel framing
Submitting InstitutionOxford Brookes University
Unit of AssessmentGeneral Engineering
Summary Impact TypeEconomic
Research Subject Area(s)
Engineering: Civil Engineering
Built Environment and Design: Engineering Design
Summary of the impact
As academic lead partner Professor Ogden and his team at Oxford Brookes
University were responsible for a major research programme focusing on the
development of light steel construction technology. Major industry funding
in conjunction with EU support, facilitated a detailed understanding of
the technology, and various demonstration projects including the then
largest light steel framed building in Europe, constructed at Oxford
Brookes University. The results of the work have been adopted by industry
in order to innovate novel construction solutions. As a consequence light
steel framing is now the favoured method of construction across the entire
modular off-site buildings sector and in other mass market construction
applications including site-built structural framing and infill walling.
The value of the market that that has emerged in the UK during the census
period is estimated to be £78 million per annum.
Since 1990 Oxford Brookes University has been involved in light steel
framing research, with a formal strategic R&D arrangement being in
place since 2002. Light steel framing relies on structural sections
produced from thin cold formed galvanised steel strip. It is a basis for
producing medium scale buildings and building elements efficiently.
Research carried out at Brookes has been instrumental in establishing a
proper technical understanding of the material including:
- Structural and mechanical properties,
- Thermal and acoustic performance,
- Fire resistance and durability.
Major applications now exist in the housing sector, key worker
accommodation, student accommodation, schools, hotels, health care and
MoD/MoJ accommodation, as well as specialist general applications such as
infill walls and framing in commercial and industrial buildings. Through
its `Architectural Engineering' research group (based jointly within the
Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences and the
School of Architecture) the University is a strategic research partner of
Tata Steel Europe. A large amount of the underpinning research has been
undertaken using direct industrial funding. Through this, the University
has received approximately £1.25 million of support and hosts a Tata
sponsored chair held by Professor Ogden.
Early studies comprised theoretical work to predict the competitiveness
and supply chain implications of light steel as a mainstream construction
material, and identified the technical, structural and building physics
research necessary to optimise performance and achieve efficient compliant
solutions. This resulted in the generation of widely published and
industry supported design data for light steel in the areas of building
physics, durability and construction (led by Oxford Brookes University)
and structural compliance (led by SCI with Oxford Brookes). This world
leading information provided a basis for system developers to begin to
offer products into commercial markets on a large scale e.g. Metsec's
Metframe and British Steel's `Surebuild' system.
Subsequently, a major proposal for an international multi-partner project
focusing on light steel construction, known as MegaProject 5: Steel in the
Urban Environment was supported by the EU. Partner countries included UK,
Finland, Sweden, Italy, Germany and France. Ogden led the overall
portfolio of activities initially for housing and latterly also for the
multi-occupancy (apartment) sector. These activities resulted in
demonstration projects across the partner countries and the then largest
light steel framed building in Europe being constructed at Oxford Brookes
University (a three storey house and student hall of residence) together
with a number of related full scale test buildings.
The large scale demonstration project at Brookes underwent exhaustive
testing and monitoring over a three year period. The building played an
essential role in establishing grounded performance data. This was
particularly important in areas such as building physics performance
(thermal and acoustic), where systems details are critical; and durability
and corrosion resistance, which previously had been an area of systematic
and premature failure due to poor detailing and lack of technical
understanding. Complementary to this, full scale test buildings
constructed in laboratories provided actual structural performance data
which then allowed engineers to design beyond conservative structural code
predictions. The work led to a sustained programme of research and
development from 1997, which is still on-going in the context of advanced
applications (e.g. high rise modular in excess of 7 stories). The research
resulted in further technical outputs, (5-10), and further research grants
Subsequent to EU MegaProject 5 and in parallel with its portfolio of
funded research for Tata Steel, Oxford Brookes has provided applied
research and development services to downstream industry in the area of
light steel framing. It supported major investments from companies
including Terrapin, Barratt, and Corus Living solutions, as well as
overseas companies such as Posco in South Korea. It maintains a dedicated
and intensively used structures and building physics laboratory. Examples
of applied activities also include Ogden's buildings concept around which
Unite Modular Solutions commissioned a major production facility in
Gloucestershire able to produce three room modules per hour/6000 modules
References to the research
1. Industry Funding: Circa £1.2m in the period 2002-2013. Oxford Brookes
Umbrella Research Agreement with Tata Steel. PI Prof. R G Ogden. 9.9.2002.
