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 the price of supply plays the most important part in the decision journey. Is that the key factor that should influence your selection?
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 ongoing market volatility, 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, Platforms, Elevated & Suspended Walkways and Crossovers typically aluminium 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 aluminium 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 choosing to fabricate stairways and platforms in either aluminium or steel.
2. Labour/Installation/Time Costs
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.
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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/hot works. 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 within maximum handling guidelines which can also significantly reduce total labour 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
Aluminium 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 highly 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, Platform, Elevated & Suspended Walkway and Crossover 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 can 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 it is much less easy to handle, often increasing install times and incurring additional heavy lifting 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, platforms and walkways you will still need to provide documentation to ensure 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!
You can also rest assured that even if custom designs are required our Design and Technical Teams can supply you with compliant systems.
Aluminium Vs Steel - Lifetime Costs
When highlighting the many benefits of aluminium compared to steel in Stairs, Platform, Elevated & Suspended Walkway and Crossover 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.
As previously stated, the maintenance of aluminium is minimal. No painting or coating is necessary to protect it and even exposed to the harsh Australian elements it will endure for many, many years. Steel is corrosive and requires continual and ongoing treatments to make sure it maintains its functionality and durability.
Rather than focusing purely on initial cost, you must be confident 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.
Whilst steel may be inherently strong, and often assumed to be cheaper, in the application of Stairs, Platforms, Elevated & Suspended Walkways and Crossovers, aluminium is an extremely practical and cost 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.