In today’s world of severe weather and catastrophic fires, the construction industry must focus on ways to build buildings that can protect its content. This protection extends to people working or residing inside, along with items such as computer systems, data and personal belongings.
At the same time, cost, efficiency and safety must be primary considerations without asking architects and designers to sacrifice design freedoms. Today, the dramatic rise of wood prices—more than 112% in just the last year—makes exploring options essential.
Historically, the prefab industry had the dubious distinction of delivering ugly, poorly constructed, portable “boxes” that were not well insulated and had a relatively short shelf-life. Today’s prefab industry has advanced well beyond these perceptions. In recent years, technology and manufacturing advancements laid the foundation for an industrialized approach to construction. By adopting this scalable approach, using an integrated building system and emerging technologies, new buildings are produced with reduced overall costs, expedited building schedules and built spaces that don’t sacrifice comfort, style or beauty.
But, as we all know, we’ve clung pretty tightly to the standard building material—wood. Today, metal can, and should, be a consideration when determining the best approach to building anything—from schools and restaurants to homes. Not only is metal non-combustible, but light-gauge steel wall panels are flexible and forgiving to work with, making them easy to assemble while still offering a high level of fabrication accuracy.
BENEFITS OF METAL IN CONSTRUCTION
Using metal components adds flexibility and strength to a project, allowing users to speed the build process without sacrificing quality or increasing costs. And, there are several other reasons to consider integrating prefabricated metal components into builds.
The prefab building approach left architects and designers concerned they won’t have the design freedom and modifications necessary to meet specific customer needs. But a truly industrialized building approach gives the design team the option to reuse certain components, customizing them for particular jobs.
Metal is easily customizable and can be used as the underlying component in a building’s design or in elements where weight is a factor. It can also serve as an overlay on a traditionally built structure as a lightweight, esthetically pleasing façade, offering texture and pattern variations.
The recent series of natural disasters, paired with the pandemic, resulted in an explosion in building demand. Online shopping has become a safer and more convenient way to shop, resulting in distribution channels requiring more warehouses. The spike in illness drove health care organizations to find ways to quickly and safely expand facilities, while an increase in unemployment resulted in the demand for new and affordable housing. Industrialized metal buildings are less expensive and can be built much more quickly than traditional buildings, as evidenced by China’s construction of a temporary 1,500 room hospital in just five days.
Strength and Safety
Metal is as strong as wood, cheaper and adds flexibility while reducing weight. Framing, walls, roofs, and exterior facades for metal buildings can be assembled in various locations and then assembled on site. Metal is also non-combustible, making it ideal for geographies regularly impacted by wildfire, or for labs and kitchens where there is the potential for an accidental fire.
While metal buildings provide safety for inhabitants and contents, the industry is also well-regulated. The Metal Building Manufacturers Association requires builders to be accredited, and the International Accreditation Service offers inspection programs for manufacturers of metal buildings to ensure compliance.
New technologies are also emerging that permit metal to be “folded,” without damaging its structure or coating. This allows for better insulation in walls and roofs, and removes the need for capping or folding to keep unwanted visitors out. This kind of use has been proven in the tiny home market, making it a viable solution for addressing the nation’s housing crisis.
Clearly, a prefab approach to design/build contributes to overall cost reductions because design—and some assembly—can happen remotely, with components arriving on site ready to be assembled. But several other factors contribute to savings, specifically schedule and revenue. A compressed schedule means fewer workers on site for shorter timeframes, while reduced permitting processes add to overall savings. Finally, depending on the industry, the time to occupancy or output may reduce revenue loss for a business.
Metal costs also tend to be more stable than wood. Because wood is typically purchased based on project schedules, versus ideal buying seasons, metal allows purchase to occur when prices are lower.
Durability and Longevity
While wood is often a good alternative for building, it inherently lends itself to damage over time due to weather or pests, or both. Maintaining wood adds costs and requires staffing, while metal, in contrast, maintains its integrity, requiring little, if any, maintenance, so the value holds over the life of the building.
Metal components also have a low percentage of waste, reducing overall project expense. Steel is an inherently highly recycled material, which can contribute to lowering a building’s environmental footprint.
While wood structures will always play an important role in the construction and prefab industry, metal is making a strong push, and rightly so.
Read the article on Construction Executive.
Matthew Comber, SE, PE, Senior Director of Structural Engineering
Matthew leads the Architecture and Engineering Group for Project Frog, bringing a keen sense for practical design and engineering of holistic systems and processes that he injects into developing all of Project Frog’s building product lines and project deployment. He integrates buildings’ engineering and design with manufacturing and build processes, resulting in highly efficient building products leveraging the company’s Industrialized Construction approach at scale.