Stainless steel tactile studs or concrete blister paving?

A major part of purchasing tactile devices and carrying out any installation is knowing that you have a product that will stand the test of time, be cost-effective and perform well. Longevity and maintaining that tactile quality is of the utmost importance to the person fitting them, and the visually impaired members of the public that rely on them. A tactile device that wears down in short order is no good to anyone, it can make for a bad investment and can often lead to repurchasing the same product multiple times.

Stainless Steel vs Concrete

Steel versus concrete may seem a silly question, as we all know steel is much harder wearing in most aspects, but there are some circumstances in which concrete can trump steel.

How do they compare?

  • Steel is much denser than concrete – Concrete can be considered brittle in comparison
  • Concrete is better under compressive load – Steel is better under tensile load
  • Steel is a recyclable material – Concrete is not
  • Both are fire-resistant with steel having a lower melting point
  • Steel and Concrete are both resistant to the elements, steel more-so
  • In terms of tactile devices concrete is often a cheaper alternative
  • Steel is much more aesthetically pleasing in tactile form

Compression

The ability to handle a high compressive load is a key part of what makes a tactile device effective. They’re often subject to heavy traffic from pedestrians, vans, cars, and emergency vehicles. With all this use you may be thinking that concrete having the higher compressive load capability makes it the key contender for the best choice, yes and no.

Due to the shape of tactile studs and their relatively low profile, they directly compete with concrete in the realms of compression. Being flat to the surface they’re installed on, combined with its high density, gives it the fantastic capability of handling heavy loads.

Weather Resistance

Both concrete blister paving and stainless-steel tactile studs are weather resistant and should have no issue going up against the elements. Concrete, however, is liable to fade from its original buff/yellow or red colouring over time whether due to the rain or bleaching from direct sunlight.  Stainless steel can suffer from the same issue depending on which type is used, if they’re made of 316L stainless steel that won’t be an issue unless they’re submerged in seawater for extended lengths of time.

Wear and Tear

In terms of wear, they’re both subject to the same punishment from trainers, boots, high heels, and vehicle tires. Stainless steel and concrete will get scuffed up and scratched but the difference comes in their relative fragility. Concrete can be chipped and worn down over time, whereas the much denser stainless steel will remain intact regardless of what’s thrown at it.  The longevity of a tactile stud is largely dependent on the surface it’s been installed on and the quality of the installation. Blister paving’s longevity is also equally dependent on the quality of its installation but for other reasons.

Installation

Concrete blister paving is installed by either digging up the original paving and using cement to secure the tiles, or they’re cemented into a recess in the walkway/road. Cementing in the blister paving tiles has a bearing on their longevity when it comes to weathering. If the area around and at the base of the tile doesn’t have a sufficient seal, rainwater can get in over time which can erode the cement. Introduce freezing temperatures and ice expansion into the mix and that can result in much more severe damage. This is a long-term issue rather than a short-term one, we’re talking over a period of years, but longevity is the name of the game.

Stainless-steel tactile studs are installed by drilling holes in an existing surface, clearing it of dust and debris, applying epoxy resin, and installing the stud into the drill hole. Unlike cement, epoxy resin is waterproof when hardened creating a solid, long-lasting seal. The main risk to tactile studs is the existing surface, if the existing surface is compromised it can lead to issues in the long term i.e., the studs become unseated due to cracks in the surface.

Repair

Stainless-steel tactile stud installations are easy to repair, should one come loose, it can be re-installed provided it hasn’t gone missing. If a stud does go missing, then there’s only one that will need replacing. If the surface underneath the studs is damaged or unsuitable, this will need repairing or replacing before the studs can be reinstalled.

Concrete blister tiles are more involved when it comes to repairing them. If they crack and splinter there is the option of reconnecting them using concrete or filler, but this is messy, won’t look particularly nice, and could ruin the tactile element of the blister tiles. If they’re completely unsalvageable the existing tile will need to be dug up, the base concrete cleared, and it will have to be replaced by a new tile and the concrete re-set.

There is an option for repairing blister tiles using stainless-steel tactile studs. If the blister pattern itself is damaged, studs can be inserted in the place of the blister markings.

Flexibility

Some layouts may require specific patterns and that’s easy with tactile studs, you just mark out the points at which you want to install them and then crack on. Concrete blister paving can be a bit trickier as it may be necessary to cut down tiles to fit a certain plan or layout. There’s then an associated cost with the time spent and equipment used in preparing the tile pieces for installation. Then depending on the quality of the tiles, the cut-offs may be chipped and marked even before they’re laid.

Cost

Concrete blister tiles are on average cheaper than stainless-steel studs. Mainly because they’re easier and cheaper to manufacture en masse, have cheaper composite materials, and are very widely available.

Stainless-steel tactile studs, however, are precision machined within specific tolerances, machine polished or treated, and subject to fluctuations in steel prices, making them more expensive overall. That’s not to say there aren’t cheap studs available, but as with all things there are degrees of quality and with greater quality, a higher asking price is often present.  

This is not taking into account shipping, as stainless-steel tactile studs are smaller and lighter, they’re often easier to ship in containers and garner a cheaper delivery cost.

Summary

Concrete Blister PavingStainless-steel tactile studs
Cheaper
Good weathering resistance
Slower and more laborious to install
Requires closing off pathways or roads
Available in the compliant buff and red colours
Fantastic compression tolerances
Widely available
More brittle / can be chipped and damaged
Harder to replace
Cements long-term adhesion can be subject to weathering issues
More expensive delivery but easy to collect from builders’ merchants
Fire resistant
On average more expensive
Excellent weathering resistance
Easier and faster to install
Doesn’t require significant disruption to the surrounding area
Aesthetically pleasing with multiple sizes, designs, and textures
Great tolerance for compression
Recyclable
Easy to refit and replace
Installation dependent on the underlying surface
Cheaper delivery
Flexible in terms of implementation
Fire resistant

The choice comes down to what’s best for the job and what you’re aiming to achieve. They’re both great tactile solutions with their own pros and cons.

Concrete blister paving is cost-effective, universally used and commonly specified with no shortage of builders merchants ready to supply them. They’re a great solution for installations in public areas like street crossings and on train platforms.

Stainless-steel tactile studs can almost be considered a more upmarket brother to blister paving. It achieves the same end goal, but with a better look and a much more flexible application. They’ll also outlast concrete blister paving 9 times out of 10 so the value for money over time is definitely there.