Innovation in Fire Resistance

The Institute has been exploring the area of smart construction methods for several years. An example of our efforts is the novel SAISC Modular Office Building system. Invented by engineers at the Institute this system looks at the sustainability feature of buildings holistically.

For instance, it uses no wet trade on site essentially eliminating the use of water in the construction process. Moreover, it reduces construction risks such as injury and delays by carrying out most of the modular construction in an enclosed factory rather than on-site.

We started out by studying how to design, develop and commercialize the invention. Upon completion of the study, the Institute managed to mobilize industry resources to start the process of technical development. Much research and development work has already been carried out to confirm the easy manufacturability and structural integrity of the system.

We are currently at the hottest part of the research and development phase whereby we are physically testing the system’s resistance to an accidental fire. Such testing and work is unusual in Africa due to the high cost and the need for specialized expertise. However, we have been able to overcome this challenge by being creative and developing local expertise.

Our efforts have resulted in the training and development of Dr Richard Walls, a fire expert, along with the establishment of his national centre for fire research at Stellenbosch University. We are proud that our invention is the first project to be investigated by this one-and-only centre of its kind in the continent.

The results are very promising. There is strong early evidence that we may have a viable trafficable 1-hour fire-rated dry decking system available for the industry to introduce into the market soon.

Much work still remains with our innovation efforts. Engagement with developers, architects, engineers and our manufacturing and contracting industry is key if we are to succeed in commercializing such inventions. This will require herculean efforts in education and marketing on our part.

Innovation is vital to the sustainability of the steel sector. Producing good quality steel is no longer a sufficient mark of competitiveness. This is because there are several emerging economies developing their steel sectors and future competition is expected to be fierce.

The industry has to consistently evaluate the market and find ways to use steel to solve grand societal problems. Without the ability to keep up with ever-changing demands and providing relevant and novel solutions it will be difficult to stay competitive. This requires innovation to be at the forefront of our industry strategy.