What are Steel Beams?

A steel beam is a structural steel product that is made to support heavy loads. Steel beams come in different sizes and types, hence their different applications in the construction of structures and buildings. The specifications of a structure determine the geometry, size and shape of beams.

Notice that new building or bridge under construction down the street? Chances are the skeletal structure is comprised of different types of steel beams.

Owing to their inherent strength and versatility, the steel beam is an integral part of the construction industry. It serves a variety of different critical functions, primarily due to their ability to provide support to structures.

Used either vertically or horizontally, a steel beam can handle immense load bearing forces, meaning they typically form the ‘skeleton’ of the structure being built.

What are the different types of steel beams?

There are two main types of steel beam used:

  • Standard (also known as I-Beams)
  • Wide Flange (also known as H-Beams)

I beam

Standard or I-Beams have two horizontal plates, called flanges, that are connected by a vertical plate called the web. The height of the web is higher than the width of the flanges, so when viewed in cross section it resembles a capital I. Standard or I-Beams also have tapered edges.

H beam

Wide Flange or H Beams have the same arrangement of flanges and web, however, the flanges are longer than the web. This makes the cross section resemble a capital H. Unlike Standard or I-Beams, Wide Flange or H Beams have square edges and the flanges and web are typically thicker.

Types of steel beams based on support

  • Simply supported beams: These beams are supported at the ends and are free to rotate.
  • Fixed beams: These are supported at the ends but cannot rotate.
  • Over-hanging beams: This kind of beam extends beyond its support on one side.
  • Double over-hanging beams: These extend beyond the supports on both ends.
  • Continuous beam: Extends for two or more supports.
  • Cantilever: Fixed on one end but projecting outwards
  • Trussed beam: This beam is reinforced by a rod or a cable to make a truss.

Types of beams based on geometry

  • Straight beam: As the name suggests, it is straight.
  • Curved beam: This beam is curved in shape.
  • Tapered beam: This beam has a tapered cross section.

Types of beams based on cross sections

  • I-beam: This kind of beam is also known as the Standard American Beam or junior beam. It has an I-cross section.
  • T-beam: As suggested by the name, this beam has a T cross section.
  • Channels: Also known as C beams, these beams have a C cross section.
  • Wide flange beams: These are also known as H beams or W beams. They have flanges that are not tapered and are wider than standard I beams.

Production process

Both types of steel beams are usually produced through a process called rolling. This involves heating up the base steel to be formed before passing it through forming rolls to give the overall shape. The roughly shaped beam is then fine tuned through a secondary mill before being cut to length.

Additionally, Wide Flange or H Beams can be manufactured by welding the steel plates that make the flanges to the steel plate that makes the web. The benefit of this is that an H beam doesn’t have to be limited by the size of the rolling or forming machines.

Steel beam applications

Steel beam applications

Steel beams are most often used as supports in structures, ensuring their safety and stability, while using the least amount of material. As such, they are one of the most cost-effective construction methods.

Both types of beams can be used for multiple supporting roles. However, all of the different shapes and sizes are designed to cater to specific use cases.

An I Beam has the tapered edges because this is the most efficient way to transfer heavy loads. This means when used horizontally, Standard Beams can take a higher load than the same sized Wide Flange Beam. For this reason Standard Beams are typically used as horizontal load members.

As Wide Flange or H-Beams are generally made to have thicker flanges and webs they can be made into wider and longer beams that carry greater loads. The square edges also allow for easier welding to other steel beams or plates at either end. For this reason, Wide Flange Beams are typically used as vertical load members.

Steel beams can be found in almost any structure as support columns. Typical applications include building construction (both commercial and residential), bridges, stadiums, warehouses and hangers.

Advantages of steel beams

  • They cannot be attacked by termites or rodents.
  • No breakages as steel can endure huge amounts of tensile stress.
  • They provide high-standard structural integrity and hence, safety.
  • They can be manufactured in your specific preferences.
  • They are resistant to corrosion and fire.