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Just in time - Light steel frame technology for speed and efficiency


Following the government initiative of providing affordable housing, modular construction has picked up in the UK. Intelligent Steel Ltd (formerly known as Icarus LSF) won the commercial category for the UK Tekla BIM awards with their Vita Student Westgate project. Intelligent Steel designed, manufactured and constructed the six-story building using off-site light steel frame technology.

Vita Student Westgate is a large student accommodation scheme of over 280 units, located in central Newcastle, United Kingdom. 

Model all in one structural model

Intelligent Steel phase cold and hot roll separately as they are processed into fabrication slightly differently. The hot roll elements are outsourced. However, all the design and connections are done in-house.  “The design of both hot and cold rolled is done concurrently within the same model and cannot be designed in isolation,” said Crystal Williamson, Design Manager at Intelligent Steel.

“After using other metal framing systems in the past, we now use only Tekla Structures for all modeling and data output of GA drawings, panel drawings, CSV data, and reports. Tekla is more user-friendly than other software with good assistance, customizable, and with constant updates and improvements being made.  As we provide hot roll design as well, it allows us to do both within the same software. ” 

"Tekla is more user-friendly than other software with good assistance, customizable, and with constant updates and improvements being made."

Crystal Williamson, Design Manager, Intelligent Steel

While modeling light steel structure and the connections to the main building, designers can see the concrete podium level at its exact location in the same model. “Providing 3D information is far more effective than 2D drawings,” said Crystal Williamson.

Uniquely complex constraints

Because Vita Student Westgate needed to be up and ready for students in time for the academic year, the project was faced with a tight schedule. What’s more, there were many complex site constraints: an existing building in close proximity; two main roads that remained open at all times and supported Newcastle’s main bus routes from the central station; and an open-for-business pub next door throughout the entire build. These challenges resulted in tight access, as well as vehicle and time restrictions, which rendered traditional construction methods unfeasible. 

“The scheme needed a building solution that would deliver both pace and innovation”, tells Crystal Williamson, Design Manager at Intelligent Steel. “We phase the different elements such as external walls, internal walls, and floors, and then we lot the delivery phases based on the schedule provided. This allows us to release information into fabrication in line with the delivery programme.”

Intelligent Steel has a very specific installation process for this kind of projects:
“Initially a two-team crew was used on site as the speed of erection is generally controlled by the crane access.  Our teams, typically four people, are organized around a black hat supervisor and will erect external wall panels in sequence, stabilizing as they go. Internal wall panels can then be lifted with the floor panels finally fitted.  After and during the fitting of the panels the system is lined and leveled and fully fitted”, tells Williamson. “We can scale and accelerate the erection, the model being vital to allow us to plan this in a sensible manner.”

Flexibility for tight schedules and spaces

Modular construction and offsite manufacturing have provided Vita Student Westgate the efficiency needed to navigate its tight restrictions. Using reference models in Tekla Structures and the Howick extension to export NC files directly to machines, the time from modeling to construction could be kept at a minimum.

Using Howick extension for efficient light metal frame structures

Running direct export from Tekla to their Howick machinery, their steel framing machines place all punching and fixing holes through accurate computer control. This not only allows the team to manufacture frames and trusses with extreme precision but enables the frame to be self-locating and jigging.  

Project team benefitted from the vastly reduced waste process as the direct link to the Tekla model means the production is very lean.  “Only the material required is produced to create the building”, said Williamson. “In the LGSF (light gauge steel frame) form of the building the walls are load bearing so as a minimum, the external walls of the building in a pre-boarded form are provided. To summarize, we saved in the reduction of waste materials; the accuracy of the build; and speed of construction by allowing access for the first fix whilst the construction of the building continued.”

“Our lean production using the direct link to the machinery from the Tekla model helps us save material and time.”

Crystal Williamson, Design Manager, Intelligent Steel



Intelligent Steel Solutions Ltd

  • UK-based, formerly known as Icarus LSF
  • Over two decades of experience in LSF
  • Designs, manufactures and installs off-site engineered lightweight steel framing solutions
  • Services range from the supply of single components to the design, manufacture and installation of large multi-story schemes

Howick Ltd

  • Roll forming machines for steel framing automation 
  • Manufacturing high technology machines since 1978. 
  • Based in New Zealand, customers in over 70 countries. 
  • In-house manufacturing of main and crucial components, ensuring the highest quality control.
  • The long history of innovative machinery and technology development driven by customer and industry requirements.