Raw material prices for steel have increased about 60% from the pre-pandemic low in 2020. Prices in the US are forecasted to continue their upward trajectory through at least the first quarter of 2021, but are expected to soften by mid-year. So what exactly happened?
Many businesses faced unplanned shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and steel mills were quick to idle furnaces and curtail production instead of risking uncertainty
A resurgence in demand in the last months of 2020 while supply and inventory was low drove a rapid escalation in prices, which were further complicated by a raw material scrap shortage
Steel mills have aggressively raised prices to take advantage of the shortage, with benchmarks like cold rolled steel coil up 100% in 90 days
Additional capacity is expected to come onto the market in 2021 that will ultimately provide relief, but it’s uncertain when this might happen and how much prices may continue to climb before then. Many of the factors that started driving steel prices higher in 2020 are still at play as we enter 2021, and demand for steel is forecasted to grow by 6.7% in North America this year as the economy rebounds. Whether prices start to level out in Q2 or H2 of 2021 appears to be largely dictated by the mills, their utilization rates, and what profit margins they want to make while they’re holding all the chips.
What drove steel prices higher in 2020? Steel production capacity was significantly reduced through 2020 as already slowing demand nearly stopped due to uncertainty in the global economy, and many factories were forced to pause operations during the global Covid-19 health pandemic. Mills that were able to stay open and operating focused on their larger contract orders, pushing price increases and lead times for smaller customers and leading to a shortage in scrap.
Many feel that mills have been more aggressive than needed with prices increases and are taking advantage of this supply shortage to pad their margins while demand is strong. Mills are continuing to hold on aggressive pricing in 2021 and only offering discounts on large volumes. Lourenco Goncalves, President and CEO of Cleveland-Cliffs, said this of his philosophy regarding mill production: “I have said time and time again that I am for value, not for volume.” Make hay while the sun shines, as they say.
But the pandemic wasn’t the only thing in 2020 affecting steel. Transportation costs increased as steel competes for domestic trucking capacity with many other industries that were seeing a surge in demand including lumber products and ATVs. The price of nickel has also been soaring under tight supply and increasing demand. Though typically under 20% of the composition of stainless steel, nickel may soon be three times the price of chromium per ton making it the largest cost component in many cases. Section 232 Tariff on imported nickel is causing uncertainty on decisions to buy foreign nickel with a 3 – 5 month lead time. Canadian steelmaker Stelco suffered an operations-impacting cyber attack. Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Technologies Incorporated, previously one of the big three, announced they would exit the stainless steel sheet market by mid-2021, opting to shed it in favor of optimizing operations for higher margin business. And in the last quarter of 2020, we saw signs of life as demand starts to pick back up. So now we have supply shortages and excess demand where we before had excess capacity and declining demand.
It appears as though we’ll face some other headwinds into 2021 as well. The Biden administration has highlighted many priorities for the year, and this does not appear to include swift reversal of tariffs or import restrictions. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact supply chains around the world. Even China, which has recovered more quickly than much of the world has had to implement new lockdown measures after a wave of cases in the Hebei region, which contributes over 20% to the country’s output of steel. Deliveries by truck have been suspended leaving only rail for transportation, and mills are hesitant to tie up cash during a soft lockdown leading to delays and shortages. Furthermore, demand for nickel isn’t expected to decrease anytime soon, as it’s an important component in nearly every type of electric vehicle battery. Global demand for nickel specifically for use in EV batteries is expected to grow from 60,000 metric tons in 2018 to some 665,000 tons (an 11x increase) in 2025.
It’s difficult to say exactly when the supply chain will catch up and prices will level off, but according to the American Iron and Steel Institute we should be able to meet demand with current capability. In the week ending on January 16, 2021, domestic raw steel production was 1,738,000 net tons, representing a capability utilization rate of 76.7 percent. That’s still quite a bit lower than the 82.4 percent capability utilization rate for the same week in 2020. Only once the vaccine is fully rolled out in the US and factories are back to operating at pre-pandemic levels will we see the end result of the myriad of factors driving this steep increase in steel.
Honeycomb panels are sturdy and lightweight building materials often used in the exterior cladding market. The panels get their name from its hexagonal interior that is similar to honeycombs. Honeycomb panels have a core composed of hollow cells sandwiched between two thin faces to create an air space between the faces. These cells are usually hexagonal or arranged in columns. Honeycomb panels are used for flat or curved panels depending on how the panels are used and the high specific strength needed for the panels.
Advantages of Different Honeycomb Panel Materials
Honeycomb panels can be made from different materials, such as porcelain or stone on the surface or cosmetic face. There are several advantages of honeycomb panels, but the primary benefit is the panels’ strength.
Hexagonal shapes in nature, such as honeycombs, create structures that distribute force evenly, making the structures of the hexagonal shape mutually supportive. With these mutually supportive inner structures, honeycomb panels can withstand high winds and shocks such as earthquakes. Other benefits of honeycomb panels are the panels can pack more structure cells in a space because of the hexagonal shapes. The panels are lightweight because they need fewer materials but have more area. Thus, the panels are easy to transport and have easy installation.
Honeycomb panels are the economically-savvy choice because the lighter weight of the panels also enables the user to reduce packaging and shipping costs significantly.
Honeycomb panels are commonly found in many materials:
Aluminum honeycomb panels have a high strength to weight ratio. These panels have a mixture of cell shapes that are geometrically paired with foil thickness and cell size. As honeycomb panels, the aluminum materials are in block forms that are not expanded and stretched to form sheets. The benefits of aluminum honeycomb panels are they are strong and flexible. Aluminum honeycomb panels are corrosion resistant, have elevated temperature performance, and are fire-resistant. These panels will not absorb moisture and therefore are fungus resistant. Aluminum honeycomb panels can be easily machined and formed.
Nomex honeycombs are created from Nomex paper. This is a type of paper created from meta-aramid papers infused with thermosetting phenolic resin. The Nomex honeycomb panels have advanced strength with fire-resistant properties. These panels are often used in aircraft interior panels. The Nomex panels have low density, solid stability, and mechanical strength. They have a high strength to weight ratio, are easy and flexible to process corrosion resistance, and have good thermal insulation. They are useful for being formable into 3-D shapes.
Kevlar Honeycomb Core
These honeycomb panels are based on Kevlar and are manufactured by infusing Para-aramid papers with heat-resistant phenolic resins. An advantage of Kevlar is that it is stronger than Nomex, having improved resistance to material fatigue and abrasion. The material is a good insulator for electricity and heat and improves corrosion resistance.
Thermoplastic honeycomb panels are lightweight and easy to recycle. These panels come in several types and varying properties depending on the type. Some varieties of thermoplastic honeycomb panels are:
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) offers a rigid structure. It is a tough material with good surface hardness and impact resistance. This thermoplastic material has dimensional stability, can be melted down, and is recyclable into other products.
Polycarbonate (PC) plastics are transparent thermoplastics. The material permits light to transmit in almost the same way as glass with UV stability. Polycarbonates are good for impact resistance and/or transparency. These materials can give good heat resistance and self-extinguishing properties, especially if combined with flame retardant materials.
Polypropylene has several advantages as a honeycomb panel material. It has good chemical resistance to diluted bases and acids. The material has elasticity and toughness, deforming without breaking. It has plasticity and is flexible. The material has good insulation with high resistance to electricity.
Polyethylene can offer electric insulation offering, can be almost transparent to opaque, and can be recyclable into other products. It has heat-resistant properties.
Stainless Steel Honeycombs
Stainless steelhoneycombs are some of the strongest honeycomb panels available on the market, ideal for extreme environments and striking facades.
Disadvantages of Honeycomb Panel Materials
The disadvantages of honeycomb panels depend on the material, including:
Aluminum Honeycomb Panels
While corrosion-resistant, aluminum honeycomb panels should be used with caution if near salt-water environments. Salt-water environments can corrode aluminum honeycomb panels. These panels should be used carefully near carbon skins. Carbon skins can cause galvanic corrosion to aluminum honeycomb panels with conductivity aggravating this problem. Aluminum honeycomb panels also have no ‘mechanical memory.’ If a cored laminate impacts an aluminum honeycomb, the panels will deform irreversibly. The result is an area with reduced mechanical properties.
Nomex and Kevlar Honeycomb Core Panels
While Nomex and Kevlar are made from strong and fire-resistant materials, these panels tend to be expensive.
Thermoplastic Honeycomb Panels
Thermoplastic honeycomb panels have difficulty with maintaining a good interface bond between the honeycomb and the panel skin. This can lead to degradation of the building cladding or other structures.
Stainless Steel Honeycombs
While stainless steel honeycombs are ideal for extreme conditions, stainless steel still is not completely corrosion resistant in salt-water environments, and can be heavier than most other types of materials like aluminum.
How to Use Honeycomb Panels
Many different industries use honeycomb panels even outside of construction such as aviation and transportation. For example, honeycomb structures are used for aircraft wings, train bulkheads, and floors, the exteriors of cars, and car doors.
Honeycomb shapes are used extensively for construction such as the exterior cladding of buildings, but honeycomb panels can also offer structural strength to other building areas. Curtain walls, louvers, and roofs for buildings are other places honeycomb panels are found in addition to exterior facades.
Interior decoration uses honeycomb panels as screen dividers and soundproof panels. Due to its lightweight nature, honeycomb panels are incorporated into mobile homes or other structures that are temporary or extra buildings, (“portables”) for schools, churches, and other organizations. Learn more about Monarch Metal’s hanging systems for hanging systems for honeycomb panels and deform nuts today.
In this Industry Interview, Monarch Metal CEO Brandon Bingham speaks with Kevin Scott of Cannan Alexander & Scott http://www.casreps.com, a manufacturer’s representative firm that specializes in cladding and building envelope products for commercial and residential applications.
Can you tell us about your background and about Cannan and Alexander?
Cannan Alexander & Scott was formed about 20 years ago, 21 actually now, but it was Cannan Alexander when I started with them. I was one of the first employees. And that was in 2005 and I became a partner in 2010. It’s kind of how it started. And my background is in teaching. So I was a Special-Ed and English teacher in high school, locally. And was looking at other opportunities, so I was doing some real estate stuff but this came along and so I took a swing at it and it worked out, worked out really well. So I found a good spot for myself here. And it’s been going great, and there isn’t a day where I don’t love what I do, like every day is a great day.
So Cannan Alexander & Scott specializes in many areas, you sell other manufacturing products then? Or is there a specialization?
