State of the metal cladding industry

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Like most industries associated with the greater construction industry, the metal cladding industry has contracted in recent years. Currently, the metal cladding industry consumes upward of 220 000 tonnes of coated steel annually and is comprised of 2sectors namely formal and informal with a market value of R4.3 billion or 55 million square meters of cladding.

The formal sector covers mainstream building which is regulated by the National Building Regulations and other National Standards. The informal sector embraces the smaller emerging contractors and builders plus DIY where materials are invariably sourced from builders merchants. Unfortunately, unscrupulous providers sell non-compliant inferior thin gauge materials with minimal protective coatings based purely on price. Structural performance, public safety, and durability are invariably disregarded. The problem is particularly acute in rural areas which are currently exempt from compliance with the National Building Regulations. By mass, the formal sector accounts for 55% whereas by area the informal sector represents 60%.

The range of products available varies from traditional pierce-fix generic systems such as corrugated iron and box rib (IBR) to sophisticated world-class concealed-fix profiles with onsite rolling facilities all profiled from coated coil produced to internationally recognized standards. Unfortunately, the national standards for cladding have not been updated since the early 1990s. There is a shortage of technically competent personnel plus skilled artisans for the installation of the cladding systems. This also applies to inspection and watchdog authorities. Sophisticated systems require greater skills and attention to detail, they are less accommodating when it comes to the alignment of supporting structures and onsite handling. Another problem is the inadequate or inappropriate requirements defined by specifiers which is in turn compounded by indiscriminate substitution, resulting in the client’s expectations not being fulfilled. There has also been an increase in the number of unscrupulous profilers supplying imported under specification materials into the formal sector.

This situation is exacerbated in the informal sector where merchants’ sale personnel have little or no knowledge of the structural performance, durability or compatibility of the products they sell. There is seldom a choice in the quality of products available. Price is invariably the only criterion. As an example, a 1.2% increase in price for a galvanised coating will offer a 25% increase in the corrosion resistance of the coating thereby reducing maintenance costs. Since 2014 large quantities of inferior corrugated cladding have been imported from China.

Lack of integrity coupled with the decline of enforcement by government departments continues to impact negatively on the metal cladding market and construction as a whole.

Since the formation of the Southern African Metal Cladding & Roofing Association (SAMCRA) in October 2013, the association has been working tirelessly to address the shortcomings of the industry and to restore its credibility. This has not been without its challenges, the most formidable being the inertia of government departments and agencies to fulfill their function. The SABS has finally agreed to a revision to the 1991 code of practice for metal cladding. A review of the SANS 10400 series ‘The application of the National Building Regulations’ is in its seventh year and still going. One area of success has been the acceptance by the National Regulator of Compulsory Specifications (NRCS), which is the controlling body for the implementation of the National Building Regulations that all coil used for the manufacturer of metal cladding is to carry an indelible mark, at regular intervals, containing the manufacturer’s name, metal thickness, grade of steel, description, and thickness of coating/s. This requirement is embedded in the new NHBRC manual and the soon to be released SANS 10400-L ‘Roofs’. Work has begun on a review of SANS 1273 ‘fasteners for roof and wall coverings.’ In addition to SAMCRA workshops to university students and member technical and sales personnel, a group of members have been presenting regular CPD workshops to specifiers all of which have had a positive impact on the quality of contract documents being issued. SAMCRA have established a library of technical guides together with a consulting service.