The steel industry is a major contributor to greenhouse gases and resource consumption. However, because of their durability, structural steel components lend themselves to being disassembled and reused when the function of a building or structure changes or the building is demolished, with savings in material and energy consumption. The pricing of carbon coupled with emissions trading is likely to increase the attraction of reusing steel to reduce energy, emissions and costs over its life cycle, especially when associated with new business models such as product-service systems.
This paper concerns the reconfigured use of a disparate collection of existing technologies into a cohesive system to improve the current low level reuse of steel components. It examines how Building Information Modelling (BIM) coupled with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology may facilitate the reuse of steel components and open the way for innovative new business models.
A range of proven ubiquitous devices and techniques can be utilised to assign a unique ID to a structural steel element, accompanied by employing a parallel BIM to account for where a ‘tagged’ element may be found and thence traded.
This enables components and assemblies to be tracked and imported into models for new buildings, thus adding new capabilities to a given BIM. The added introduction of stress sensors to components provides the capability of knowing the stress properties of steel over its working life, another considerable advantage in assessing an element for its reuse.
This approach also opens up opportunities for new business models and profit centres. A company that currently manufactures and sells steel may become a ‘reseller’ of reused steel and provide a ‘steel service’, retaining ownership of the steel over its lifetime. This is facilitated by its ownership of the database that enables it to know the whereabouts of steel, to be able to understand, licence and warranty its properties and appropriateness for reuse in certain applications, and to redirect the components to other locations by means of ‘virtual auctions’. This process can take account of criteria such as travel distance, energy/carbon emissions, and cost.
The paper explains the concepts and methodologies for using RFID enabled movement tracking technology to track physical steel components and mapping these elements into a CAD based database, to provide a virtual open market place for the sale and re-use of elements.
The paper shows how such technological advances may lead to new business models involving the provision of a ‘steel service’, compared with selling steel components, all leading to reduced carbon and resource use plus cost savings: for example, steel may be directed from use to re-use without the interim storage usually required.
The research uses a novel combination of familiar and proven technologies to explain how steel components may be reused. This approach underpins and promotes new business approaches and profit centres whilst considerably reducing carbon emissions, resource consumption and cost.