Yeah, we have our specialization and that is primarily in the exterior of the building. So the company was pretty much started with commercial roofing. So we represent a few different international manufacturers in the commercial roofing industry and a lot of accessories and components related to that. And that slowly started morphing into walls, waterproofing, and air barriers. And it kind of really started with waterproofing. One of the manufacturers and roofing that we represent, also manufactured waterproofing products. That got us into waterproofing applications and then air barriers situations as air barriers became code, we started focusing on air barriers.
And then one thing kind of led to another. I would get questions about claddings, and if we represent different types of exterior claddings. And that turned into looking for some cladding companies. And then insulation became code, we started working with insulation manufacturers and framing was a result of that. How are you gonna put this thing on the wall to meet the energy code? So we started working on that side of things as well. So just kind of snowballed. And now we have a lot of different manufacturers, there’s nine of us in the group. And we probably have, you know much to the dismay of some of the manufacturers we represent, we probably have about 30 different lines. We don’t all overlap and all handle the same thing, we’re kind of split up geographically and by product group. So we don’t represent doorknobs, or hardware, or carpet, or anything like that. We really stick to the exterior of the building, and now on occasion some of our wall panels will go on the inside of the building. But that’s really been our expertise.
So when we work with manufacturers and architects, it’s pretty much the same people all the time because it’s the area we work in. So we don’t do a lot with interior architects, or landscape architects or, we don’t really do a lot with engineers either. So that’s where we found our comfort zone and where we think we are most beneficial to the architect is a resource, we just focus on what we know.
Can you tell us about some of the projects CAS has been involved in?
Yeah so we’ve been involved in, I mean there’s a lot of projects. So our area is upstate New York, we don’t have New York City. And so because of that, we don’t really pick and choose our jobs, we just are lucky to have jobs at all. It’s not a hotbed of construction, so we have to make do with what we have. Geographically we’re kind of locked up in that we have a massive body of water north of us and in the south of us is somebody else’s territory, and you know, in their whole program down in Pennsylvania.
So we have a lot of smaller jobs, we have some really large notable projects that we’ve worked on. Rochester Regional Health was a huge panel project that we provided a lot of material on. Pretty much the whole job, anything on the outside of that building, we pretty much provided everything on that. That was a hundred thousand square foot terracotta project. So everything behind the terracotta we got, including the air barrier and all that. And then we did the roofing as well. All the waterproofing was a massive waterproofing project. So we did really well with that, it was a great job. The local architectural firm, that’s really where we succeed on projects like that.
We’ve got involved in a lot of other projects, casino projects that are monster panel jobs. A lot of small, medium-sized projects because that’s typically what we get. There’s a lot of wood construction going on right now and that’s kind of working against us in that people are opting to go with wood construction instead of steel stud and concrete. And that is a problem that we can talk about later. So Rochester Regional Health, a huge project. [Montreign] Casino, another really big project that we supplied 40,000 square feet of wall panels on. And then Cuba Rushford, Maples CSD, a lot of school jobs and they’re not really building schools, they’re just putting additions on so. 5,000-10,000 square feet of panels, maybe 15-20,000 square-foot jobs peppered in there.
So we really have to work hard to string a lot of small jobs together with, sometimes it’s difficult when you have a lot of components on the project, there’s a fair amount of management on our end that we need to keep track of. Because we’re selling the wall panels, the framing, the exterior insulation, the air barrier. And we sometimes have to coordinate shop drawings, and engineering as well, and those don’t always come from the same people either. So [there’s] a lot of coordination that goes in it from our end, for some people it may seem like a lot of extra work, but without doing that it’s, you know, the chances of getting that job are a lot slimmer. So we provide a service to the contractor as kind of a one-stop shop. But it does take a little bit more of our coordination and organization to make it happen.
Can you tell us who usually begins the dialogue with CAS? Is it the architect, the GCE, or a sub?
It’s a little bit of all that, we probably in our entire area have maybe 5 million people, but that’s spread out hours apart from each area. So each little area we go into is a kind of a big town. They’re small cities, they’re big towns. And so there aren’t 20 contractors in each area doing what we do, there may only be one or two. It’s been very helpful for us to establish good relationships with the guys that do the work that we do. So sometimes with contractors, they’ll tell us we got this job, this is on a project, we don’t want to use it. It’s similar to what you do and they get us involved in that way. And we really had nothing to do with the project and we were just really supportive to the contractor. And sometimes we get in on that side of things.
As far as architects go, it really was in the beginning we had to go find work. We had to show them, you know. Framing systems are nice but they’re not that sexy. So it’s the panels that help, and if you don’t have a panel, you don’t have a framing system. So we really show them the sexier side of the business, which is the panel’s. The cool ideas the inspirational projects that other designers work on in its showcase.
We bring that to them and this is not a hotbed area, it’s not a New York City, it’s not a major metropolitan area. So a lot of that stuff may seem out of reach to them. We bring it to them, and they see that, oh this is a big-city product but we can actually use it here in upstate New York, I think it makes the architects feel like they’re not forgotten about. Because they’re not in a big city and you know we’re all dealing with the same really bad weather up here, depending how you look at it but, in the same conditions up here.
We used to really have to hunt hard, but now we have a reputation and industry of being a provider of these things. And we know what we do, we’re very technically savvy. Because we’re involved in so many of the aspects with roofing, and tying in roofing panels to the top of the roof, and how it turns into the below grade area. We know all the ins and outs, the details, the fire code. Some manufacturers like us, only do panels and that’s it. They have no clue about the fire code. We do, we know it all. We know the energy code, we know the fire code. We want to be the best. We want to be the most knowledgeable reps, at least in this area.
We haven’t had to go out as much, now we’re starting to get people calling us. We’ll still go out and hunt, like we normally do, but it’s getting a lot better where we’re getting more calls. Where we didn’t go in and hunt them down, they actually found us. And it’s turning into kind of that annuity that a sales rep looks for. Where people start coming to you now, you know. You’re not having to go out and find friends, now the friends are coming back and asking questions and getting us involved on jobs. Because hopefully they find that we make it easier for them.
Speaking of that, can you tell us about some of the innovative ways you’ve value engineered projects to help customers achieve better results?
There’s a lot of different components on these jobs, and that is another huge feather in our cap. We have so many different solutions. If you only have one product, you really don’t have control of a lot of the other variables that make your product the complete system. Some manufacturers don’t have a framing system. They just have, or manufacturer’s reps, they just have a panel and that’s it. Some guys may just have an air barrier, that’s it. We have it all. So we have a lot of variables that we can play with to make it a win for everybody.
So will be the typical panels, sometimes we can maybe switch the panel to something very similar that may be more cost effective. Or simply as just as expensive, but maybe easier to install. Sometimes we will help them with the framing. So a lot of the framing, it starts off with a very prescribed framing spacing, that everybody knows will pass engineering. It’ll work everybody knows it. Typically it’s two feet on center and maybe 16 inches horizontally. But we’ll always start off with that but a lot of times we know if we get the job, we can probably space that out. Instead of two feet on center, we’ll reduce those brackets and maybe go three feet or on occasion four feet on center. Now we just reduced that number of brackets and the labor to install all those brackets, the fasteners, all that stuff. We help by reducing the framing. We know we won’t do things that won’t work, it’ll all be engineered, but there’s a money-saving option there.
Sometimes we can change the installation types. There’s a lot of different things we can do. We can change the air barrier to something else. We have a lot of variables at our fingertips that we can play around with. It’s a benefit for everybody involved. It’s a benefit for the architect because they get a concept that they’re looking for or the exact materials that they’re looking for. For the subcontractor, it makes his job easier and maybe he is able to save a little money. For the general contractor, maybe saving money with the subcontractor, somehow ends up a credit in his favor or a faster job. Or just a more succinct installation of the whole entire assembly. It’s tough sometimes, some of these architects will choose a product that nobody’s ever used before. It’s a one-off and it just can turn into a real coordination nightmare and it’s gonna be pretty expensive so. We think we bring a lot to the table in that respect.
Can you tell us about some of the design flaws you typically see early in the process?
Sometimes architects will, and it generally comes from them, they will have great intent, they want to use a specific panel on a project. But there’s a lot more to it than just picking a panel and putting it on the job. Knowing the yield, the actual physical size of the panel, is extremely helpful in making this a practical project, in our area. But it’s a very sensitive budget area, and sometimes just throwing a panel on the wall with a certain module or dimension is not always the best way to go about it. Find out what the panel size is, and then design your modules around that.
The name of the game with all these panels is reducing the waste. If you have a panel, and most of these are coming from Europe, you’re shipping this panel over and they’re, a subcontractor’s gonna fabricate it and throw out 40% of it in the trash, because of the module size that the architect has chosen. That’s that’s a downfall, that’s a problem. So when we work with architects, we’re very upfront about panel sizes. We want to make sure that before they jump the gun, before they start doing module and massing, to make sure we understand the size of the panel first so we’re not creating a panel or a module that has a significant waste factor.
So that’s one thing. Also making sure they choose products that are appropriate for the environment, and appropriate for the area. Putting a specific, I don’t know, terracotta tile. There’s some of these thinner terracotta tiles out there, they’re beautiful, they’re great, but not always great in an area that may have a lot of impact. Kids throwing lacrosse balls at the wall, probably not a great place to put a thinner terracotta. So someone’s salting the sidewalk all the time, there’s certain products that are not great with that and some that are totally fine with that.
So sometimes we see what we would look at as, not the best product, or the best use of that product in that particular area. Knowing what we know, and maybe sometimes the architect didn’t know or didn’t ask the right question. That’s an issue and then the third one is the fire code. We’re still seeing manufacturers allow, and architects design, projects that do not appear to address the fire code. The NFPA 285 fire code, which in my opinion that’s a big deal. And we’re seeing, and maybe it’s from even manufacturers reps like us who don’t have insulation and don’t bother to learn the fire codes related to their panels. We see some manufacturer reps getting involved in projects that they just don’t meet the fire code. And we know it, and maybe they don’t know it, I’m sure they probably don’t. I don’t think they would be purposely skating around the fire code but, we’re still seeing that as an issue because that is setting this project up for massive change orders. Because sometimes we’ll let people know it doesn’t meet the fire code.
What are the current design trends you see in conversations with clients currently?
