Stairways And Platforms: Aluminium vs Steel Comparison

Budgets, compliance and the suitability of products are all aspects that contribute towards the choice of systems that you install on your buildings.

Unfortunately, many times price the supply plays the most important part in the decision journey. Is that the key factor that should influence your selection?

In this article we set about providing a detailed comparison of aluminium versus steel when used in the manufacture of Stair and Platform Systems

 

Aluminium Vs Steel - Cost

1.  Material Costs

As with the manufacture of any product, the cost of raw materials has a direct impact on the price of the finished item. With COVID-19 adding even more volatility into the equation, the price of  aluminium and steel is continually fluctuating with many factors such as global supply and demand, fuel and shipping costs, and labour shortages creating the highest raw material costs industry has ever seen.

In the manufacture of metal stairs and platforms typically alumnium or steel are the preferred options. Stainless steel, although highly corrosive resistant and strong,  is very expensive compared to both steel and aluminium so is rarely chosen in industrial applications such as these, being considered far too costly.

When comparing the production costs of alumimium versus steel, aluminium does almost always cost more, simply because of higher raw material pricing.

However, as you will see, this slight difference in material costs is actually a very small factor when it comes to the choosing to fabricate stairways and platforms in either aluminium or steel.

 

2.  Labour/Installation/Time Costs

In the example below we have used the installation of a average sized platform (approx 2.4m x 2.0m) manufactured to gain access to lifts or HVAC units.

Even though KOMBI Systems can be assembled by non-specialist trades we have assumed the same hourly cost. In both scenarios we have allowed extra time taking into account breaks, placement of goods into location and other miscellaneous factors etc.

NOTE: These costs are not fictional. They are real numbers from some completed projects.

Material No Of Workers Hours Per Day No Of Days Cost Per Hour Total Cost
Aluminium 2 8 1 $100 $1,600
Steel 2 8 3 $100 $4,800
The table above only represents labour costs. Please see below additional costs which may be required.

So, why is there such a huge difference in the time to install KOMBI Modular Systems compared to traditional steel stairways and platforms?

In a typical steel stairway and platform install on-site cutting and welding is required. The steel components would also need either painting or treatments applied to them to protect them from rust and corrosion. All of these processes add hours of time onto the installation.

With KOMBI Modular Stairs and Platforms, there is no on-site welding. The systems are simply and easily assembled using basic hand tools. As the systems do not require specialist trades, they can be assembled by your own personnel which can also significantly reduce total labour costs.

These savings in labour time is where KOMBI Modular Aluminium Stair & Platform Systems more than make up for slightly higher material costs.

 

3.  Additional Costs

Apart from the cost of labour, there can also be additional costs that may need to be allowed for with steel stair and platform installs. Due to their weight, the majority of steel parts cannot be safely manhandled. This then necessitates the need for heavy lifting machinery to be brought onto site, an extra expense which often gets overlooked when project budgeting.

KOMBI components are lightweight aluminium, weighing approximately a third of steel, and can be easily manoeuvred into place without requiring any additional machinery.

See our article - Save Your Time And Your Back - A Safety Analysis for more information.

Another cost saving area in regard to aluminium versus steel is delivery. The lighter the weight, the less you pay in transportation fees, particularly attractive if you are located in remote areas.

 

Aluminium Vs Steel - Corrosion

Alumnium is significantly less corrosive than steel. It requires no painting or coating to protect it and it will last for many years exposed to the elements. A natural property of aluminium is a self-repairing oxide layer that protects the metal inside. This oxide layer prevents aluminium from rusting or developing a thicker oxide layer as some metals are prone to do.

On the other hand, steel is extremely corrosive and if wanting to ensure longevity it requires regular and on-going painting or treatment to protect it from rust and corrosion.

This adds to the lifetime cost of the steel system far in excess of the original supply price.

 

Aluminium Vs Steel - Strength

Whilst steel is 2.5 times denser in is composition thus providing a higher degree of strength, aluminium still has a very impressive strength to weight ratio and, when used in stair and platform applications, offers far above the required amount of strength.

Aluminium can also be engineered to provide high strength components that weigh much less than steel. Interestingly, if you were to manufacture stairs from a lighter form of steel, such as mild steel, aluminium would produce a much higher strength product.

NOTE: All of the KOMBI systems are engineered industrial strength and very durable. They are to withstand a live load of 2.5kPa and are manufactured to Australian Standard AS1657.

 

Aluminium Vs Steel - Weight

Steel weighs approximately 2.5 times more than aluminium. This is due to its high density construction which, while offering a higher strength product, means that is much less easy to handle, often increasing install times and incurring additional machinery costs.

 

Aluminium Vs Steel - Engineering

On every building and every project compliance is king. When installing any system it must be shown to meet the relevant Standards and Guidelines.

If installing traditional steel stairs and platforms you will still need to provide documentation to ensure that compliance with Australian Standards. This will require the appropriate authority to inspect and certify that these systems are installed correctly and that their construction is suitable. Yet another expense!

With KOMBI Systems we have already done the hard work for you. All KOMBI Stair and Platforms are pre-engineered to comply with Australian Standard AS1657.

You can also rest assured that even if custom designs are required our Design and Technical Teams can ensure you are supplied with compliant systems.

 

Aluminium Vs Steel - Lifetime Costs

Whilst highlighting the many benefits of aluminium compared to steel in stair and platform applications, it is also very important to ensure you concentrate on installing fit for purpose systems and products that will pass the test of time.

Rather than focusing purely on initial cost, you must be sure the systems you install are compliant, robust and effective. In this competitive world pricing is quite often the major driver in decision making but this can frequently prove to be of short term benefit.

Make sure this is not your only consideration and you factor in the other associated costs that all contribute to the lifetime cost of the system.

 

Summary

Whilst steel may be inherently strong, and often assumed to be cheaper, in the application of platforms and stairs, aluminium is an extremely practical and costs effective material for the purpose. As we have set out, there are a number of factors, beyond the initial supply costs, that have a large impact on the final total cost of the system, both upfront and throughout its life.

Aluminium is lightweight, modular, strong and durable and for this reason remains the standout choice of material for all of our KOMBI Stair and Platform Systems.

 

KOMBI Australian Made Stair and Platform Systems logo

For help with KOMBI design and installation for your next project, contact the team on 1300 301 755 or info@sayfa.com.au.