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Harnessing the Economic and Performance Benefits of Nb-High Strength Structural Steels in India

Dr Jitendra Patel 1,2
1 Director, International Metallurgy Ltd – England Consultant, CBMM Technology Suisse SA - Switzerland


Introduction Like many growing nations, the skyline of several of India’s leading metropolitan cities is rapidly changing. In cities like Mumbai availability of land is limited and at a premium, therefore the financial and economic challenges of development on inner city sites are pushing building designs taller and taller. This not only challenges architects to design taller and greater, but this also gives the structural engineer significant challenges in deriving designs which meet the competing functional requirements of tall buildings in a cost effective manner. Development of tall buildings involves a delicate balancing act of meeting the aspirations of the client, architect, regulatory authorities and the myriad of other design professionals working on the scheme. This balancing act often means that the main structural elements providing stability need to be sized to minimize their impact on the building. It is in these situations that the structural engineer starts to consider the use of high strength steel to help achieve their goals. This paper highlights some of the drivers in the structural design of tall buildings and larger structures. It provides an example of savings in material that can be made if higher strength steels are used, and in particular steels microalloyed with niobium (Nb) in conjunction with a lower carbon content.

High strength steels In today’s environmentally conscious and economically sensitive markets the construction sector is utilising ever-greater quantities of higher strength steels. This not only affords for audacious projects but also permits significant savings to be made and enabling an earlier return on investment. However, apart from the standard mechanical properties, such steels have to meet increasing performance requirements taking into consideration on-site weldability, cold temperature performance and other environmental conditions such as seismic zones. One of the key ways in achieving this is through the use of niobium (Nb) microalloying which affords both the development of higher strengths as well as enhanced toughness. It is the metallurgical benefits of micro-alloying with niobium which are exploited during the processing of the steel thereby making it possible to reduce alloying element contents and carbon content while maintaining high toughness values and good weldability at identical or higher yield and tensile strength values. As with all elements, the alloying content of niobium must be chosen with respect to the process route and property requirements of the applied plate. Traditionally higher strengths have been reached by increasing the amounts of alloying elements. However, this results in higher hardenability and may lead to an increased risk of brittle fracture and hydrogen induced cracking when welded if the correct welding parameters are not applied. Today, modern mills are capable of producing steels plates with yield strengths of 500MPa at thicknesses approaching 100mm. These steels are classed as fine-grained weldable microlloyed steels, which exhibit excellent toughness both within the base metal and the heat-

For TMCP steels. This can be achieved through a better understanding of the alloying and entire process route. Typically these steels are made via the thermomechanically controlled processed (TMCP) route coupled with accelerated cooling and generally do not require any pre-heating prior to welding. The challenge for steel metallurgists is therefore to develop steels that possess both higher strengths (i. Thermo-mechanically controlled processed (TMCP) Figure 1 illustrates the general evolution of structural steels. 355. Such factors are important for structural plates subjected to through-thickness loading.100MPa). nitrogen. Vacuum degassing during secondary metallurgy to minimise  . Figure 2 highlights the advantage of reduced carbon equivalent (CEq) for a given strength of TM-rolled steels in comparison to traditional normalised routes. The standard (EN 10025-4) covers TMCP steel grades with a minimum specified yield strengths of 275. and both EN 1993-1-10 and EN 10164 are normally specified for through-thickness ductility properties. Overall. S1110Q 1. for a given plate thickness. Nevertheless. above 350MPa) as well as better toughness.a low carbon and highly clean steel also has a positive effect on weldability. the correct processing schedule must be applied giving consideration to the steel chemical composition. Typically this will involve:   Reducing the volume fraction of the pearlite by utilising lower carbon content . Calcium-treatment to modify any sulphide inclusions making them more globular .affected zone (HAZ) of the welded joint. General evolution of structural steel The principles of Nb-microalloying and its beneficial effects as a grain refiner (higher strengths and improved toughness) and permitting reduction of carbon and other alloys are well established. dependant on the required strength and toughness. this will result in reduced tramp elements and a cleaner steel. 420 and 460MPa and specified minimum impact toughness down to -20ºC (designated M) or -50ºC (designated ML). excellent properties can be achieved by a leaner alloying content coupled with small amounts of microalloying with niobium. In particular it highlights the different processing routes from TMCP (moderate yield strengths and higher toughness) through to steels produced via the quenched and tempered (Q+T) route for the very high yield strengths (1. hydrogen and the total oxygen content. it is important to note that.000 S890Q 800 S690Q 600 S460N 400 200 0 N and N-rolled 1945 1955 1965 1975 1985 1995 2005 S355J2 S355N Q+ T S460M S355M TMCP S500M S960Q Yield Strength (MPa) Year Figure 1.e.