Panels. Panels are huge right now. Even in our area it’s been great. We are in a very [old] area, upstate New York. You know a lot of these towns were established in the late 1700’s. A lot of brick and mortar, a lot of old classic buildings. That has been a prevailing style for a long time. And architects seeing what we have to offer and what’s in all these magazines and architectural related periodicals. They see all these designs and it’s not brick, generally, it’s not masonry, it’s all panels.
But what we’re seeing now is, architects being able to convince owners of school districts and universities to go the way of the panel. And it was really hard for them because you know they liked the idea, architects have always been on board. But the owners are no we want brick, we want brick, we want brick. And it’s changing. It’s changing really quick. So we’re really happy about that. It’s a great trend right now. Panels are everywhere. Tons of schools are putting panels on their buildings.
Seen a lot of planks, seem to be popular within that panel genre. A lot of planks. Vertical and horizontal, it seems to be pretty popular now. Brighter colors are becoming more popular, as opposed to just the standard earth tones. And I think earth tones maybe were a result of a departure from that brick. Which is an earthy kind of look. They kind of took that look and just made it into a panel.
And now we’re starting to see more colors, more vibrant colors from now. We’re really leaving that classic look and going to something more contemporary. And the architects have always been on board but the owners, that’s the school boards and the the officials, and the administration at the collegiate level, they’re starting to embrace these colors. And do a lot more and just really kind of get more adventurous with all that stuff. So panels for right now, and it doesn’t look like that’s gonna change anytime soon, we’re always a little behind too. What may be a trend down in the larger city may still take you know five or 10 years to work it’s way up here.
Do you see a certain panel type, plank or other having a current grip on the market based on performance or popularity? Is it the HPL, the ACM?
I see ACM is starting to take a backseat. ACM was really the first panel that people started going with. It was either Eavis or Yves, or ACM composite, aluminum composite metal panels. Those have been on the market for probably, in our area for 10 to 15 years now, in varying capacities. And those are really starting to show their wear. You know, we don’t deal a lot with aluminum composite panels but thankfully their use is starting to fall in our area, starting to slow down.
HPL panels are extremely popular right now, terracotta. I’m involved in probably three or four terracotta jobs right now. Pan HBL panels, I’m probably involved in six or seven jobs right now. There’s ultra-compact panels, which are stone based materials, those are becoming pretty popular. We’re in a great position right now. The manufacturers that we have are not dogs, they are hot products that are just really popular right now. And we try to stay with the trends. We don’t really drop lines as you know as trends change but we just happen to be lucky with the lines that we have are pretty popular lines. So I see metal slowing down and other options, metal’s kind of getting played out. So I see a lot of people switching it up a little bit, spending more money on claddings. Switching to a bunch of different types.
What are some of the challenges you face personally in the market, maybe your line space in the market?
There’s always challenges. Budgets, budgets in our area is always a big challenge. Cost of labor is a huge challenge, right now. It’s not necessarily panel related, but the headlines around here are in the topics of conversation, at the local CSI meetings, and the AIA meetings, you know CFMA, any construction related industry meetings, labor shortage. For a long time schools pushed computers and technology and that’s a problem right now. We have a major labor shortage. The economy in this area shrunk over the last 20-30 years. And as a result of that, the construction firms shrunk as well.
And now we’re starting to see a surge in construction, if you can call it that, in upstate New York. We kind of travel a very tight sine wave, and right now we’re just on a really big upturn in construction. The contractors are having a hard time manning these projects. People aren’t going into construction, it’s typically an older workforce. That is a major problem right now, and the cost to do construction in upstate New York is extremely expensive. So what is happening in the south, we don’t get to enjoy up here because it is so expensive to build. The insurance rates are extremely high, they’re very very high, probably the highest in the entire country. We’ve got some laws that nobody else has in the entire country that creates a high insurance rate. It honestly prevents companies from even starting up, because it costs so much to start a construction company. Let alone pay your workforce to have a union area. So that has an increase in cost. Everything is very expensive to do up here even though we’re not in New York City, it’s still extremely expensive.
So when you’re putting panels on a project, it’s typically not an inexpensive option. Even panels that are three dollars a square foot, which pretty much are reserved for residential construction. They’re typically almost $20 a square foot installed. The labor is extremely expensive. We don’t have the luxury of what is going on down south.
So it’s extremely expensive to do construction around here, so material cost is important, but reducing the labor costs is even more important. And so for manufacturers to figure ways out, and I think they’re already working on that, bigger ways of reducing reducing labor, speeding up construction, stuff like that is a huge help.
Insulated metal panels are also on a huge surge as well, in our area. Because of the speed of construction that an insulated metal panel brings to the industry. So that’s some of what we see going on. Some of the challenges are more labor related than panel related. There’s really no challenges with panels other than trying to get a panel on a job with the high cost of installation. When I tell people some of the costs, they’re pretty surprised.
Are there advantages of the panels you sell that you can position properly?
Yeah we represent a company that manufactures insulated metal panels. And that has been helpful. We’re working on a job with you guys right now that the entire backup of the wall assembly, aside from the studs, is an insulated metal wall panel. And your framing would go on top of that. And then the panels, the HPL panels and terracotta panels, will be attached to the framing. It’s going over the insulated metal wall panels. That is a huge way that we feel we bring to the table to help speed projects up. To help reduce costs and still give that project the look that the of the intent of the architect.
So that’s happening on a couple jobs too actually. Architects are open to the idea, and subcontractors are starting to value engineer these jobs from traditional construction. They’re finding ways to make insulated metal panels work on these jobs and they’re removing the insulation, and they’re removing the air barrier, and they’re going with insulated metal wall panels. And then the framing and then the panel itself, the cladding. So works for a lot of jobs, doesn’t work for all jobs, but that’s a big trench.
What do you think people often overlook when selecting a panel type for their project?
It’s construction, whether or not it’s the right product for that application. If it’s chemically resistant, if it’s maybe in a particular area, if it needs to be graffiti resistant. Some of these architects almost see panels as a maintenance-free item, they are not all maintenance-free. They don’t all pass the same fire codes. So understanding the maintenance on some of these panels, in understanding the fire code, that’s a challenge.
There’s a lot of information out there in the industry, and there’s also a lot of misinformation out there. And that is a pretty big challenge of making sure that, from an architect’s standpoint, that they’re meeting the fire code. And not putting the affirm that they’re in with too much exposure to liability and lawsuits and things like that.
How do you pair up sub structures for the panels you sell?
Typically the cladding drives the bus. So cladding will dictate everything for us and the architect and anybody associated with this project. The cladding will dictate the type of insulation. It’ll dictate the type of framing. It’ll dictate the spacing of the framing. It dictates a lot of the details on the job where the panels tie in to the roof or the panels tie in to the below grade or the sidewalk or whatever the deal is there. The panel starts it all. So we don’t look at anything else until we figure out the type of panel.
Once we figure the type of panel out, then the relationship starts to come together. That panel, it’s gonna need a thermally isolated framing system. It’s going to need a certain type of insulation, whether it’s mineral wool or polyiso. Air barriers have come a long way now. Used to be they needed a specific type of air barrier, but there’s a handful of barriers out there now that there’s a lot you can go with. So it’s not totally predicated on the panel, but we will work with them in making sure they have the right air barrier. That’s kind of it though, so the panel is really driving the bus on all this stuff, everything.
How have you seen the US cladding market change while you’ve been involved in it? You mentioned ACM panels earlier kind of diminishing but, what else have you noticed?
Panels have become more popular, so we’re seeing a lot of panels. We’re not seeing a lot of metal, although it is still out there. But we’re not seeing nearly as much. That was the go-to product for everybody. So we’re not seeing as much composite. We’re seeing some single skin here and there. Fiber cement’s popular. HPL panels are very popular. Insulated metal wall panels are popular. Glass is really popular. There must have been some advancements in glass because glass has become extremely popular. Curtain wall construction, that’s becoming very popular.
Unitization, I’m getting more requests for unitized assemblies. So stuff that they’re gonna unitize in a factory, horizontally, and crane it to the building. So we’re starting to see more of that going on. That’s a labor saving aspect, regardless of the type of panel. That’s a method that we’re seeing is used to reduce the cost of labor. So those are some of the trends.
Where do you see exterior cladding in the USA in five years to ten years from now?
I think we’re pretty good at looking at these trends. We pay attention to a lot of what’s going on north of us, in Canada, which seems to be heavily influenced by Europe. We see a lot of what’s going on in some of the larger cities. What I think we’re gonna start seeing more of is panels become more commonplace. Experimenting with panels in creating depth on a building. So instead of just having a flat plane of panels on a wall, I think we’re gonna see more depth and textures on the panels. I know manufacturers are starting to look at that. Alright we figured all the flat panel stuff out, we can do a plank, we can do a panel, they’re all flat. Now manufacturers are starting to incorporate textures on the panels.
You know colors, a lot of panels have always had a lot of colors, so that really isn’t a huge change. They’re still introducing new colors. But textures on the panel and adding depth to the panels. Whether it’s a wide panel or incorporating framing systems that may be and the primary rail is the same for the whole backup system. But the secondary rail, maybe a couple is wider and a couple are not as wide or shallower. And it allows panels to kind of jump off the wall a little bit. So we’re starting to see more of that.
Not so many applications of that but requests or enquiries, well can you do this with your panel? We’re trying to show depth, how can we do this with your framing system or your panels? And so we’re seeing more of that as the whole flat wall starts to get, kind of, played out.
What is like to partner with Monarch Metal as a manufacturing rep?
What I like about Monarch is their willingness to please. You guys go out of your way to quickly respond to questions. Whether it’s, let me check on it, or you have to do this or that. So getting answers back quickly, in this industry, it has become imperative. The idea that you know you can get back to somebody in the next couple of days, you’re out of business doing stuff like that. There’s no place for that anymore. There’s too much competition, there are too many other people that will jump on that answer quicker. So I have to, in an effort to be better before my end-user, it always helps to partner with manufacturers who are also equally interested in getting back to people as I am. So I think we both are on the same page and we share the interest in urgency, in responding to questions and getting information out in an appropriate time frame. So I really enjoyed that about you guys.
I also like that you’re local, so that really helps out. It’s I deal with a lot of European companies. And generally it works out fine and a lot of times they understand it to work in the U.S. you need to be based locally. So having you based in the US is a huge help. Having you on my time zone is also nice too. So that’s always helpful.
