Since it was formed almost one hundred years ago, the Steel Tube Institute (STI) has evolved to meet the needs of industry. It was created in 1930 when several manufacturers came together to educate about the many advantages of using steel tubing, and STI continues to endorse this well-known construction material. It also advocates best practices and safety initiatives specific to steel tube producers.
Currently, STI is composed of three product-driven committees and the STI Safety Committee. The HSS Committee focuses on the promotion of hollow structural sections, the Conduit Committee focuses on the promotion of galvanized and coated steel conduit, and the West Coast Producers Group focuses on market influence in the West Coast on the mechanical and ornamental sides of steel tubing. The Safety Committee educates and promotes the safe practices of tube manufacturing.
“Our number one construction-related goal right now is the promotion of HSS – hollow structural sections,” says STI Executive Director Joseph Anderson. To manufacture HSS, strip steel is transformed through operations such as forming, welding and sizing. Methods must meet ASTM A500 or A1085 (American Society for Testing and Materials) or CSA G40.21 (Canadian Standards Association) requirements.
The Steel Tube Institute serves to educate the engineers and architects, fabricators, service centers and general contractors involved in the design and construction of buildings. “Our viewpoint is that the engineer really is the one that takes the conceptual design from the architect and has to turn that into some kind of a working model that will perform the way that the owner wants the building to perform,” states Anderson. “The engineer is the one who gets to choose the section type, whether it’s a wide flange beam or an HSS that goes into certain applications.”
The Steel Tube Institute, based in Glenview, Illinois, has three membership categories with nine active members in the world of HSS, while numbers for associate member numbers vary between five and ten. In the active membership category are steel tube producers, ranging from small manufacturers to massive international entities, while associate members supply raw materials, equipment or services to the industry. Professional members can get special pricing on HSS design manuals written by structural engineers, receive updates from member companies on upcoming events and receive the STI’s monthly newsletter.
The institute operates with a six-member board of directors including two representatives from the STI, along with industry representatives from Zekelman Industries, Vest Inc., Arcelor Mittal and Nucor. It has five product committees and a number of task forces and functional committees involved in areas such as safety and manufacturing. To promote the many benefits of the Steel Tube Institute, they regularly attend conferences, workshops and other face-to-face events with structural engineering associations and chartered associations.
The organization is also extremely involved with NASCC: The Steel Conference, sponsored by the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC). The NASCC is the ‘premier educational and networking event for the structural steel industry,’ with over 130 sessions on a variety of topics. The next conference will be held at the Baltimore Convention Centre in April and provides a tremendous opportunity for over 4,500 steel industry professionals to meet one another, share contacts and exchange ideas.
“This is an event that we are very involved with,” comments Anderson. “We estimate that we contact, face-to-face, about 1,300 engineers per year at conferences, at lunch and learns, and things like that.”
Kim Olson, the technical consultant to the STI, writes technical articles, answers questions, and implements webinars on a variety of topics six times a year in addition to attending conferences. Education is a top priority for the STI, and attendees receive a continuing education credit for their participation. Olson says conference participants are often structural engineers and the institute builds and nurtures these relationships.
The STI has spent much of the past year working on HSS content that professors can use in existing curriculum. “On a broad basis, we are always trying to educate them [engineers] – whether they still be in university and get to work on any projects or very seasoned engineers who have been doing at a certain way for forty years and don’t see any reason to change – and educate them about the benefit of HSS, the cost and how to use it efficiently.”
In a professional setting, engineers will make choices about building materials based on areas they have studied. If concrete was their focus, for example, these engineers would tend to gravitate to firms and projects which are more concrete-focused. The Steel Tube Institute is educating engineers to broaden their material choices and look at steel as a better option.
The STI is currently consulting with professors and plans to introduce the initiative to the public later this year. Striving to get its message through to professors so they can educate students about HSS is a new initiative for the STI on behalf of its members and one which has been absent in academia. At present, other trade associations promoting the use of steel are the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) and the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), which serves as the voice of the North American steel industry.
The Steel Tube Institute works to address challenges facing the industry, including the unfair importation of government-subsidized tubing.
The STI is working with U.S. Customs on class codes, while its members work with the Washington-based Committee on Pipe and Tube Imports (CPTI). The CPTI was founded in 1984 to address the negative impact this importation has on domestic steel tube producers and is the leading trade association for the steel pipe and tube industry in America.
The issue of importation remains a critical one. In May of last year, Edward Voce, the chairman of the CPTI, stated, “Regrettably, notwithstanding our organization’s efforts over three decades, the domestic pipe and tube industry has continued to decline as imports take more and more market share.”
The future of the Steel Tube Institute is assured, says Executive Director Anderson. “When we look at what our members are producing or how much tubing is being consumed in the United States for construction projects, we are outpacing the amount of square footage that is being put in place. So, as a result, we feel that our message is getting out to the engineering community. We are getting more favorable responses and questions from them. So as we continue to promote this, we feel like the future is bright for the growth of HSS in this application.”