60 0.003%Sulphur.35 1.09% (most typically 0.03 0.45 0.40 0.07 0.03 0.03 0.60 S460 QT 0. In addition to avoiding the peritectic reaction.25 1.004 0.004 0.50 0.30 0.015 0.30 1. Relationship of yield strength and carbon equivalent Alloying strategies For high strength low alloy (HSLA) TMCP steels it is important that the carbon content is kept below 0.03 0.10 0. Table 1.04 none none S460 N 0. wt% of 50mm plate high strength structural steels Steel grade Processing C Si Mn P S Al N Ti V Nb Cu Ni S355 N 0.04 0.04 none 0.004 0.012 0.50 0.015 0.005 0.50 0.15 0.004 0. segregation is often the origin of local brittle zones in the HAZ resulting in poor toughness.30 0. the low carbon content also helps to avoid surface cracks during continuous casting. 600 550 Normalised TM-rolled Yield Strength (MPa) 500 450 400 350 300 250 0.35 0.04 0.40 1.25 0.04 none none S355 TM 0.015 none 0.04 0.07% or less) thereby avoiding the peritectic reaction during solidification. Soft reduction to shrink cavities and minimise macro-segregation during continuous casting. Production of a maximum slab thickness – to allow greater core conditioning during rolling.012 0.15 0.60 S460 TM + ACC 0.012 0.03 0. and. During this reaction an additional shrinkage as result of the transformation of primary δ-ferrite into austenite occurs causing inter-dendritic inclusion of liquid steel.015 none 0.005 0.005 0.012 0. As the major alloying element in HSLA steel is manganese and it exhibits a segregation ratio typically twice the bulk steel composition.12 0.004 0.25 .07 0. which is naturally enriched in alloying elements.55 0.005 0.012 0.40 1.005 0.  the typical sulphur content in an aluminium deoxidised steel has <0.015 none 0. Typical chemical composition.45 Carbon equivalent Ceq (% ) Figure 2.20 0.

50 0. Preheating and post-weld-heating are standard precautions against these defects from occurring but are timely and costly. If the vertical framing system is concrete then the lateral stability system will tend to be in concrete also. it is important to understand the role of the individual parts / components / segments of the building system. S460 and S500 for reinforcing bars.g. to understand where the advantages of high strength can be used to the greatest effect we have to understand the actual role of each individual structural part / segment / component. despite the excellent mechanical properties high strength steels such as Nbmicroalloyed S355 will provide. The advantage of using TMCP steels (i. The application of high strength steels To gain the maximum benefit in the application of any material within a building structure. Although the use of reinforcing bar to S500 is widely implemented. Each has its role to play in forming the structure of the building but there may be constraints on the characteristics and performance of that individual component from the need to meet the requirements of the project stakeholders. high strength steels are characterized by much higher yield stresses typically 355 to 460MPa and above.40 0. Across most of the developed economies. the use of S355 structural sections in developing economies is still largely in its infancy and therefore holds significant economic and engineering potential. Therefore. TM = thermomechanically rolled. with the carbon equivalents indicating the necessary conditions for welding. Furthermore. TM + ACC = thermomechanically rolled plus accelerated cooled) To help maintain good low temperature toughness. An important area for the fabricator of high strength steels is the prevention of hydrogen assisted cold cracking in the weld. Therefore if the framing system is steel then the lateral stability system can be either steel or concrete.45 (N = normalised. Typically commercial offices will be framed in steel whereas residential (including hotel) tend to be framed in concrete. higher carbon at 0.e. Table 1 shows typical chemical compositions for 50mm plates. they are also practical challenges when undertaking such heat-treatments on site. improved fatigue performance and improved weldability. in seismic zones are a necessity.36 CEq 0. the biggest driver on the choice of vertical framing system will be the final use of the building.18%) is clearly evident. For most tall and high-rise buildings.25 none 0. All of these characteristics are desirable from a structural engineering point of view and in some cases e. the elasticity or Young’s Modulus of the steel will largely remain the same as for all steel types. either heat-treated or thermomechanically rolled. QT = quenched plus tempered. permitting reductions of preheat temperatures or in the main complete elimination of preheat.08%) over normalised steel (i.e. For all buildings. the lateral stability system needs to be integrated with the vertical framing system. like Nb. also having positive effect on toughness. As outlined earlier. the majority of the weight will be found .31 0.Mo none none none 0. the formation of TiN precipitates also provides control of the grain size in the HAZ and accompanying intercritically reheated zones.e. lower carbon at <0. If the vertical framing system is steel. Furthermore. The addition of the nitride forming elements of aluminium and/or titanium reduces the free nitrogen by the formation of nitrides and also contributes to grain refinement thereby. However. the most common grades of steel used in the design of tall and high-rise buildings are S355 (minimum yield strength of 355MPa) for hot-rolled structural sections and plate. any free nitrogen must be minimised. and require greater toughness and ductility. i. So if the key driver in terms of section size to be used is stiffness rather than strength then there will be little advantage in using a higher strength steel.

