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Steel vs Plastic: Key Differences in Access Flooring Every Architect Must Know

June 3, 2021 | Access Flooring

Steel is a widely-used material in the prefabrication of optimized access flooring. Because it is durable, the upfront larger investment is quickly offset by a more cost-effective and sustainable outcome. Statistical data provided by The World Steel Association regarding the longevity of steel states:

  • Steel scrap from lower-value steel products can be converted into high-value steels using appropriate processing and metallurgy.
  • On average, new steel products contain 30% recycled steel.
  • Steel is 100% recyclable and reusable without losing quality.

While advanced building materials have their place, steel continues to be a widely recognized construction material used by architects. According to the World Steel Association, nearly 162 million metric tons of steel were produced across 64 countries in 2020, a 7% increase from 2019.

Steel offers superior load capacity (tensile strength) than most plastics, as detailed by Marlinwire:

  • Greater tensile strength – galvanized steel has a minimum tensile strength of 87,000 PSI (pounds per square inch), or about 600 MPa (Megapascals). “Compare this to the tensile strength of a polyamide + glass fiber polymer which, according to Matweb’s Material Property Data chart, is about 21,755 PSI or 150 MPa.”
  • Resistance to temperature fluctuations – The operating range of steel is 1600 F (871 C) while the operating range of plastics is -60 F to 250 F (-51 C to +121 C), although there are specialty plastics with a somewhat higher range. Steel withstands rapid or cyclic temperature fluctuations better than most plastics.

Further, steel alloyed with chromium and nickel resists scaling and retains its strength even at high temperatures while plastics may melt and emit gases that are harmful. Overall, steel is safer, more suitable for a wide range of elements. Galvanized steel is hot-dipped in a 680℉ bath of molten zinc. The galvanizing process makes it much more durable, prolonging the life of the steel up to 100 years if the thickness of zinc coating is 85 microns.

Access Flooring Produced Using 100% U.S. Steel

It’s crucial to understand that using steel that is 100% Made In the U.S.A. is about more than supporting U.S. steelmakers. There are steelmakers in the world equal to the US – Holland, Brazil, Russia – produce comparable, high-quality steel that is appropriate for building materials. Steel manufacturers in the U.S., however, adhere to strict standards, while steel from other countries, such as China, may or may not. These regulations make it more reliable.

Standards ensure that the right metals are used for the right products. These standards were established by organizations such as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and include chemical mixing standards.


Internationally in many places like China or Korea among others, competitors of U.S. domestic steel producers may actually be incentivized to overlook standards in efforts to introduce products to the market more quickly. This practice is called dumping. The World Trade Organization has put in place anti-dumping laws to combat this practice. The term dumping may sometimes refer to the potential production of inferior material, but it more than likely refers to government-funded subsidies paying up to 25 to 30% of the cost of steel, while selling it at lower rates to underbid domestic producers.

Not surprisingly, trade wars and tariffs, most notably between the United States and China, impact the cost of real estate construction.

ASTM Standards

ASTM publishes six different types of standards. Those are test method, specification, classification, practice, guide, and terminology. The information in the brief may be found on the page for Form and Style for ASTM Standards.

Why Plastics and Other Materials Fall Short

Many companies offer cable management solutions manufactured using plastic or aluminum. However, raised floor cable management solutions consisting of those materials are still inferior to steel, albeit in different ways.

Plastic fabrication suffers from structural weakness and limited wear resistance. As a result, most plastics used to manufacture flooring panels and other cable management components aren’t sturdy enough for commercial applications. Other shortcomings associated with using plastics or CLT panels include fire safety and overall sustainability.

Aluminum is the most formidable alternative to steel, however, it is more expensive and unwieldy, therefore it is not a practical option in most cases. The process of welding aluminum is quite different from welding steel which not only takes longer but is also more costly. And while it’s much lighter than steel, aluminum panels are softer than steel and prone to bending under enough weight. With steel being the most recycled material on the planet with the highest overall recycling rate (86% in 2014), it’s a clear choice.

Foreign Versus Domestic Steel Manufacturing

China produces almost 50% of the world’s steel. In 2019, China employed its enormous production capacity to produce nearly 996 million metric tons of crude steel. According to Statista:

“Controversial accusations have long been voiced that state-subsidized Chinese steel mills are flooding the world market with cheap steel at dumping prices. In recent years, the Chinese government has taken steps to cut industry overcapacities. This has hardly affected China’s global share in crude steel production, which has continued to grow and surpassed 50 percent in 2017.”

To put that in perspective, the U.S. only produced approximately 88 million metric tons of crude steel in 2019. It imported another 26.3 million metric tons of crude steel compared to 30.8 million metric tons in 2018 (a 15% decrease). Due to U.S. steel manufacturers increasing production, the country has become less reliant on imported steel, though it remains the leading steel importer in the world.


Gridd: A Steel Raised Floor Solution to Manage Cables

Gridd is designed to be reconfigured and reused an unlimited number of times. Parts purchased 25 years ago integrate seamlessly with system parts manufactured today. The longevity of the Gridd Adaptive Cabling Distribution® technology provides a business the ability to change as it evolves with limited disruption. Further, it does not attach to the building and so it can be picked up and moved to new rooms or buildings as needed.

Learn more about Gridd by FreeAxez, which is comprised of 100% U.S. Steel and made in America. Its sustainable design reconfigures as often as you need. FreeAxez is committed to cradle-to-cradle.1 material transparency making Gridd better for your wallet, your facilities team, and the environment.

The advisors at FreeAxez are ready to answer any questions you may have about Gridd—the revolutionary adaptive raised flooring systems.


1. The cradle-to-cradle cycle describes the safe and potentially infinite circulation of materials.

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