And you know the area, you know panels, you deal with panels. That’s really all you do. This is not some, as far as I know, some side project that you just stumbled upon. But normally you’re doing carpet or something like that you know? This is your business, this is what you do, day-in and day-out. And I know that you guys are in it for the long haul. You’re interested in building long-term relationships. Very comfortable with you talking with the customers that we’ve introduced you to, throughout this whole panel industry project that we’re working on. So your professionalism is always appreciated. I know that if you’re gonna call on some of our customers, I’m more than happy to have you guys work on something with them, get them the answers they need quickly. That it never makes me uncomfortable to know that you guys are talking with them. Because you know more than I do about your product, but you’re also professional you know, you’re not a bunch of goofy clowns. And if you are, at least you’re not on the phone. So I feel comfortable in knowing that what you’re telling them, generally is along the lines of what I’m telling them. They’re getting the answers from both sides. And you know I think we’re all on the same page with that stuff, so that’s a huge help.
In this Industry Interview, Monarch Metal CEO Brandon Bingham speaks with Rhett Schaefer, Structural Engineer with Rice Engineering http://www.rice-inc.com , one of the nation’s leading engineering firms specializing in exterior cladding, curtain wall, rainscreens and sunshades, and more.
Can you please tell us about how Rice Engineering got started and where it is today?
It started off with Dave Rice who had years in the curtain wall industry, thermal engineering industry. And he opened up a business basically out of his attic. And he was just a one-person shop with basically two clients doing curtain wall calculations.
So that’s where we started off and he incorporated it in I believe in 1999. And kind of moved on from just curtain wall to doing hand railings calculations, sunshades, panel systems, obviously the curtain walls, well still window wall. Basically anything that’s cladding, we have a hand in providing engineering calculations for it. So it grew from that one-person shop to today we have roughly sixty employees and forty-five engineers on staff.
When do you typically become involved in a project and who among the project roles typically hires you?
So when we typically are involved in the project, it’s usually after the architectural drawings have been submitted and projects are going out for bid. So I have a few clients where we’ll perform preliminary engineering for them. So they can provide more accurate bids for the project and usually that’s like with a clip type system, like a clip and rail rain screen system. Or we can provide a good rough idea for ninety percent of the building, what your clip spacing is going to need to be. So that is a few of the clients, but mostly it comes from after the project has been awarded by a client, then they come to us to perform the engineering calculations on their product they’re providing.
And typically who comes to us, is, most of the time it’s either an installer, or a manufacturer. Those are your two largest, we’re rarely ever hired by architects directly.
Can you tell us about the testing standards you typically reference when working on a project?
So, the thing with the testing standards are, there is a testing standard, or an ASTM, for anything you want to put out there. So typically we aren’t really referencing, us personally aren’t referencing the standards. Usually they’ll be included in the project specifications say this curtain wall system needs to meet the E330 or water infiltration testing. So usually that’s provided by the project specifications which is directed by the architect or, whatever the manufacturer wants to provide for a specification for the product. So it’s hard to pinpoint which one you would really need to use, I mean ASTME330 which is the standard test method for structure performance of exterior windows, doors, skylights, and curtain wall systems. And we don’t really have a good one for like stone panels or fiber cement panels for testing standards so we typically follow those same testing standards.
It is the standard test method for structural performance of exterior windows, doors, skylights, and curtain walls by uniform setting air and pressure differences. So basically it’s just the air and water tests for those types of systems. And that’s usually what you’ll use for when you perform a wind tunnel, or not a wind tunnel study but actually doing performance testing on the components.
Can you please talk about the difference between finite element analysis and systems analysis and which each is suitable?
Okay so finite element analysis, or FEA models, is basically you’re breaking down the component into, hundreds or thousands, of small, I guess, pieces if you will. So you’re breaking down that whole element and it’s going to be into thousands of different little, tries to make it a cube or trapezoidal shapes. And what it’s doing is the stresses are sharing and how they’re interacting from each individual node and shape throughout the entire component. So it’s a much more accurate analysis of how stress is transferring through a component.
So when we would use that is more so when it’s difficult to determine based off of simple static calculations that are provided to us by the steel code, aluminum codes, or anything of that matter. So when we typically have to run a FEA model, is when we have perforated panels that are unique shape that have unique patterns like I’ve had a panel that is in the shape of a leaf, they did a perforation pattern in the shape of a leaf. Well it’s really difficult to just kind of determine how that load is going to transfer through there, so we run models that will show us our stresses and deflections and shears through the components. So it’s really when we get into complex geometry that we use that FEA modeling.
Brandon: And then the systems analysis would be something like when we bring you our cladding substructure to hang like a Trespa or Fundermax panel then?
Exactly we have basic calculations provided to us by codes and then just by pure, static calculations, and some the stresses that are backed up by testing that they were able to provide theoretical calculation for. So like a weak axis suspending of a bracket, which is what we would typically do, deal with Monarch is with the, just do the L-rail for instance. We have calculations, I’ll check the whole section for bending, torsion, shear, tension, and that we can also do the local flanges for their bending through just the individual components of the L profile. And that’s where we can use that analysis.
However, like a job I actually, someone else at Monarch had sent over about perforating that L profile, that’s where we might be now going into FEA modeling to more accurately determine the structural adequacy of the system.
Brandon: Yeah that’s a great example they’re trying to achieve some type of open rate and you need to now analyze because the property has changed for the L rail.
Exactly and it’s difficult to determine so we have dead load hanging out there and we have to make sure it can hang, hold that weight. But now instead of having a solid material, you now have twenty percent of material taken out of the L profile. So how it’s not going to be a direct transfer from the front of the L profile to where it’s attached to the bracket. So now we kind of have to go through a modeling software so it’s not as conservative of a check because if I was going to check it with typical methods or typical statistical methods, I would have to reduce the section properties of the material by a considerable amount to be conservative to make sure that we’re not over-stress at those areas.
Can you tell us about the variables you consider when you recommend fastener spacing for mounting rain screen panels? Such as negative pressure, panel material size and weight, fastener pull-out values. How does that all come together to give you the spacing variables?
Well it’s not the best of answers but it really depends on what kind of system we’re using to hold up these rain screen panels and what type of system the rain screen panels are. If we’re talking ACM panels, aluminum composite panels, or aluminum plate panels that have perimeter extrusions and clips. Typically those are designed from the panel manufacturer that the clips and the perimeter extrusions will not fail before fastener pull-out.
So typically when we’re seeing that we’re just making sure that those, it’s really about the load transfer. That’s the main thing to figure out what are fastener capacity is going to be, how load transfers through the system.
Yeah so the components that we have to go through to determine our load transfer is of course all of those that you mentioned and the negative pressure. Positive pressure typically isn’t the issue because most of the time that’s just going to be bearing, substructure is going to be bearing directly into the structures so it’s not so much tension unless you have a high weight hanging off the building.
But then you have panel weight, how far that panel weight is set off from the attachment of the fastener. So if we’re three inches out from the building or twelve inches out from the building, that is a much bigger difference on the tension on those fasteners attaching the substructure to the structure.
And then fastener pull-out capacity is obviously the largest function of, how or what we’re looking at for the actual fastener performance.
Brandon: So the fastener is what we, as a building person, we’d want to make sure the fastener’s not going to fail?
Yeah essentially, as a building person yes but when you’re providing the brackets or the profiles you’ll want to make sure that the fastener is the weakest part of the system, right? So it’s just a balancing act that way. And it depends on, again how the load is transferred back. So you have a bracket with a back flange of say, four inches wide that’s attached back to the structure. And the fastener is installed right in the center of those four inches. Well, depending on how the load transfers, that could be more tension on the fastener than say if it’s one inches over from the web of that bracket. So that’s just extra eccentricities that we need to determine when looking at the fastener capacities as well. It’s not like you’re putting up your vertical L profiles in your brackets. That’s going to be straight tension based on the wind load in the area. That is not necessarily what’s going to be the tension on the fastener. There may be added tension on the fastener because the load isn’t lined up directly over the fastener.
What type of safety factor do you typically plan for when engineering a system?
Okay again, it depends on the system, what’s the defining factor is, what type of failure mode will the system have? So if we have a brittle failure, or a sudden failure, like you would have with fiber cementitious panels, or especially stone panels like limestone or a quarry product. Well a quarry product is going to differ greatly from one quarry to the next on what mechanical properties that stone will have. So there is where we would use like a factor safety of eight. On the bending strength of that material just because it’s so varied.
Products that are manufactured, like a terracotta panel, or even the fiber cementitious panels, they’re actually manufactured in a shop. We can reduce that safety factor and per all the codes, to maybe anywhere from like three to five, just depending on what kind of panel system it is. But that’s because it’s a manufactured product, it’s more predictable what those values will be for the modulus of rupture, bending strength, shear strength, and tensile strength of the material. And then again pull-out values for the fasteners.
So, in aluminum, that’s not going to be a sudden failure. You’ll see if the aluminum profile were to start failing it would start yielding first. So since we have more of a flexible material that has a yielding failure but wouldn’t meet its rupture quite yet, we only have a safety factor of 1.65 as indicated by the aluminum design manual. Because again it’s a more predictable material, there’s so much design that goes involved with all these. And we have a good idea of how this profile will perform.
Some people may not understand what a safety factor is. Can you give a layman’s definition of that?
Okay so safety factors, we do everything in allowable stress design. What a safety factor is, it’s taking at number that this panel will break, or will exceed its bending stress at three thousand PSI. Alright we apply a safety factor, so you divide that ultimate three thousand PSI divided by, so we have a safety factor of four, divide that by four, well let’s do three make it a little easier. Then we’ll only be holding our stress value that we can bring it to a thousand PSI.
So essentially all we’re doing is making it so it’s technically three times, and I don’t want to say over designed but, you would be less likely for you to see a failure because we’re not taking it to its ultimate failure value.
Can you tell us about the difference in planning with a metal stud wall versus a CMU or a concrete wall?
Yes so, metal studs, typically we’re assuming we can only have attachment either from sixteen to twenty four inch horizontally on-center, that’s typically what we’ll see for range. And we like to assume sixteen gauge studs, because that gives us a better pull-out value. We get a pull-out value for a quarter-inch fastener of around two hundred and sixty to two hundred and eighty pounds. When you go down to an eighteen gauge stud, that same fastener only has a pull-out value of around 130 to 160, let’s say, pounds per fastener. So that’s quite a big dip in capacity. So when you’re securing to eighteen gauge studs, you’ll have less capacity and then therefore closer spacing vertically because we can’t change the spacing horizontally, right? So you’ll have different spacing vertically because you’ll have so much less capacity in your anchor, just because it’s a thinner material essentially. Even though the engineering firm that’s providing the studs, they will meet the wind loads and everything else, but are they really accounting for clip systems being put ever forty four inches vertically along the stud? Most likely not.
