I‍n the realm of construction and structural engineering, the materials chosen can significantly impact the durability of the built environment. Among these, steel has always been a cornerstone, offering both versatility and strength. Steel can come in a multitude of different forms, including universal columns (UC) and universal beams (UB). Yet, despite their importance, the distinctions between them and their respective applications can often seem murky to those not in the field. 

At UK Steel Stock, we supply the whole of the United Kingdom with steel columns and beams. We have put together this article to discuss the differences between universal columns (UC) and universal beams (UB) , exploring their unique characteristics and uses within engineering and construction. 



Key Differences Between Universal Columns & Universal Beams

At first glance, universal columns and universal beams may appear similar — both are types of structural steel shapes commonly used in building and construction for various purposes. However, their design and the specific roles they play within a structure are what set them apart.

Universal Columns: Universal columns, often referred to as “H” sections due to their cross-sectional shape, are primarily designed to bear vertical loads. Their flanges and web are relatively equal in length, which contributes to their ability to withstand compression forces, making them ideal for use as vertical supports in buildings and other structures.

Universal Beams: Universal beams, also known as “I” beams for their cross-sectional shape, are designed to carry bending and shear loads across long spans. The flanges of a universal beam are usually wider than those of a universal column, providing greater resistance to bending moments. This design characteristic makes universal beams suitable for horizontal applications, such as floor and roof supports where load distribution across a wide area is crucial.


Applications of Universal Columns

Universal columns are a versatile material in construction projects, below we have outlined a few of their main uses. 

  • Structural Support: Universal columns find their most common application in providing structural support as part of the skeleton of buildings and other constructions. Their ability to handle high compressive forces makes them ideal for use as load-bearing columns that support floors, roofs, and horizontal beams.
  • Transferring of Weight: In skyscrapers and large commercial buildings, universal columns play a vital role in transferring the weight of the structure down to the foundations, ensuring stability and safety.
  • Heavy Duty Projects: Their robust nature makes them suitable for use in heavy-duty frames, bridges, and even in the construction of offshore platforms, where strength and resistance to environmental stressors are paramount.
  • Domestic Projects: The versatility of universal columns also extends to smaller scale projects. For instance, in residential building extensions or renovations, they can be used to support additional floors or to replace load-bearing walls with open-plan spaces, enhancing both the functionality and aesthetic appeal of a home.


Applications of Universal Beams

Just like universal columns, universal beams are a very versatile material in construction projects, below we have outlined a few of their main uses.

  • Structural Support: Universal beams, with their capacity to span large distances, are predominantly used in the construction of floors and roofs. They act as critical components in the framework of buildings, providing support across open spaces and distributing weight evenly to the vertical structural elements.
  • Withstands Dynamic Loads: In the realm of infrastructure, universal beams serve as the backbone for bridges, overpasses, and platforms, where durability and the ability to withstand dynamic loads—such as those from vehicles or trains—are crucial. The design of a universal beam, focusing on strength along its length, enables it to carry significant weights over wide spans without substantial sagging or bending.
  • Outdoor Applications: Universal beams are instrumental in the construction of industrial sheds, warehouses, and commercial buildings, where large, open interior spaces are required. 


Structural Stability Considerations for Universal Columns

When incorporating universal columns into a design, several key factors must be taken into account to ensure structural stability. 

  • Load-bearing capacity of the column: This all depends on its size, shape, and the material from which it is made. It is crucial to accurately calculate the anticipated loads the column will need to support, including dead loads, live loads, and environmental forces such as wind or seismic activity.
  • Height-to-thickness ratio: This affects its susceptibility to buckling under load. Taller columns, or those made from thinner materials, may require additional reinforcement or bracing to maintain stability.
  • Connections between universal columns & other structural elements: This must be carefully designed and constructed to ensure the effective transfer of loads throughout the structure. These connections can be bolted, welded, or riveted, depending on the specific requirements of the project and the materials in use.


Structural Stability Considerations for Universal Beams

Ensuring the structural stability of universal beams involves a different set of considerations. 

  • The span of the beam: Longer spans may require beams of greater depth or supplementary reinforcement to prevent excessive deflection under load.
  • The distribution of loads across the beam: Uniformly distributed loads tend to be more easily accommodated than concentrated loads, which can create points of weakness and potential failure. Strategies such as varying the beam’s depth along its length or using trusses can help distribute these forces more evenly.
  • The lateral stability of universal beams: This particularly applies in high-rise buildings or structures subjected to lateral forces like wind or earthquakes. This may involve the use of lateral bracing or the integration of the beam into a rigid frame structure.


Factors to Consider When Choosing Between the Two 

Selecting between universal columns and universal beams for a project involves a comprehensive analysis of the structure’s requirements and the specific attributes of each steel section. 

  • Type of load: You need to think about the type of load that the element will bear (axial, bending, or both), the direction and magnitude of the load, and the span the element needs to cover.
  • The architectural design: Universal beams might be more suitable for creating large open spaces, while universal columns could be preferred for their aesthetic appeal or smaller footprint in design layouts.
  • Fulfilment Considerations: Cost considerations, availability of materials, and construction timelines can impact the decision. Universal columns and beams may have different price points and lead times, which could influence the overall project.


Choosing the Right Option for Your Structural Stability Needs

The decision between using universal columns or universal beams rests on a thorough understanding of their differences and how these relate to the specific requirements of a project. Both elements play pivotal roles in construction and engineering, offering solutions to various structural challenges. 

By carefully considering the factors outlined in this article, professionals can select the most appropriate option, ensuring the safety, functionality, and aesthetic appeal of their structures.


We hope you have found this article useful and informative. If you are looking for a UK Steel Stockholder to fulfil your project’s requirements, get in touch with us today.