are almost unavoidable in tall buildings. Therefore. However. Connections – connections between members in any system or component. where build construction zones are constricted. an increasingly important processing route for beams are pre-fabricated sections with holes for service integration. Link beams – individual elements that link shear walls together to form cores. in high seismic zones such members also need to provide minimum confining reinforcement to meet the requirements for deformation the beams making up the flooring system. the major area where high strength steel can make significant economic and performance benefits is in high-rise construction for structural components where strength is the key driver. To keep section sizes at a minimum and maintain stiffness within prescribed deflection limits. It is important to note that for longer spans.e. ideally no pre. For tall concrete framed structures. column member sizes are reduced by the use of increasingly higher strength concretes. as floor beams tend to have a serviceability requirement or are stiffness driven.g. ASTM A992) for framing purposes. <0. the main trade off is column spacing (span) and construction depth to minimize floor-to-floor height (thus generating more office floor area within the building). improving constructability by reduced member weight whilst ensuring good weldability (where the steel is via a low carbon route. the confinement provided by the rebar also needs to be enhanced. To be able to take advantage of such concretes. Additionally. and as building designs become taller this becomes even more of a major factor. the optimum choice of steel grade is S355. Typically such heavier (or jumbo) beams will have a serial size of 356x406 (W14x16) up to 1086kg/m (730lb/ft) and have flange thickness of 125mm (4. in such cases higher strength beams with yield strengths up to 450MPa (65ksi) are allowed (e. However. and. Outrigger trusses/walls – trusses or walls that link perimeter columns to interior cores. As to be expected. For commercial offices. as often the space at the bottom of the building is often so important. Taller buildings tend to result in larger columns (and braces in diagrid structures) because they must be able to pick up load down the structure (in particular highlighting the importance of flange thickness) and the resulting size of the columns can become an aesthetic problem for the architect. they are fabricated directly from plate and thus require good weldability performance (i. as the bottom of high-rise steel framed structures requires columns and braces outside the normal section sizes. Belt trusses – trusses that link perimeter columns together. there is little advantage in using higher strength steels greater than S355. Therefore.91 inches). Shear walls – individual elements that usually form part of the interior core system. These transfer systems need to be designed and detailed to minimize impact . This often leads to congestion in the cross-section especially where rebar needs to be lapped at column splices or where such members meet the foundation. The use of higher strength rebar (S600 and above) has been used to reduce this congestion. where load paths through the structure are diverted. In such cases good weldability becomes an essential property for the high strength steels used (where steels such as lower carbon Nb-microalloyed varieties provide such performance properties).or post-weld heat treatment). high strength steel has advantages in terms of reducing member size. Transfer systems – structures that help transfer vertical load from individual elements to other vertical load carrying elements. Transfer systems. The key structural components where high strength steels could potentially be used in high-rise designs are for example:        Columns and braces – individual elements acting predominantly in compression that form part of the vertical load carrying system or perimeter tube/diagrid system.08%C) for the fabricated forms.