And then when it comes to hollow block CMU, that’s usually the worst condition we have. You can only account for one in a quarter inch minimum embedment at most with fasteners; most of them are designed for only one inch minimum embedment. So we’re only looking for hollow blocks CMU of pull-out strengths of between a hundred pounds and 150. Because CMU anchors have to have a safety factor of five, it’s such a variable building material you’re anchored into.
So therefore again, if you’re installing into sixteen gauge studs versus hollow block CMU, well that hollow block CMU will have much closer spacing of a bracket system.
And then grout-filled block you can get a lot better capacities because we can put in, embedment depths much deeper. So it just depends on what anchor and each anchor will have different values that we’re using, CMU anchors. For grout-filled CMU, they will have a lot of ICC report testing and ESR reports. In hollow block there’s only a couple that I can think of, that have the ICC reporting. And then into concrete, so there’s, [laughter] this kind of came when I first started here at Rice maybe five years ago; we were finding in the codes that where your design assumed cracked concrete. So that means and I’m not saying that you see a visible crack in there you’ll see an inch deep, inch wide crack. I’m talking about micro cracks that you can’t really see with the human eye inside the concrete. This is occurring when the concrete is in tension zone. So if you have a wall and it’s loaded from the backside, well it’s going to want to flex. And the inside will be in compression, the outside will be in tension. Concrete’s poor in tension so it has a tendency to do these micro fractures, unless the concrete’s designed with the proper reinforcement to prevent this.
So the code tells us we have to assume cracked concrete, when we’re designing concrete anchors. And those are much more expensive anchors, they’re much beefier anchors but they allow for the seismic zones too. Any anchor into like a seismic category C or D is going to have to require you to be cracked concrete approved just because the, you’re going to see seismic activity in that lifetime of that structure.
So that was the biggest change the contractor saw when we used to be able to call out these small quarter inch fasteners that will only need to go in two inches deep. Well now you have ¼ inch maybe, but those are also going in 3/4 inches deep, or even, much larger anchors.
The only way we can get around that from our aspect of design, when we’re in the design is going back to the architect or engineer of record and seeing if they will allow us to use non-cracked concrete anchors. Typically that’s difficult to get past because it’s hard to prove that concrete will not experience cracking in its lifetime.
In wall bracket systems like Monarch’s, can you tell us about the static load versus wind load with brackets?
Okay, yeah so like with Monarch’s brackets you have a double bracket, let’s say roughly a little over six inches long, and then the wind load bracket which is only roughly three, three and a half inch, Brandon: six and a half and three and a quarter, Rhett: Okay perfect.
And so when we’re laying out these types of clip systems, the whole idea of these rain screen systems, if it’s a vertically running system especially, is that it accounts for thermal movement. You will have clips along a vertical wall, say we’re running a rain screen system, we’ll just say fiber cement panels for instance. And we’re attaching to these vertical L profiles. Well that vertical L profile for aluminum, anything over ten to twelve feet, is starting to get to quite a bit of thermal movement. So that’s what we like to limit our vertical spans ten to twelve feet. Also we don’t like to span over building deflection joints because the system cannot accommodate somewhere up to three quarters of an inch movement vertically each direction. It’s not going to allow for a total of one and a half inches of movement. It allows more for just the thermal which can be just roughly like a quarter-inch expansion, quarter-inch contraction. So when we’re designing those types of systems, the reason why we have a dead low bracket, which is the double bracket, is it’s six and a half inches long, is because that will be handling the whole weight that is imposed upon that vertical profile. So it will be holding the whole weight of that component.
Well since we have the six inches there, we can through-fasten that profile to that clip instead of installing it into slots, because we want that just to be held in place. That is the point where we’re not going to be, able to allow any thermal movement all through a movement will have to be driven from that dead low bracket, either upwards or downwards. We like to stick with one bracket per profile that’s a double bracket or dead load bracket, because we want to make sure it accounts for that thermal movement over those ten feet.
If every single one of them were to be dead load brackets, then there would be a no-allotment for thermal movement and you could have issues because the profile is going to move. Thermal is a very powerful force it’s going to have to move somewhere, so it’ll either try to bow-out or bow-in. We just want to prevent that by allowing you to have movement from that dead load bracket. So the reason why I need to be deeper is because we need more fasteners to hold up the dead weight of the structure, since all that panel is being held on say one L profile or two L profiles.
The wind load clips are smaller and have slots. Those we need to take wind load in and out so they’re taking less load of the system. So they typically can be smaller lengths because we don’t need to take as much flexure, they won’t be taking as much flexure or moment force through. So we’re installing those fasteners from the L profile into the slots, again, to allow for that thermal movement. There is no reason why we need to dead load the entire L profile. And it’s more of a waste of material if we’re calling out double brackets for the entire length of profile and more than likely we’re not going to need it for the wind forces.
What are the common design considerations for planning for strapping?
So strapping so we’re talking about say two to four inch tall, light gauge, strap going from stud to stud, to bridge the area in case you need to throw brackets in between stud spacing. So the issue with strapping is those thin gauge flat plates are horrible for deflection and horrible for stresses. Typically the only ways to get those to work if you’re installing after the sheathing has been installed, so we’re installing it right over the sheathing, is you would have to look at it as a tension member. So we’re pulling out with, I would say in the center of that span on that strap or pulling out on that, it’s going to restrict that deflection, it’s going to send really high shears into the adjacent fasteners into the studs. So you may need three or four fasteners at each stud location to account for those shears. Who’s really going to be putting in four fasteners per stud per strap? It’s not very realistic and it may overload the stud that we’re not designing. I mean studs are usually by others while we’re doing these so someone would have to check that down the line.
The best way when we’re allowing for strapping is if you can get it installed, directly to the studs, in between the studs and the sheathing. Because then we have that sheathing to help with the deflection issues when we’re pulling out. You have so much rigidity and that sheathing to help with the deflection of that strap. So if we’re designing 18 gauge straps that are spanning 16 inches, we hardly could ever get that to pass through our calculations because it’s usually going to fail in stress, bending, or deflection. When it’s behind the sheathing, then all we really have to worry about is getting the stress to work. Which is a little bit easier than a deflection because there’s just no depth, there’s no depth to a strap. So that’s why it’s so poor for deflection. If we have to call out straps over sheathing, it’s not going to be like it’s a 16 gauge material. It could be up to ⅛ inch thick steel, 3/16 inch thick steel, it just doesn’t make sense. It’s just too thick, too beefy, of a route to go with that. It just doesn’t seem like it’d be cost effective to go with that strap.
Yeah I mean again there’s ways we can get them to work but, again, they would have to take really high shears. And I don’t know if it’s realistic to expect them to be installed where they’re going to have that many fasteners per stud, per strap. Also the other thing thinking about those straps is, okay we’re spanning over the sheathing and waterproofing. If we’re installing fasteners between studs, well your fasteners will now be penetrating the vapor barrier and sheathing between studs so therefore you’d have to worry about more waterproofing. Because when that strapping deflects, and comes out, it’s going to pull away from the sheathing. So it’s very difficult to then waterproof behind those fastener penetrations.
That’s why it’s a little bit easier again when we have a strapping between the stud and sheathing because it would deflect the same amount with the sheathing or it’d be so rigid it won’t deflect.
What are the design elements that you see architects maybe not get right that you’re correcting when plans come to you? What are some of the major things you see?
Alright so what we typically see, and I’m coming from panel standpoint and rain screen system standpoint, there’s plenty of others with curtain wall and sun shades but, typically it is, when we’re seeing the architectural drawings, they’re not fine details, so we have to, not necessarily change things to make them work but add more framing, or sub-framing, or stiffeners to make the items work. So like coping panels, panels around a knee wall at the top of the building parapet. So those will be spanning 10 feet long, and they will not allow for, they’ll be held from uplift of the ends, but on the front fascia, there’s nothing preventing uplift. So you have to rely on these clips that are 10 feet apart from each other to prevent uplift which can be upwards to 70 PSF. So we have to either change how we’re attaching those coping panels to allow prevention of uplift along the fascia. Or provide Z keepers just hold them in place.
So that’s from a panel standpoint that’s the largest one I see and deflection joints as well as installation of panel systems spanning from floor-to-floor, over floor deflection joints. Those floors have to allow for some kind of movement. So typically as an engineer what we like to see is the sub-framing systems or the panels do not span over floors so you don’t have to worry about bridging that deflection joints. Because once you bridge that to the floor deflection joint, if that floor were to move down, well you’re going to shear through your fasteners more than likely that’s holding that together. Or something else is going to be an issue, all buckling of your vertical frame members or whatnot. A lot of issues can derive from that and sometimes it’s caught, sometimes it’s not, or more it’s the engineers’ challenge of that delegated design to figure out a solution. So we just like to say again, start and stop, have four lines, you wouldn’t have as much of an issue, or there’d be no issue. That is the largest thing we see.
And then after that it’s just more typical detailing maybe they’re not preventing disengagement just how they’re drawn. So like again it’s like with the coping panels or we have a fascia panel that returns to soffit, well is there anything really preventing the disengagement of the system from negative loading? That’s the common things that we see that were not caught in architectural work.
But for rain screen systems and particularly a system that Monarch would provide with those brackets and vertical profiles, it’s deflection joints that is a major issue of concern to always be looking how to accommodate floor movement.
I mean there’s so many details that they have to get on paper. They don’t know the systems aren’t necessarily specified out while they’re making architectural drawings and the system that you’re bringing in, may change from what they originally thought was going to be installed. So therefore, how are you supposed to know what the details are, if you don’t even know what the system is?
What would you say is your main focus as a structural engineer, I know you do a lot on the exterior cladding, the building envelope, but what would you tell someone what your main focus is?
Alright so me personally I’m the manager of one of the panel engineering groups. Typically what I focus on is composite panels, like when I say that I mean like ACM metal panels, flexible panels there. And then their panel systems for attachment to a substructure like Z framing, hat framing, Monarch’s system of the brackets and vertical profiles, those types of framings. And then along with that comes fiber cementitious panels. I do the perforated panel modeling. And then any other stone, a rigid panel, phenolic panel, which is basically compressed, pressed paper or wood fibers essentially. So I really focus on those rigid panels, and then their framing system to the structure. Everything I do I start at the exterior of the building and make my way to either the stud framing, the concrete structure of the CMU wall. I really don’t have any design of those areas. So that’s not my area of expertise. I really stopped from the exterior wall really of the structure.