2. Grant: MegaProject 5: Steel in the Urban Environment. European Coal
and Steel Community (ECSC). Contact ref: 7215-CA/808. Contract period
1.7.1994-31.12.1997. Project cost 837k Euro.
3. Demonstration Project: Light steel framed student accommodation
building. Oxford Brookes University (John Garne Way) .1997. Lead
industrial partners: British Steel (`Surebuild') and Taywood Homes.
Submitted to RAE2001, Oxford Brookes University, UoA33-Built
Environment, RA2, RG Ogden, Output 2.
4. Grant: MegaProject 5: Valorisation Phase (Dissemination) Steel in
Housing. European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Contact ref: 7215-PP/043. Contract period
1.7.1999-30.6.2001. Project cost 280K Euro.
5. Book: Building Design Using Cold Formed Steel Sections: Acoustic
Insulation. Ogden, R. and Clough R., Steel Construction Institute, 1994.
6. Refereed journal article: Steel in Housing as Part of ECSC Mega
Project. Journal of Constructional Steel Research, Volume 46, No 1,
187-188, Ogden, R., Lawson, M. and Grubb, J, 1998.
7. Book: Steel in Multi-Storey Residential Buildings. Lawson, M., Ogden,
R. and Rackham, J.The Steel Construction Institute, 2004. ISBN: 1859421547
8. Refereed journal article: Developments in prefabricated systems in
light steel and modular construction. The Structural Engineer, Volume 83,
No 6, Lawson, M., Ogden, R., Pedreschi, R., Grubb, J. and Popo-Ola, S.
Submitted to RAE2008, Oxford Brookes University, UoA31-Town and Country
Planning, RA2, RG Ogden, Output 2.
9. Refereed journal article: Developments in Light Steel Composites in
Floors and Roofs. The Structural Engineer, Volume 84, No 21. Lawson, M.,
Ogden, R., Pedreschi, R., Grubb, J. and Popo-Ola, S. 2006. http://www.istructe.org/webtest/files/b1/b16d868b-b885-46c5-a29d-edd72ffaefb3.pdf
Submitted to RAE2008, Oxford Brookes University, UoA31-Town and Country
Planning, RA2, RG Ogden, Output 4.
10. Refereed journal article: Hybrid Light Steel Panel and Modular
Systems. Thin Walled Structures, Volume 46, No 7-9, 720-730, Lawson, M.
and Ogden, R., 2008. DOI: 10.1016/j.tws.2008.01.042
Submitted to REF2014, Oxford Brookes University, UoA15-General
Engineering, REF2, RG Ogden, Output identifier 7812.
11. Grant: Demonstration of Modular Steel Construction in the Renovation
of Multi-Storey Residential Buildings. European Coal and Steel Community
(ECSC). Contact ref: 7215-PP/010. Contract period 1.7.1997-31.12.2000.
Project cost 1950K Euro.
Details of the impact
As lead academic partner, the world leading information generated by
Ogden and his team at Oxford Brookes University has played a central role
in developing and proving the merits of light steel technology. Various
examples of publications and demonstration activities arising from the
research are cited in section 3, however these represent a small
proportion of the total industry accepted outputs. Projects such as the
Oxford Brookes European MegaProject 5 demonstration building played not
only a key role in developing the technology but also in creating
awareness and understanding. The building received over 2000 visitors and
gained extensive press coverage (circa 40 articles written between April
1997 and March 1998).
The developments have resulted in increased confidence in light steel
- Companies have been prepared to commit to multi-million pound
investment programmes to deliver products at commercial volumes based on
the demonstrated technologies (e.g: Ayrshire, BW Industries, Fusion,
Kingspan, Knauf, Lafarge, British Gypsum. Metsec).
- Specifiers have gained confidence in the performance of light steel
framing such that they are willing to use it in preference to longer
established but often less efficient alternatives.
