The winner of the Southern Africa Stainless Steel Development Association’s (Sassda’s) Eiffel Tower life cycle costing competition was announced earlier this month, having proven the success of the association’s new cellphone application (app) and the long-term value of stainless steel as a structural material.
“In 2013, during a training programme, the International Stainless Steel Forum asked students to consider the cost savings that could have been achieved if the Eiffel Tower had been constructed out of stainless steel rather than mild steel. Today, thanks to our app, obtaining an accurate answer is possible,” says Sassda executive director John Tarboton.
He explains that, although stainless steel is generally costlier than other materials initially, it delivers lower long-term costs. However, as the calculation of the long-term cost benefits it affords is a complicated process – influenced by several complex factors such as the cost of capital, net present value and discounted cash flows – this aspect is too often overlooked.
“Although engineers do consider these costs, they are not accountants and it became clear that a tool was needed to simplify the process and allow for accurate material cost comparisons over the entire life cycle of a project.”
In the 1990s, Sassda was, thus, involved in the development of a computer programme for performing life cycle cost calculations and, moving into the digital age, the association took steps in July to enhance the accessibility of the programme by introducing a cellphone life cycle cost- ing app.
The app is freely available from the Google Playstore and the Apple App Store and Tarboton highlights that it can be used to compare the life cycle costs of a variety of construction materials, making it applicable across the consulting engineering and quantity surveying industries, as well as potentially in other sectors such as aluminium.
Taking a creative approach to launching the app in South Africa, Sassda ran a competition, starting in February. This required entrants to download the app and, taking the current inflation rate, the cost of capital and the real interest rate into account, calculate the total life cycle costs (in dollars) that would be incurred to build the Eiffel Tower in 2017 using mild steel, and compare this with the cost of using either utility ferritic stainless steel or lean duplex stainless steel.
“In 1889, the Eiffel Tower cost $1 495 137.43 to build and, since then, has undergone routine painting every seven years – which is a complicated and costly exercise, owing to its size. “What is clear from our calculations, is that if the Eiffel Tower had been made from stainless steel, the maintenance of the iconic structure would have been made easier and much more cost effective. “However, considering that stainless steel wasn’t even invented in 1889, we can forgive the engineer, Gustav Eiffel, this oversight.”
Calculating the life cycle costs involved calculating the initial costs – including material costs at current prices, fabrication costs and other installation costs – as well as the operating costs if the Eiffel Tower was given a design life of 100 years, taking into account the dismantling costs and scrap value of the structure in the calculations.
Unlike mild steel, Tarboton notes that stainless steel does not require painting. In addition, lean duplex stainless steel has twice the strength of mild steel or utility ferritic stainless steel and a thinner thickness can, thus, be used. However, it does require washing every 20 years to ensure that its original finish is maintained. Alternatively, utility ferritic stainless steel can be used, which does not require painting or cleaning, as it is corrosion resistant and designed to weather by forming a brown patina.
“Our aim with the competition was to encourage engineering and quantity surveying professionals to download and ‘test-drive’ the app, so that they could see first-hand how easy it is to use. “ The app makes the crucial, but multifarious, process of life cycle costing more accessible.”
Proof of this was provided by the fact that 64% of the entrants submitted correct answers during the competition.
Sixty finalists were randomly drawn from the pool of entrants that submitted the correct answers to the calculations, with 30 finalists from Johannesburg, and 15 each from Cape Town and Durban. The winner of the competition – Amrish Punwasi – was drawn earlier this month at a French-themed event held at Sassda’s head office, in Johannesburg, and awarded an all expenses paid trip for two to Paris.
“I am not an engineer, but I downloaded the app and decided to enter the competition for the fun of it and to see how easy the app was to use – which it was!” says Punwasi, who works in the security management division of the Western Cape Department of Health.
“The competition has been a great success and as we advance the capabilities of the app, we are considering holding a life cycle costing competition every two years. We are eager to continue proving the value of stainless steel over the long term and strengthening demand for the material in architectural and structural applications, especially,” concludes Tarboton.