And then as an engineer what I’m focused on is making sure that the components that I’m designing meet code. That’s really what everything is; just make sure they meet code [laughter]. So performing calculations, determining the wind loads, the weight of the panel, snow loads, all the loads that are derived from codes, ASC7 is typically where we derive most of our codes from. Determining how that transfers through the system, and making sure every component in that system meets codes per stress, shears, and fastener pull-outs. Just making sure every part of that system is going to be meeting code; it will be safe per code standards.
If I’m designing a building with exterior cladding what are the structural priorities I want to keep in mind? So you’ve hit on a few of those so could you reiterate those again?
Okay so the priority structural priorities for when designing rain screen systems or whatnot. So first off it’s making sure that the wind loads are calculated properly. So we have wind loads, weight of the system doesn’t typically control unless it’s like a curtain wall system but for rain screen systems unless it’s a heavy, heavy panel system, like a 2-inch thick, limestone those little light metal panels aren’t really going to control for weight. You’re still accounting for that but those usually won’t be the design concerns.
Seismic, seismic conditions, seismic category C or D which you’ll usually see those more towards the coast, especially in the California, Oregon, and Washington areas. Making sure that you can accommodate the lateral movement, as well as the vertical movement, for those systems from a seismic perspective, allowing for vertical movement, for thermal, and for the floor movement joints. Making sure the system is allowed to move and doesn’t tie everything together where you’re going to have issues like we had discussed earlier.
So making sure that, again, meets code and that would mean deflections of members, deflections of panels. That will be specified in the project specifications, but also per IDC international building codes, they also direct us on what deflection limits typically should be, depending on what kind of panel system we have, rather they be rigid or flexible. And that’s the majority of what we’re looking for when we’re trying this.
So when you’re at say, bidding a job or don’t have an engineering background, what items you should be looking for more so. What your substrate is, again if we have hollow block CMU stud or blank gauge 18 gauge studs, well you got to keep in the back of your mind you’re going to have a lot closer clip spacing then if you’re installing to concrete, or thicker like a 12 gauge or 16 gauge stud, assuming that the system fails due to the fastener. But then again it’s just checking through, making sure every component meets its individual code. Like all the steel components meet the cold form steel manual, or the structural steel manual, AISC in particular. The aluminum components meet ABM standards, aluminum design manual standards for stresses and deflections.
I guess that’s another thing for architects, going back to the architects, is making sure there’s an allotment for those seismic conditions. That’s another one we see is, we are having all this lateral force and movement. I mean that, we’re going to have issues with joints, I mean if our panels are only allowed to rack, say half an inch, but the joints only a quarter-inch in architecturals, well that joints going to need to increase otherwise you’re going to have panel systems hitting one another and possibly crushing or cracking. So that’s another one from a previous question about, not necessarily what architects get wrong but some items that we see and need to identify and correct.
Why do companies in the commercial construction industry choose to engage a structural engineering firm, are they required to? Do they make the conscious decision to do it?
Okay so, two reasons. Sometimes project specifications do require stamping of shop drawings. They require stamping and seal the shop drawings, stamp and seal of the calculations. So it can be included in the project specifications, why you’ll need engineering calculations or support or guidance.
Other than that too is, you can make sure that the product that you’re providing is safe, and installed per code, so it’s as safe as code provides. So if you were to have a wind event that’s higher than what was provided by code, but it was designed per code, well at least you’re covering yourself because you did the due diligence of providing engineering calculations that confirm that this system should be able to handle typical code conditions. So it’s helping protect yourself as well, when it comes to if there’s a failure, if you don’t have engineering versus where you have engineering. The failure shouldn’t occur nearly as much, if at all, when you have engineering, unless again you have an event that’s outside of what code calls for because we can’t design for every single wind event right? I mean that, you’d be over designing everything and everyone already thinks we do that.
Speaking of using you as a structural engineer, what states do you currently have stamps in?
So Rice Engineering has stamps in all 50 states. I believe all of Canada, there might be one province I’m missing out. Mexico I believe, possibly Puerto Rico in the Virgin Islands. Basically anywhere in the States we can do, and then most of Canada.
What are the top three advantages to working with a structural engineering firm?
Yeah so again it’s just to ensure building codes are met. Ensure your project that all building codes are met. We can also, I know working with Monarch, try to help optimize systems. So we can look at systems, you’ll send over an L profile or whatnot. Well can I just make this portion slightly thicker and cut down material on this portion of the component? And then maybe we can optimize how the system performs without increasing material everywhere and therefore cost. So we can help with optimization of any component or rain screen system.
And not just optimizations of the systems themselves, but when we get a project, we can look at how it’s being installed, and maybe there’s a different way where they’re not accounting for lateral movement, or maybe there’s just so many parts and pieces, we don’t really need to meet codes or whatnot. We have come into that, again. So maybe we can remove some framing or space clip systems or horizontal railings and help further, try to save money that way. So we can actually look at your details or see, okay this is just not going to work here you’re not preventing this panel to basically not even stay on the building for how this is installed currently. So we can help direct on ways to actually secure the system.
Yeah and then also items that are not constructible. So there might be times where there’s really no way you can install this fastener how it’s drawn. Okay well now we have to think of how we can actually install this system, because I mean what’s the point providing engineering on something that you can’t actually install? So then actually identifying what’s constructible and what’s not is also a service that engineering will be providing in their engineering calculation package.
I am curious to know what you would say people are most surprised about when doing business with a structural engineering firm? I’m learning so much talking to you all the time Rhett, and so, what would you say the biggest surprise people get from working with you?
So I’m going to take it back to a previous answer and kind of tie it in, like with the cracked concrete anchors. 20 years ago, I’ve been in this business for 20 years [laugher], this is what I’ll hear, “I’ve been in this business for 20 years, we never had to do this before, what’s changed?” Well codes don’t always, but tend to, get more stringent [laughter]. So something that worked ten years ago, doesn’t work now. And that’s usually due to, okay we have more empirical data from say, we have more wind speed data, okay hurricanes are becoming more prevalent in this area. Do the wind speeds need to be upped? And that’s always defined by the boards on whoever provides the codes, like the ACI concrete, or that ASCE, it seems like every time we have an update to that code, we have different wind speeds that we’re designing towards.
So that is the biggest thing you’ll see as a surprise. We’re not trying to make anything more costly, just that to meet code they’re always finding new information to make buildings ultimately safer.
And then there are also those clients that are working between states. How varied those codes could be from say, Minnesota compared to Florida especially. So if they do all their work in Minnesota and they’re going to start to do installation jobs in Florida, that wind speed is totally different, [laughter] when it comes to that. ASE710 for typical building we’re designing for, 115 mile per hour winds in Minnesota. Or if we were in Miami County, we’re looking at 170 plus mile an hour winds. It knows if you can get with us early on and we can inform you before you underbid a project, hopefully, and you actually account for having to change a lot of spacing or system thicknesses, like gauge thicknesses, on framing, and all that. So I’d say that is a major surprise too is just how surprised people are between codes between the states.
And then also reviewing boards too as there’s some stringent reviewing boards that review calcs and shop drawings.
Typically you’ll see that with like a hospital or something especially out in California where they have a lot of seismic, and those we’ll see a lot more reviewing bodies, even certain towns or counties, like I mentioned Miami County. Miami County and Broward County in Florida have much higher wind speeds than just Tampa Bay on the other side of the state. So local codes, county or city codes can also be different. I know LA for one requires a Coaler report which is basically an ESR report. It basically is just a verified testing of each fastener that you can use the job. So you have to have true test reports, and that are stamped and certified by the reviewing board to use in that county. So we will direct you to which fasteners to use that can meet those conditions.
How have you personally seen the U.S. cladding market change while you’ve been involved in it?
I’ll go with rain screen panel systems first. It used to be everything was just a sealed joint. So we’re installing these metal panels, you have like this ⅝ inch joint in between for an ACM or just a typical metal plate panel. And so you’d only have one layer protection of water infiltration. Well now we have all these rain screen ACM systems that have like a little ACM insert. And they will allow, you’ll stop basically 90% of the water, let’s say 7% of that moisture gets in, but we’re allowing for that moisture to get in. There’s like two layered systems for water infiltration. Those are also tougher to design [laughter]. So it’s getting those but you’re more worried about water infiltration, and you don’t want just a one-step to prevent anything right? We want some redundancy in design, so that we can prevent any water infiltration issues or actual failures.
Another one that we’ve seen coming across here a lot more is a push to going green. So what I mean by that is more thermal performances, more companies want to see thermal modeling of systems. And again, a lot of times I’ve seen a lot of these rain screen systems that are clip and rail, because that’s less penetration through the insulation layer. Your bracket systems can be every 44 inches where before we’re fastening through every 16 or something like that. Going green is a major item that we see coming through and it’s just driving how we’re doing all these systems.
Another one is we’re seeing a lot of European designs and components coming through and what I mean by that is a lot of glass fiber reinforced concrete panels, phenolic panels, and stone panels. Those are coming more and more and more prevalent. Those companies that are over overseas are starting to get in the US markets again, and architects are really pushing to have those types of components on their cladding. So we’re seeing a lot that will require some kind of sub framing system that ties into quick installations. And quick installation would be a componentized, sub framing system. So you have these brackets they can [install] on the wall, they can throw up the rail. It has adjustability, you don’t have to shim out, before it used to be everything was Z’s and hats.
So you’d have a solid Z going across this building and you’d have to shim out maybe every other fastener depending on how off whack, off plumb the wall is. Well now with systems, like what Monarch has, where you can have adjustability in the field, that’s becoming a big market whenever we’re talking with contractors. They want that adjustability; you have to have that adjustability.
Where do you see exterior cladding in the US in five or ten years from now? I mean you’ve kind of described where you’ve seen it come to, what do you think are the next steps logically?
I was talking with a few other engineers that have been around here for 25, 30 years, that have even more experience but in pre-engineered systems. So you can just go out and pick this system and we already know that it has testing to back it up. And engineering calcs ran on it for like you say, well if a lot more E330 testing on systems so you can just bring them by the system and already engineered you have to need to worry about it, you can spec it out as an architect, throw up on the wall, we’re good. Just make sure that the wind loads are still within that realm, which speeds up the whole engineering calculation process, and is easier for architects and contractors to determine what system to use.