- Building control agencies (such as local authorities, Lantac, NHBC
etc.) have accepted that systems are free of unacceptable or abnormal
levels of risk. Buildings based on the design practices that have been
developed are considered equally by mortgage and funding companies to
those constructed using conventional technologies such as masonry and
The scale of impact of the research can in part be gauged by the major
contribution that the market makes to the steel production sectors where
the annual tonnage is over 1% of total UK output.
Other key measures include changes in construction markets:
- The market share of light steel framing is currently 17% overall and
gaining on timber frame, currently 56% (a). In the permanent modular
off-site buildings market, light steel framing has essentially taken
over from timber to the extent that few timber framed modular companies
- 28% of the total UK offsite construction market is attributed to
permanent light steel modular buildings of the type addressed by the
research, a further 9% to relocatable buildings (approximately 75% of
which rely on light steel framing). The increasing efficiency of modular
construction has meant that it has grown from a negligible amount in
2000 to a point where it is currently estimated to account for 2% of the
total construction market (b).
- Based on annual sector surveys by the independent market research
company `Construction Markets' (c), the peak light steel framing market
in the period 2008-2012 was 66K tonnes pa. Taking an average galvanised
strip steel cost of £600 per tonne this equates to a materials market of
£39.5 million pa. The contribution of this to the turnover of supply
chain companies (assuming normal manufacturing overheads of 1.75 and
margins of 12.5%) is circa. £78 million pa. to the UK economy.
- This use of domestically produced product is actively reducing timber
imports, as conventional and pre-existing technologies require softwood
sections not available in the UK. The effect on the UK trade balance is
It is important to recognise that this impact has been achieved in a
recessionary period where the total construction market has been reduced
by approximately 50% and where conventional costs are at their most
Impact may also be judged in terms of widely acknowledged cost,
performance and efficiency benefits to the construction sector (examples
of supporting material for this latter claim being given in section 5,
refs d — g). Benefits include:
- Improved speed of construction with rapid reliable construction
- Higher levels of automation reduce costs and reliance on specialist
- Improved quality with low levels of defect remediation required post
construction and reliable in service performance.
- Improved environmental performance including low waste, good
insulation and high levels of airtightness.
These benefits of light steel construction developed in the UK are also
reflected in the international development of the technology. In part this
is due to the improved resilience and robustness against earthquake and
wind loading. Early adopters therefore include New Zealand, Australia,
Japan, USA, Canada and South Africa (h).
The knowledge gained in relation to light steel within the team has also
formed the foundations for commercial innovation, such as the creation of
high reflectivity liner sheets which have been developed for built-up
cladding systems. Launched in late 2012, these have sold 1000 tonnes by
May 2013 value £600K.
Sources to corroborate the impact
a. Market research: www.amaresearch.co.uk/prefabricated_frame_panel_12s.html,
as available 29/05/2013.
b. Report: Offsite Production in the UK construction Industry. A Brief
Overview. Taylor, S. Construction Engineering Specialist Team: Health and
Safety Executive, 2009.
c. Market research: Annual Independent statistics (2008-2012) compiled by
`Construction Markets Ltd'. Collins, D.J., 2012.
d. Refereed journal article: Benefit evaluation for off-site production
in Construction. Construction Management and Economics, Volume 24, No 2,
121-130. DOI: 10.1080/01446190500184444. Blismas, N., Pasquire, C. and
Gibb, A., 2006.
e. Report: Offsite Housing Review. Report funded by the Department of
Business, Innovation &
Skills and the Department for Communities & Local Government through
Industry Council (CIC), with Oxford Brookes University and the University
Whitehouse, N. and Miles, J., 2013.
f. Report: Buildoffsite Review 2012. The business case for offsite.
g. Report: Value and benefit assessment of light steel framing in
housing. Rogan, AL and Lawson, RM, Steel Construction Institute, 1998.
h. Journal article: Light steel framing at Steelfuture conference. Steel
Construction, Volume 37, No 2, Barnard, J., 2013.
The following individuals may be consulted:
i. Corroborating contact 1. Director of Strategic Marketing (responsible
for all European business sectors), Tata Steel.
j. Corroborating contact 2. Former Product and Market Development Manager
(responsible for UK and EU market development within British Steel Strip
k. Corroborating contact 3. Former construction policy specialist.