Do You Know What Your Buildings Are Made Of? 4

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Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015
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Research is key in all facets of a project, right down to taking a closer look at the materials you’re using.

To further illustrate this point, allow me to share a personal story.

Almost a year ago we decided to implement a bit of “succession planning” at home, as our beloved German Shepherd had just turned 14 and realistically we appreciated each day that she was still actively with us.

We spent the next three months vigorously researching the German Shepherd breeders in Australia, whittling out those who did not make the cut on our strict criteria. Eventually we settled on a private breeder whose dame was in WA and was being serviced by the sire from Victoria, with both dogs having excellent genetics and good working dog history.

To the uninitiated it may seem completely daft, or at best a bit over the top to even consider the scope and depth of our research into a mere dog. But when you consider the investment that one puts into the family pet over the period of its life with you, which we are hoping will be the same as our existing Shepherd, to me it makes a lot of sense to make the effort and take the time to find the quality bloodline rather than making a quick decision or going for the cheapest in a pet shop.

In the absence of research, you could end up with form over substance – it looks cute but grows into a nightmare, it shreds everything in its path, it is completely volatile with anyone other than the immediate family, and its only positive feature is that it particularly does not like the mother-in-law. If its genetics are dubious or not known, you could well end up footing vet bills of thousands of dollars over time. If it bites someone, you will most definitely be footing medical bills in the tens of thousands, not to mention the heartbreak of having to put the animal down.

This is a bit like the current saga embroiling the manufacture and supply of reinforcing steel in Australia at the moment. BHP is shutting down the Port Kembla steelworks in Wollongong NSW sometime soon, and Arrium in Whyalla SA is sadly situated in the state which has the highest energy costs in Australia, and the third highest in the world.

BHP has long envisaged the closure of its steel mills as having been under-productive and not cost effective for decades, having implemented structured retrenchments aimed at the obvious conclusion. The senior management of Arrium are sweating the same as their workers on the floor, what with cheaper steel seemingly flooding into Australia from abroad.

In the perfect world of free trade agreements, it makes economic sense to buy your product from the cheapest source. The problem with this product is that realistically it’s no different to getting a new puppy – if you don’t do the research into the quality of the product you are going to end up with heartache.

Imagine the following – your project requires three thousand tonnes of reinforcing steel, which you source offshore at a rate of approximately two hundred dollars cheaper than the local mills can supply it at. You’ve already saved $600,000! Transport from the wharf and scheduling costs are pretty much the same as the local supply, so no change there. Best of all, the principal/developer has only specified is for Australian Standard 4671:2001 to be supplied.

A quick check with Google will give you a robust list of steel suppliers offshore, all of whom purport to have AS/NZS accreditation, or ISO 9000 Quality Management Systems accreditation. This is interesting, because in all my years as an accredited lead auditor of quality management systems, I have yet to find any entity that fails its audit, which transparently exposes the standards hysteria for the sham that it truly is.

This means you really do not have any idea at all whether the cheap steel you have sourced offshore does or does not meet the Australian Standard for the manufacture of steel reinforcement bar and mesh. This means that when, not if, the steel fails somewhere in the next five years or so, just when you thought the defects liability period was over, you suddenly find yourself on the receiving end of a tortious liability claim for millions of dollars.

Though on paper you can put your hand on your heart and vow that the steel you supplied to the project does comply with AS/NS 4671:2001, don’t swear this on the puppy’s life – it’s worth more than your word!

As always, risk safely.

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Discussions
4
  1. Joel Baston

    This goes to the interesting question surrounding the lengths Australian importers and builders should go to in order to ensure imported product is fit for purpose and fully complies with the standards. Whilst larger outfits can put boots on the ground in supplier factories overseas, that is obviously not the case for smaller players. What you do to ensure products supplied are fit for purpose if you are a smaller player is a very interesting question.

  2. Phil Morey

    We all know that ISO 9000 is only a system for quality management, with the emphasis on management. It doesn't mean your products are any good. Similarly AS/NZS 4671 covers a whole raft of different steel qualities. You need to specify 400 or 500 with normal ductility. Easy enough to check. Get some tested. Plenty of labs will do it for $200

    • Mervyn Sher

      We've undertaken testing on 7 projects here in WA over the last year, only the Australian manufactured steel meets the Standard.
      I think that it is going to be a very interesting argument between the insurers and the head builders when the steel fails causing catastrophic collapse. There are very, very clear exclusion clauses in insurance policies regarding sub-standard building materials which most companies tend to ignore or overlook.

  3. George Hawirko

    The same goes for Wood, span tables and quality keep changing as we now accept our homes to cosy Millions and only last a few decades or less. All I can say is welcome to the Club of throw away housing.