Why Universal Beams Are Ideal for Global Construction

  • 23.01.24
  • Construction Products

Read this blog to discover why universal beams are a go-to structural solution for numerous large-scale construction and civil engineering projects.

Anything with “universal” in its name should be known for its accessibility and versatility on a global scale. Hence, since they entered the market in the late 19th century, universal beams have become one of the most common choices for various construction and civil engineering projects worldwide.

However, are universal beams the ideal structural solution for your requirements?

In this blog, we provide the ultimate guide to universal beams, from the various terms, material gradients and applications, allowing you to accurately evaluate if universal beams are the best structural solution to reinforce your next project.

discover why universal beams are a go-to structural solution for numerous large-scale construction and civil engineering projects worldwide.

Universal Beams - Hickman & Love

What is a Universal Beam?

A universal beam is a structured steel beam used in the construction and civil engineering industry. Due to the structural shape, universal beams also get named “I-beams” or “H-beams”. This distinctive shape and corresponding names come from how the horizontal top and bottom flanges connect with a vertical shaft to represent a capital “I” or “H”.

With an excellent load-bearing capacity, universal beams can withstand heavy weights horizontally over long periods with sufficient bend resistance.

The first recorded universal beam was patented by Alphonse Halbou in 1849 for his company Forges de la Provence. But more than a stylistic choice, the universal beam was designed to handle a maximum bending load while using the least amount of material. In mathematical terms, the shape of the beam can be described as the “moment area of inertia” or the “second moment of area”.

After its design by Halbou, it took the English engineer Henry Grey to establish it more widely with a new rolling method that enabled the distribution of steel within the beam. After this revelation, universal beams could be strengthened and made in larger sizes and soon became the go-to horizontal solution for steel construction that now supports most large buildings, bridges and other structures.

What Are Universal Beams Made From?

All universal beams are fabricated from structural steel. The column is rolled either hot or cold or extruded from a single piece. You can also produce universal beams by welding, bolting and riveting steel plates. This fabrication method means universal beams sometimes get called “plate girders”.

Mild steel is the most common gradient. Consisting of iron and carbon alloys, mild steel contains aspects of other materials like manganese, sulphur, phosphorous and silicon.

The low carbon content of 0.03% makes it easier to weld while providing the necessary strength for its structural purposes. However, universal beams are available in various other steel gradients, such as S235, S275, and S355.

Before investing in universal beams, you should assess your choice of material based on the structural loads your beams can bear, the span of the structure and the design specifications outlined in the necessary engineering standards.

What Are Universal Beams Used For?

As one of the most common load-bearing beams in the engineering and construction industries, you can use universal beams for various applications, including:

  1. Building Construction

Universal beams are applied in building construction across commercial and residential properties, providing necessary support for floors, roofs and walls.

  1. Bridges

Universal beams are combined with reinforced concrete to increase the overall tensile strength of bridges. Bridge construction will choose universal beams to support the deck and withstand the loads imposed by traffic, pedestrians and adverse weather conditions.

  1. Industrial Structures

Often, we see universal beams installed in various warehouses construction alongside factories and industrial plants. Due to their heavy-load-bearing capacity, they can provide the necessary support for large industrial machinery and equipment.

  1. Infrastructure

When nations require upgrading infrastructure, many will opt for universal beams to support their railways and roads, such as motorway overpasses and viaducts.

  1. Shipbuilding

Universal beams provide the ideal solution for large steel ship hulls alongside other structural components required for the vessel.

  1. Mining and Quarrying

Universal beams can offer the integral infrastructure required for large-scale mining and quarrying activities.

Can a Universal Beam Be Used as a Column?

The main purpose of a universal beam is horizontal load bearing but it can be used vertically as columns in other situations.

But before installing a universal beam as a column, be sure to evaluate the following factors:

– Load-bearing capacity
– Length and slenderness ratio
– Local building standards
– Additional reinforcement requirements (Bracing, stiffeners, etc.)
– Engineering analysis

What’s the Difference Between an RSJ and a Universal Beam?

In case there was any confusion, universal and RSJ (rolled steel joists) beams are the same thing, defined by their steel material and distinctive “H” or “I” cross-section shapes.

However, there can be slight differences depending on your region. For example, in the UK, RSJ beams can describe a beam with tapered flanges, while universal beams have parallel flanges. These RSJ beams can also be called “taper flange beams”.

Standard universal beams can be called W-beams for “wide flange”, universal columns (UC) or double-T in some parts of Europe, such as Poland, Bulgaria, Spain, Italy and Germany.

Due to these varying technical terms, “universal beam” remains the most appropriate name due to the universal nature of the structural solution transcending various applications.

Before investing in a universal beam, we advise you to consult with qualified structural engineers who can help you access the project’s specific requirements to ensure your universal beams meet the necessary safety compliance standards.

Reinforce Your Project with High-Quality Universal Beams 

Hickman & Love is a quality-assured provider of trusted steel reinforcement products with UK-wide delivery. We have a wealth of experience with over 80 years in the industry, supplying the highest-quality solutions from our steel stocklist.

No matter the size or specification of your order, we can deliver your universal beams quickly and ensure the perfect fit for your project.

For further information or to order please call +44 (0)121-557-2191 or email enquiries@hickmanandlove.co.uk we look forward to hearing from you. Or like us on Facebook to keep up to date with projects and news.


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