Perimeter forms have to be integrated with the façade system and sometime connection sizes clash at pinch points with the façade. High strength steels can be used to reduce member sizes to reduce impact on space and to reduce weight to ensure that such members can be more easily placed within the structure during construction. This is especially important for tubular perimeter and diagrid forms. Finally. space and cost. the net to gross efficiency of the floor plates is crucial and high strength steel is ideal to reduce the main linkage sizes. it reduces fabrication costs as well as important costs such as transportation and handling. higher strength means a lower weight per component.08%C) is also used in a niobium micro-alloyed steel. The forces often transferred in the main lateral stability members can be substantial meaning that the plates and bolts required to transfer the forces make the connections very cumbersome. With a reduction in wall thickness. comprising of ever increasing economic driver as frame fabrication is often on the critical path for project completion. Due to the high wind loads applied to the system the linkages and super-diagonals are carrying substantial loads.on the architecture. . It is the weld metal volume that determines the production time needed for fabrication of the component . The future Recently the final design of the 400m high India (Imperial) Tower was proposed for Mumbai. there is also a reduction in the weld metal volume (amounting to an exponent of two). High strength steel can be used to reduce plate sizes and ensure easier integration of the main structure with the façade. residential and luxury hotel occupancies. High strength rebar is to be used to reduce the inevitable congestion that would result and to enable the main core walls to be constructed. As high strength steels microalloyed with niobium afford fine grains. The benefits are especially greater when a lower carbon steel (<0. which also link the three main cores together. In such a slender tower. Overall. steel framed structures have to be connected together to make effective framing systems. The original proposals of the tower released in 2010 showed a highly slender and the main lateral stability system that was formed by linking three substantial cores at the periphery of the tower with substantial multistorey linkages at various heights through the tower. it is well suited where cold formability and weldability is a key aspect of the fabrication. The preferred method of connecting members together is in the form of bolted connections to reduce the need for on-site welding. The linkages are supplemented by exposed super-diagonal braces.

Such forms will require new construction materials with higher strengths. for example (up to 14% in comparison with S355). Closing remarks The use of high strength steel in present day high rise construction is suited to certain areas of the structural framing where its properties are beneficial in reducing member sizes thus ensuring more effective integration of the framing system with the building envelope and floor space.Figure 3. toughness and durability – where microalloying elements such as niobium are expected to feature in the steel makeup. Adopting strengths such as S355 saves overall weight and hence costs compared to S235 and selective use of even higher strength grades such as S460 can lead to a further weight savings in columns. ductility. Impressions of Imperial Tower (Source: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture) India Tower provides a glimpse of the future and introduces new structural forms (linked cores and linked segmented structures) that will be required to meet the aspiration of building taller and taller. In terms of material costs the savings for S460 are about 10% compared to S355 and 25% compared to S235 (see Figure 4). . Higher strength steels will have a significant role to play both today and in the future in bringing those dreams to reality.

Advantages of high strength steel S355 and S460 compared to S255 All of this is made possible by small microalloying additions of niobium in both plate and beams and higher strength reinforcement bar allowing the development of stronger.Figure 4. even for the thickest sections. It is certain that more opportunities to use high strength steel will present themselves as new structural forms evolve. Acknowledgements The author would like to express sincere appreciation to Dr O’Conner (Technical Director. It is important that structural engineers are made more aware of the advantages of high strength steel in meeting the aspirations of the client and other stakeholders in the project and in particular the value added benefits of the properties of such steels when microalloyed with elements such as niobium. for granting permission for publication. WSP Cantor Seinuk. developers will demand greater returns and buildings will need to become higher as a consequence. Finally. as pressure on premium land continually increases.A. with the established fact that such steels are in fact readily available in India today. Furthermore. tougher and easily weldable steels. in the future. London) for providing examples and information for this paper and CBMM Technology Suisse S. .