Cake Commercial Services specialises in corrosion control solutions, Protective Coatings & Blasting, Intumescent Coatings, Concrete Remediation, Passive Fire Protection, Asbestos Removal, and Demolition Services typically for large-scale industrial organisations and government-funded agencies throughout New Zealand.

The benefits of early contractor involvement in Steel Optimisation

Within modern structural construction, the understanding and implementation of passive fire protection technology can play an important role for steel optimisation.

Cake Commercial Services is a leading intumescent paint contractor, specialising in large commercial projects throughout New Zealand.  

Within modern structural construction, the understanding and implementation of passive fire protection technology can play an important role for steel optimisation. Steel optimisation helps saves lives in the event of a fire and can also help to minimise cost overruns on projects.

What is Early Contractor Involvement?

ECI (Early Contractor Involvement) is the practice of involving contractors in the pre construction phase to maximise their specialist knowledge and work with other contractors to bring cost efficiencies and harmony to the project.

Cake’s role in ECI

As an experienced intumescent painting contractor, we are well positioned to provide value to our clients through the ECI (Early Contractor Involvement) process. ECI is relatively new in New Zealand, however this trend is changing steadily as the benefits are discovered by project owners.

Why is Early Contractor Involvement beneficial?

Historically each contracted specialist has worked in isolation, unaware of what the other parties are up to. This has led to large financial overruns due to errors caused from the disjointed approach. ECI creates a team of experienced industry people working together to identify potential issues, long before they become problematic for the owner and thus reducing capital costs and potential time delays.

Where did Early Contractor Involvement start?

ECI was first documented in 1964 in the UK and then took a break for 30 years. In 1994 ECI started to make a slow comeback across Britain and has steadily grown in popularity to current times where it is widely used as a proven construction method, influential in helping building owners get the best possible outcomes.

What has steel optimisation got to do with Early Contractor Involvement?

ECI focused on steel optimisation is a relatively unexplored opportunity for all clients, as many are unaware of the net cost benefit associated with this process.

Steel is not a new product to the construction industry. The first recorded steel structure was built during the 1700’s in England and at that time the architects and designers were thrilled with the new building material that had amazing strength of wood without the risk of fire. Move through time to the 21st century and the use of steel in construction has grown at an exponential rate, as has the size of the buildings and the increased risks associated with fire. The abundant supply of steel, coupled with the excellent labour savings, has made the product very popular in construction globally.

However, this has also led to a rather large challenge for the building industry, the issue being that steel - when exposed to extreme heat - loses its strength and has the potential to collapse causing structural damage and possibly loss of life.  ECI focused on steel optimisation now plays an important role for Cake and is proving to play an important role for our customers too.

Optimisation by weight
The greater mass or weight of a steel section, the more slowly it will heat in comparison to a lighter steel section. Large sections will therefore require a comparatively thin thickness of fire protection material to achieve a specific fire resistance period when compared to smaller sections. Structural engineers often design for the lightest, most efficient steel section; however, this can result in high fire protection costs.”

– Taken from 'Advantage Steel' No.46 Summer Edition 2013 (Alberta Steel Design Awards of Excellence)

Limiting steel temperature

Steel has a critical temperature, that when reached will change the structure and make the steel deform, thus making the building unsafe.  Fire resistance timings should ideally be partnered by a limiting steel temperature (the temperature that the steel will reach whilst still maintaining enough strength to carry an amount of load and not disintegrate) for every single structural component.  The idea behind steel optimisation is when a severe fire occurs, the fire fighters have enough time to put the fire out before the building potentially collapses.

Specifying the steel component correctly means the passive fire protection is also specified at an economical rate and thus optimises the project costs efficiently. At Cake, we often see steel designs that have a lighter than desired specification and because of our early involvement via ECI, we are able to make recommendations to the design team to reduce costs for the fire protection coating.

“Designers in the U.K. are now looking at optimisation approaches, which account for the combined cost of steel, fire protection material and application rates.  In almost all cases, this approach demonstrates that the lightest steel design is not the most economic.”

– Taken from 'Steel Australia' December 2013 Vol 26 No.4

Alan Jowsey (Fire Engineering and Estimation Manager at AkzoNobel) has written more about steel optimisation and intumescent coatings in 'SESOC' (2017) titled "Using Intumescent coatings to achieve building code compliance on steel structures".  

What is an Intumescent Coating?

The definition of intumescent is a substance that swells as a result of heat exposure, thus increasing in volume and decreasing in density.  Intumescents are typically used in passive fire protection.  Source:

Using the right design in the steel coupled with the correct specification for the fireproof coating, means a well constructed building that has come in on budget and on time.

Intumescent Paint Steel Protection
Intumescent Paint Steel Protection


As detailed above, ECI and Steel Optimisation can be very beneficial to building owners and as more clients become aware of the benefits, Cake Commercial’s participation in this process will increase. 

If you would like more information about our intumescent coatings and how we can help your project, please contact us