I’ve seen something like a lightweight stone panel, where they do a panel veneer. Which is maybe a quarter inch thick, and it’s like granite or limestone or whatever kind of stone we want to use here. And they do a honeycomb backer, like this aluminum honeycomb backer, and that’ll be like ¾ of an inch. So if the architect wants an inch deep panel, well now instead of an inch thick of heavy stone, you’re now a quarter of the way to that. I can see that becoming a major push in the future. Hopefully, it’s a lot nicer to engineer when it comes to those actual bracket systems.
Obviously everything is trying to, everything’s going to get more expensive right? Materials are more expensive than that so we have to find ways to optimize and maximize the materials and the spacing of systems. So that’s a never-ending push but might as well mention it nonetheless.
I already mentioned sub framing system adjustability. Again that’s going to keep carrying out.
Leed requirements, so basically that energy efficiency again, they may be wanting more recycled content in panel systems. So for instance, like those glass fiber reinforced panels, if they need more recycled aggregates to use in those panels for instance. I could see that being more of an issue or concern going forward. Again that also helps with trying to cut prices on everything that’s increasing.
Possibly, along with that Leed requirement, more fiberglass may be involved. Like fiberglass thermal clips or something of that nature. Just because then you don’t have as much thermal bridging between your sub framing system and going back into your structure. The only thermal transfer or the most thermal transfer then would only be through the fastener penetration that would bridge. I can see that becoming a larger portion of the market.
Another big one too is, when I first started, project schedules from start to install. Okay I mean you may have a year, year-and-a-half of planning and actual manufacturing. I’m only seeing the project schedules getting more and more and more condensed [laughter]. And now it’s everything is, okay we can get that done in eight months, six months, engineering needs to be done in two or three weeks [laughter]. The project schedules, which again, is really going to push that sub framing system adjustability and the pre-engineered systems.
Brandon: It’s interesting you mentioned honeycomb, I don’t know if I’ve told you Rhett, but we brought to market at the end of last year, a new honeycomb deform nut rail and clip system.
Rhett: Oh yeah?
Brandon: Yeah so if you do have any of those honeycomb jobs come along, we now have some things on our website and everything. And we did a really fabulous couple jobs in Los Angeles already or Santa Clara. And so it’s another exciting product that Monarch’s brought to market.
Rhett: Perfect, yeah, being able to cut that weight down, especially when you’re trying to provide also your own adjustable sub framing system that only helps even further so we don’t need to rely on having two or three dead load clips per profile, helps out even more.
Another item too would be that we could see going forward is, NFPA220 more enforced. So that’s the fire rating of panel systems, I don’t know if you recall but in the news a couple years ago there was a building in, I want to say London, where we had the ACM panel fire. And there’s going to be more fire rated composite panels for sure. But also, it seems like there’ll probably be more testing on a lot of components when it comes to this. You’re only going to see more components being tested for this. And there needs to be.
We’ll see in the cladding especially, is okay was there a horizontal break at every floor? Or was that fire allowed to just chimney effect which is what it seems like they made a chimney effect where, there was no horizontal break between the vertical panels. So that fire could just spread all through the exterior of the building straight through the panels, and then it creates a chimney effect. Well is there going to be more requirements where we have to have a break so we have to have some kind of insert at every floor line, so this doesn’t occur? So we stop a fire at that floor, prevent the quick spread of that.
In this Industry Interview, Monarch Metal CEO Brandon Bingham speaks with Abi Michailidis, Industrial Mechanic and stone fastener expert about Keil anchors http://www.keilanchor.com , ventilated and nature stone facades, and more.
How is the Keil anchor different from other construction anchors that are available?
We have to make a difference from a construction anchor and a concealed anchor for ventilated facades. The Keil Anchor is not a wedge anchor, where you put in a concrete wall. It’s made specifically for panels. It can be porcelain, stone, fiber cement. We have I think over fifty varieties of materials that we’ve tested already.
And there are not many undercut anchors, concealed undercut anchors that dock. They’re two different concealed anchors, and one of those is Keil. And doing this for twenty years, I’ve seen people who tried something similar, tried to copy it. Quality is not there, we’re talking about a high quality product and we have very tight tolerances. And if you can’t keep those tolerances, you will have breakthroughs, you won’t have the whole post strength. So it is important to have a quality product.
Can you tell us about the important design constraints for architects when laying out a rain screen design for use with Keil Anchor (panel edge distance, the importance of the wall thickness of the substructure rail, depth and distance from the front of the panel)?
In this case, the architect himself, he has to know if he wants to have a ventilated facade or not. This is how everything should start. Now if he has a ventilated facade, he should calculate there is going to be a gap between the front of the panel and the wall itself. This is where the substructure comes in.
And I don’t actually think that architects have any kind of limitations. This is an engineering feature. Because the engineer has to think about edge distance and stuff like that. Again, the architect has to know if he wants a ventilated facade, and if he wants a visible or concealed anchor.
There are no limitations for the architects actually with the regulated facades. Because they stay away from the wall. They have actually even more possibilities to create the fantasy. Most architects have.
What is the biggest misconception of Keil Anchors?
One of our biggest issues is the installers the first time. We don’t have enough qualified installers in the United States as of now. So one of the problems is the installers are a little bit scared about the system. However, once they receive the right information and it’s a lot of substructured companies have a small little ‘V’ on the website, you know it’d show the whole process of how it’s going up.
And once I see the substructured company or I talk to any of the installers, they feel much more comfortable because it is a very straightforward application. Again, but it’s like if you’re driving your bike, if you never did this, you’re scared. Once you know how to drive it, you don’t care anymore.
And another big issue is when customers start about the price. Yes, it is not as cost effective as to model something on a wall. However, if you see the safety factor, if you see the lifespan of the Keil anchor. Or any rain screen facades, if it’s visible or concealed. You have a higher safety factor in these facades. And also the lifespan, it’s much higher in a ventilated or depends, some say ventilated some say rain screen. We still have to agree in the United States what kind of term we are going to use. I try to use ventilated rain screen facades because this rain screen is a little bit different if you also have ventilation.
But once you see all the benefits of ventilated facades, the costs are actually less over time. So it doesn’t help you if you mortar something on for pennies, and this panel comes down in two or three years. Worst case scenario, falls on somebody’s head, which actually happened just recently in New York. If you compare the efficiency of the installation, and the safety factor, and the lifespan. This product, ventilated facades are actually more cost effective than to mortar something on the wall, over time.
What types of cladding materials are best suited for the Keil Anchor?
As I mentioned previously, we build with all kinds of materials. We are really not limited, limitations come into metal panels. And it’s not limited. Metal panels don’t need a concealed anchor. You can weld a stud on the back of the panel, use a nut and secure it that way.
Other than that, sure honeycomb doesn’t need to be concealed if you have a posentile with the honeycomb all natural stone, actually most is natural stone with the honeycomb. You don’t need a Keil anchor for that either. There are other products available for this kind of application.
Other than that, we build with close to every material on the market right now.
Can you talk about when testing is required for a project? For instance natural stone versus manufactured products?
It really doesn’t matter if it’s a manufactured product or a natural stone. Each material should be tested. Let’s take even a porcelain tile that should be very uniform. As soon as the color changes, the pull strength will change also. Or the tensile strength. Now this is not going to be a very high number. It’s going to be in the small Newton meters really, you can pretty much say most tiles have the same pull strength. They vary a little bit in pull strength.
Now in natural stone, it’s actually more complicated. It is a natural product. And it can be that the natural stone can vary in the pull strength from the left side of the quire to the right side of the quire. So this can change because the stone on this side got compressed a little bit more than the one on the other side. It doesn’t have to be, it can be. So, especially natural stones, and we test our materials every five years to make sure our numbers are correct. But testing has to be done. The engineer needs those numbers to make his calculations his best.
Since we’re talking about testing could you tell me about the tensile and pull testing that Keil performs free of charge?
First of all, Keil is not a testing facility. So they pretty much claim on the sheets that if somebody wants to make independent tests, there’s no problem. We actually assist with those tests. Now if somebody wants to go in the independent lab, and does a test, we assist them in controlling the material, making sure they’re getting the right depth and everything.
And then, we have to always look at some standards. We have to make sure that the testing facilities use specific standards for concealed anchors. One of the issues in the United States is, with a concealed anchor, they compare to a concrete anchor that goes in the wall. This will change, shortly. We have talked already to the ICC. We’re taking some ASTM’s. So we are preparing all the necessary steps to get some standards, in general, for ventilated facades in the United States.
Can you tell me what customers need to provide for the testing to be performed by Keil?
What we need is ten samples of each material they’re going to test. If they have different thickness of materials, we have to use different anchor lengths for the materials. So we will need ten pieces, eight by eight inches, for the pull test. If you have different colors, if you have different thicknesses, you might want to send two or three, like twenty or thirty let’s say, laughter to Keil. Because, even if you have a uniform product like a porcelain tile, we still will have some tolerances in there. And if you have ten samples, then we can take the average. What gives us a much more accurate number. Out of this average actually we should also include the safety factor. And then you have pretty much a number in kilonewtons, you can convert it later all in pounds. Where the architect again can do his calculations with.
For natural stone, could you describe why the spacer is used?
In natural stone, in most cases, we have tolerance and thickness. This thickness has to be compensated. If we use the regular handheld Keil machine, the zero point of your drilling or your starting point, is the back of the panel. This will push the panel, if you have tolerances, one panel will stick farther out is a facade, is the outer. So we have to compensate for that. So now instead of using the vacuum of the handheld machine, we have to clamp down the machine, to bring the zero point of the drilling to the front of the panel. This means, you do your adjustments, you make your adjustments according to your thinnest material. The machine will then countersink everything else that is thicker as is your thinnest material.
And I have actually a sample that I should have next to me that I want to show you but it’s right behind me. If you can see that Hicca materials will get this kind of countersink, as I say, to compensate for the thickness of the stone. This means, that now that we have the countersink, the stone panel that is thicker, on the facade itself, gets pushed farther back, and makes a uniform facade. This is not necessary if the stone is gauged. Some manufacturers say okay we’re going to punish them, you’re going to have a uniform tile, or panel. Other projects require a rough surface like it should look like a regular natural stone. You don’t need this either over there. Because it’s not going to be polished, it’s going to be a rough surface. It’s really just if you have a smooth surface, and your stone varies in thickness.
If you have CNC machines, you can do this much easier on a CNC machine or with a Keil conveyor table. Easy adjustments. With a handheld unit, it’s not difficult, you just have to clamp the machine down instead of using the vacuum.
