In recent years, the popularity of steel framed systems has spiralled. Now, FIS is working to increase that profile and make sure the specification of such systems is kept up to date. Paul Thompson reports.

This popularity for steel framed systems (SFS) seems to know no bounds. There is hardly a site in the country that isn’t using the construction method in some form.

Many architects and designers have quickly cottoned on to its attractions, recognising that the quality of the SFS off-site manufacture leads to a speedy, safe, accurate and efficient solution on-site. From small eco-friendly housing developments to large commercial new build office projects, SFS has a proven track record of delivery.

In a move intended to keep the focus on its use, FIS has teamed up with partners from all areas of the industry to create an SFS Special Interest Forum aimed at promoting the method and ironing out technical issues that can arise.

“From the off we wanted to form a group that would advance the use of SFS and raise its profile,” explained Colin Kennedy, managing director of installer Veitchi Interiors and chairman of the SFS Forum. “We recognised that there would be some issues that needed to be addressed and we are delighted with the progress that has been made so far,” he added.

One of the main issues the forum was hoping to look at was the specification and measurement of SFS systems. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ (RICS) ‘New Rules of Measurement’ (NRM) omits SFS, and its description under the NBS specification clauses were causing confusion and difficulty for those tasked with comparing tender prices.

Mr Kennedy explained: “We were getting feedback from main contractors that highlighted this issue. They would complain that it was difficult for them to compare like for like. One specialist would measure in sq. m gross while others in sq. m net. We realised that this needed sorting out quickly.”

Thankfully, appeals to those at RICS have resulted in an understanding that the next updates of the NRM will include SFS-specific entries, a move which should at least go some way to easing confusion.

But the purpose of the SFS Forum doesn’t stop there. It is working alongside industry body the Steel Construction Institute (SCI) to update and then jointly promote its technical guidance ‘Design and Installation of Light Steel External Wall Systems’ with a view that this becomes the go-to document for those involved in the design, specification and installation of SFS systems.

Peter Baker, director of operations at finishing contractor Stanmore, said: “We have invested heavily on the design side and have 25 in-house designers. We also have specialist gangs that are experienced and trained specifically to install SFS. We offer in-house training, but the guidance from the SFS Forum will be beneficial.”

It is a thought with which Tom McLoughlin, CEO at MACS Plasterboard Systems, concurs. “We generally have installers who work specifically on SFS. We can upskill our internal system installers but we like to keep the two separate. Any extra guidance would be useful,” he added.

Currently, training is driven by the system manufacturers. Kingspan and Metsec are two of the largest and offer training courses suited to their products. They also help to ‘police’ projects through the on-site inspections demanded by their guarantee schemes.

For some, though, the added draw of having FIS on board to help drive the SFS Forum is crucial. Stephen Napper, director of light gauge steel design consultant MMC Engineer, is one of them.

“Ideally, there would be some level of standardisation across the industry. It happens with structural steel, so why not light gauge? I don’t think that will happen, but we desperately need the specification issues sorting and really need all main contractors to look at truly partnering with their SFS subcontractors,” he said.

“I really hope that we will be able to look back and say ‘that was a moment of change’. There is no reason why that shouldn’t be the case,” he added.

Colin Kennedy is adamant the SFS Forum will deliver a publication for the new design guidelines later this year.

“We have had some constructive input so far. We want this to be the ideal package. I would like to think that we can continue to work closely on the draft guidance and get the full package ready by mid-summer,” he concluded.

For many, summer can’t come soon enough.