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Plate Steel vs Structural Steel

Sparta’s engineers have a lot of love for QT 100 high tensile plate steel.  By using a material that is twice the strength of normal mild steels, Sparta reduced the amount of materials used and overall weight of the Sparta plate steel mast. These enhancements to the design of the service rig or workover rig mast have revolutionized the industry.  Several significant technological advancements to manufacturing have made it possible to redefine how we think about and design with steel.  Two technologies that have improved the manufacturing process  in the last few decades are the cutting tables and improvements to computer aided design. These technologies have allowed designing with plate steel to not only be feasible, but in many cases preferable when compared to structural steel (wide flange steel, square tubes, angles etc.).  I outline some of the advantages and disadvantages of using plate steel below.

Advantages of Plate Steel Design

Material where you need material

Sparta sheet metal made from plate steel One clear advantage to designing with plate steel is that adding and taking away material is a very simple process. With as little as a few mouse clicks a high stress corner turns into a smooth fillet. Often when designing with structural steel the addition of material can only be done so with the addition of parts.

Freedom of Design

When designing with structural steel there are often limitations on what you can and cannot do. A rule of thumb when designing with structural steel is to use angles that can cut easily because structural steel must be cut by a saw. Not only does this limit the designer, but it also greatly reduces precision. Plate steel allows the designer to be creative and design parts that perform multiple functions.  Instances where a single plate steel part is used to replace several structural steel parts is a common occurrence.

Cost savings

One of the biggest potential advantages is the reduced cost of manufacturing with plate steel.  The reasons for this cost savings include: 1. Can reduce the number of parts –  In some situations a number of structural steel parts can easily be replace by a single plate steel part. 2. Reduced weight – Using higher strength material and only using it where you need it. 3. Reduced fabrication time – Automated part generation off cutting tables coupled with less parts can mean reduced fabrication time. 4. Fewer welded connections 5. Lower weld time 6. Often lower material usage – material usage is reduced even further with computer aided nesting programs to completely maximize material usage. 7. Lower labor costs – labor is also reduced because cutting is now done by automated machines. These cost savings are only multiplied with multiple product runs. A small increase in design time can easily turn into a huge savings in manufacturing time. Sparta sheet metal made from plate steel picture 2

Form and function

Much like the aerodynamics of an Italian supercar, something amazing happens when you begin designing for stress flow. Beautiful flowing structures begin taking shape without any aesthetic consideration. Stresses in structures have a “flow” in their behavior much in the same way that fluids have a flow behavior. When given the ability to “design with the flow” structures begin taking on a certain natural aesthetic. The result is an eye catching and efficient structure.

Sparta Plate Steel Mast Picture

Sparta Engineering’s Plate Steel Mast


Disadvantages of Plate Steel

There are some disadvantages with plate steel that need to be addressed.

Potential Design Time

Design time with plate steel can be higher than that of structural steel depending on the structural design. Standards and handbooks are easily available for structural steel design, however, plate steel can often be a bigger challenge in this regard. As is always the case in engineering, it comes down to optimizing the design for what is required. When the manufacturing cost savings of designing with plate no longer justify the design time required to do so then the choice is obvious. Bottom line: develop a close relationship with engineers who understand how to balance manufacturing costs with engineering costs.

Material Restrictions

There will always be instances when using structural steel just makes more sense. Structural steel can be purchased in sizes and lengths that are way beyond what can be done using plate steel. This is what makes structural steel ideal in building design. Simple structures such as overhead cranes rely on very basic loading and require very long columns and beams. In situations like this it makes no sense to build using plate steel.


There are many instances where it makes sense to use plate steel in the design and manufacturing process. Sparta has had great success using plate steel in their service rig design. As customers demand more sophisticated products, Sparta meets the demand by using materials that are up for the challenge.

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Sparta sheet metal plate steel picture 3