What is Structural Steel Cambering and Why is it Used?

Jul 28 2016

Have you ever been curious about what structural steel cambering is and what it’s used for? Whether it’s an idle interest or something which has come up when discussing your current project, it’s good to understand the intricacies of metal fabrication. The better you understand the fine details of a project, the better you can communicate your needs and expectations to your chosen shop, and the more effectively and efficiently that shop can fulfill your order. Let’s start with the basics of cambering and then move on to a few specific common applications.

The Basics of Cambering

bigstock-Worker-Operating-Machine-For-B-83183843.jpgWhen discussing structural steel, camber and sweep refer to different ways of bending or curving sections of steel. A camber is a curve in the vertical plane, where a sweep is a curve in the horizontal plane. It’s inevitable that all structural steel have some camber and sweep, though these elements are often accidental. However, just as often you will need steel with a certain bend, which can be induced in a variety of ways depending on the material, end goal, and tools at hand. It’s also important to understand that cambering need not apply a universal curve to a piece of structural steel—in many cases, a consistent curvature simply isn’t necessary to the end product.

Sometimes the best tool for the job is the aptly named ‘cambering machine’, which simply holds a piece of steel in two places then uses hydraulics to apply pressure to a point in the middle. Other times, a shop might use heat to produce camber, but this can be quite a touchy approach and depends greatly upon the worker’s familiarity with the materials and process. A shop might also use a so-called angle roll, also known as a structural bender, profile bender, or three-roll section bender.

How is Cambering Used?

The obvious purpose of cambering is, to take straight steel beams and convert them to vertical arcs. Compared to cambering straight structural steel in the shop, producing and transporting structural steel with the necessary curvature simply isn’t in the same realm of efficiency. Barring scenarios where cambering isn’t viable for reasons of material tolerance and other considerations, it’s by far the easiest and most common way to obtain curved structural steel.

bending-curve-machine-74664226.jpgOf course, cambering isn’t only used where a curve in the structure might be necessary. It also plays a key role in negating the impact of heavy loads upon a particular piece of structural steel. A cambered beam, used wisely, can tolerate greater weights more effectively, especially over protracted use or time frames. As with so many aspects of metal fabrication and the manipulation of structural steel, the true efficiency of a particular material only arises in the hands of someone with the proper experience.

The final common role of cambering lays on the opposite end of the spectrum. Sometimes, you simply use cambering to improve the aesthetics of the project. A camber can alter the appearance of a particular structure greatly, without necessarily compromising its function or driving costs up. An engineer with an artistic eye can use cambering to produce very impressive results without any of the sacrifices one might typically associate with aesthetic considerations.

Parting Thoughts

Now that you know a bit more about cambering steel and what it might have to do with your project, you’ll be better equipped to discuss it if it comes up in estimates, change orders, or anywhere else. For all of your steel fabrication and welding needs contact Swanton Welding.

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