Can you describe the process of the front calibrated drilling then?
As I stated before, the Keil anchoring machine, in a normal procedure, it creates a vacuum that is pretty much sucking onto the material that you’re drilling. As I said in this case, you zero point, the point that you start your fifteen millimeter, for example, to drill, is the back of the panel. If you clamp the machine down, and have it a little more forward so you can slide the panels under the machine. Then, because now you have a constant measurement from the machine to the distance of the table. So now your zero point is the front of the panel. It sounds a little complicated. I have actually made a drawing that makes everything much more understandable.
This is only necessary if you use the handheld unit. If you use a conveyor table or a CNC machine, you make those adjustments right there. So you don’t need to clamp your machine machine down, the machine itself is going to do these adjustments.
And it’s still a one step drawing. It’s not two steps. With the countersink, you have a special drill bit that has instead one diamond on the tip to drill into the material. Another diamond on the shoulder, on the drill bit, that creates the countersink. So it’s a one step drilling, there’s nothing to think about.
Can you tell us about the conditions in which you would recommend that the customer use a neoprene gasket on the rail and the function of that material?
Yes, the neoprene has actually several purposes. Number one is we have tolerances everywhere. We have slight tolerance in the anchor. What is minimal but is not even 0.4 millimeters, it’s very tight tolerance. So is the bolt. Now we have the aluminum clip where the tolerances are a little bit higher. However, this neoprene can compensate for those tolerances. So the clip, if it’s too loose, it doesn’t spin around like a propeller. So it still has a nice grip, actually I can show you right here. You know it doesn’t spin freely. It should spin freely because this is one of the purposes of the Keil anchor, but it shouldn’t spin like a propeller.
So this is one, two actually, also to give it a little bit more support that should not spin. And it doesn’t happen, we never had this issue but it’s another safety factor to keep moisture out of the undercut hole. Again, it is proven with several tests that only a small amount, even on the heaviest grade, only a small amount will go behind the panel itself. But in there for the rain to penetrate into the hole, into the undercut hole, is close to impossible. However, neoprene makes it impossible.
Can you tell us about when you would use a grab nut and screw and why this is not typically the preferred solution?
The anchor and bolt combination work for clips that are fit for the Keil anchor and bolt. Now what Keil does is they stake their anchor and bolt in 1.5 millimeter increments. They prefer a wall thickness, of the clip, of three millimeters or a little less. To have the right parameters again for the bolt and anchor combination. It’s an easier installation because you cannot over screw the bolt into the anchor, you can not push out the material. And you don’t have to be careful. Again, you just screw the bolt into the anchor. And once the bolt head hits the clip, that’s it. It can’t go farther.
Now, if you have a clip that doesn’t fit. The Keil anchor has a four millimeter wall thick, so five millimeter wall thickness. Then we have to use a crop screw. But it’s like a threaded rod. And has a hexagon on one side punched in. So you can use a three millimeter bit to screw it into the anchor. Now you have to be a little bit more careful. Because this stud you can over screw. If you’re not careful, you will push out the material. So once you hit the bottom of the undercut anchor, the anchor will lock. It’s not spinning around anymore. So you have to turn the crop screw again about a quarter, to a half-a-turn. Again, to allow the anchor to spin free. Then you have the clip you go over it. Then you take your nut, you have to hold the stud with the hex bit. And then you tighten up your screw. So it’s not that we don’t prefer it, it’s just for the customer, it’s an easier installation if he uses the anchor bolt combination instead of the anchor crop screw nail combination. It’s not that we prefer it, it’s an easier installation, and all the more cost effective, for the installation and the parts themselves.
Can you tell us about the differences you see between the European cladding market and the US cladding market, currently?
Number one, the Europeans build for the future. In most cases, American buildings, you know they stand many, for fifty years and then they say it’s a teardown. It’s one of the reasons. Another reason is energy efficiency. In Europe, the energy efficiency is a very important part of the building. This is starting right now in the United States. It’s relatively new to insulate your buildings from the outside. And make sure that you don’t lose heat or cold so it’s the energy efficiency itself. Actually there are studies from NASA let’s say, if you use a ventilated facade and put the whole thing together, with a rain screen, with insolation and everything, you can save up to thirty percent of energy costs. What is a lot, especially in high rises that have larger buildings.
Even at homes, if you see this way, however this system is barely used in regular homes. If you want to use ventilated facades, we barely see it. They exist, but we barely see it. In most cases, if we have ventilated facades on residential buildings, it’s because they’ve wanted larger format panels. And now we have to secure them the correct way. Again, mortar is not going to do it. So you have to secure it mechanically. Again, it could be undercut, it can be visible. However, larger panels, even the United States, in most cases, require a mechanical anchor.
Another big issue is actually not even ten percent of the American market in facades, not even ten percent use ventilated facades or any kind of cladding material. That makes the building look nicer. In most cases, they still use mortar and to adhere it. If it has smaller panels. Or they use stucco and sod. The ventilated facade business in Europe, especially in West Europe, is sixty percent. Instead of, I think eight percent in the United States. So that’s the huge factor.
What changes have you seen in the US market in the last ten years?
When we started to promote the Keil anchor over twenty years ago in the United States, we had a big issue. Again, one of the issues was installations. The issue was the price. We pointed always to the safety factor of this system. And as of today, I think it’s one of the most important factors of ventilated facade. Again, if it’s done correctly, the European technical approval gives it a lifespan of at least fifty years. So here again we have products that are stainless steel and aluminum, this is going to hold much longer than only fifty years. They’ll not corrode very easily.
The change in the last ten years is actually that architects, especially architects, see the benefit of using a rain screen facade because, again, of the different aspects, the different architectural realizations they can do. And again, doesn’t have, for an architect, safety and efficiency isn’t that big of an issue. However, now it becomes more and more. Because even architects want to show when they are going to do a green building. So now we don’t have only the safety factor, which was a big seller in the first twenty years, or the first ten years. Now, we have also the energy efficiency of a properly installed ventilated facade. And I think this is going again because we see more cities, more states, that want to become more green. And the ventilated rain screen facade is definitely superior to any adhesive.
Florida is the most hurricane prone area of the United States: every hurricane season more tropical systems and cyclones make landfall in Florida than anywhere else in the United States. These storms range in severity from what are effectively just really nasty thunderstorms, to dangerous city-leveling superstorms that can cause billions of dollars of damage. To help mitigate this massive environmental threat, some counties and municipalities enact their own special set of building codes and regulations to ensure buildings are more resilient to hurricanes. Miami-Dade county in particular is known for being at the forefront of these efforts and is nationally recognized for their rigorous hurricane certification standards – often referred to as the Miami-Dade certification.
The Miami-Dade certification as we know it today has been a continually evolving effort developed in response to Hurricane Andrew, which wreaked havoc all over South Florida and the Bahamas in 1992. In total, Andrew is believed to be responsible for over $25 billion in damages, $45 billion adjusted for inflation. Post-hoc analyses of Andrew’s devastation determined that its severity was in part catalyzed by the shoddy building construction in the Miami-Dade area that proliferated the region as it attempted to accommodate the massive population influx that occurred throughout the ‘80s and into the early ‘90s.
All-in-all, the Miami-Dade certification involves lots of aspects of the building and construction industry – from people and practices, to materials and project management. One of the most important aspects of the Miami-Dade certification is the requirement that certain building materials meet its rigorous standards. Specifically, §8-40 of the Miami-Dade County Code of Ordinances prescribes that: “materials/products used for protection of the envelope of the structure, limited to windows, exterior glazing, wall cladding, roofing, exterior doors, skylights, glass block, siding and shutters shall obtain a high wind velocity zone approval from the Florida Building Commission.” This means that any project, commercial or residential, within Florida’s pre-defined High Velocity Hurricane Zone (HVHZ), which includes all of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, must use materials and employ practices that conform to this standard. Additionally, although the standard is not compulsory outside of these counties, some builders do follow it due to its high regard within the building community.
This certification is so well outlined that it even designates products as either being approved or not approved for use within the HVHZ. A product is typically viewed as something sold by a manufacturer or distributors in a discrete unit for use by a builder. This means that in the case of rainscreens and other external cladding systems, the system as a whole sold by a manufacturer or distributor would need to be approved for use in the HVHZ. In order to receive approval, a manufacturer must submit their product for testing to demonstrate that it meets relevant wind resistance and strength standards. Depending on the product this will often include sending it to a pre-approved laboratory for testing . When a product is approved it receives a Notice of Acceptance (NOA) and is also subject to periodic Quality Assurance reviews to confirm its still performs as it did when the NOA was first issued. Additionally, manufacturers or fabricators of more expendable single use products can also be issued a Certificate of Competency after demonstrating they produce their products in accordance with county regulations. See the flowchart below for a full picture of the approval process.
Is the Miami-Dade certification the future of hurricane certification nationwide? Well – yes and no. As mentioned, the certification is recognized and accepted for its rigor outside of HVHZ counties, for example regulators and builders in Hawaii, Japan, South America, Guam and the Caribbean have all taken it as proxy for local standards. Yet, the standard is also extremely rigorous and recognized in these areas because they are regions most prone to hurricanes, typhoons, and other major tropical storms on the planet. In other words, in many places the rigor of the Miami-Dade certification could rightly be thought of as overkill and put an unnecessary burden on builders and property owners because the statistical risk of major wind storms is significantly lower. Nonetheless, the frequency of severe storms has been increasing at an alarming rate and more and more parts of the country are beginning to be viewed as at-risk for being impacted by hurricanes and other high-wind tropical storms. So overall, the spread of the Miami-Dade standard will likely depend on whether or not this disturbing increase in severe storms continues.
It’s important to understand the differences between cast stone and precast GFRC when deciding which product to use in a project. The materials have several similarities and architects and builders often opt for one material even if their application would be better suited for the other.
Nonetheless, while mixing up the applications of these materials isn’t always a recipe for a failed project and an unhappy client, it’s essential to know that they have marked differences not only in terms of their makeup and resistance to dirt, but also strength, appearance, use, and durability.
A recent study conducted by the United States Green Building Council suggests that sustainable building practices are a strong driving force in today’s economy. Between 2011 and 2014, the green building industry generated a whopping $167.4 billion in gross domestic product and supported over 2 million jobs. From now until 2018, spending on green building projects is expected to increase 15.1% year over year. That means more jobs, more income, and a booming economy–all thanks to sustainable building.