The Metal Building Industry: An Industry Built on Relationships
In the infancy of the metal building industry, building manufacturers chose to partner with local building contractors to represent their product. This manufacturer/contractor relationship would prove to be the most important and unique element to building a successful industry.
To understand the metal building market, it is important to consider its early years. With the growth of the steel market in North America, engineers began to take advantage of the spanning capabilities and the cost advantages of steel construction. The strength and lower cost of steel quickly increased the popularity of steel in building agricultural products, such as grain bins, that would provide the birthplace for many metal building manufacturers.
During World War II, the urgent need for hangers, storage structures, and barracks quickly moved metal panels and components into the early days of the metal building systems. These early metal buildings could be fabricated quickly, easily shipped to a location, and then quickly erected. After the war, the advantages of these building methods were quickly transformed from war efforts to industrial and agricultural buildings uses.
The Early-Growth Years: Expanding the Uses of Metal Buildings
Understanding that construction is a local industry, building manufacturers chose to partner with local contractors to meet construction demands of the post-war construction boom. Contractors became dealers of specific building brands and during the 1940s and 1950s, contractors sold mostly standardized building sizes and shapes, thus coining the term, “pre-engineered.”
The metal buildings of the 1950s were still very standardized agricultural and industrial products. The metal roof and walls were unpainted and not very attractive by today’s standards. However, contractors and end customers saw the value in how quickly a metal building could be ordered, delivered, and installed to meet their building needs.
The Growth Years of the 1960s and 1970s: Product Innovation and Dealer Training
In late 1959, the first major innovation happened: pre-painted wall panels. This advancement may sound simple today, but this simple improvement helped to transform metal buildings from industrial and agricultural use to commercial applications.
The second major product advancement came in the late 1960s with the creation of the standing-seam metal roof. Prior to this, the expansion and contraction properties of metal roofs inhibited the size of the building in which a metal roof could be installed. The standing-seam roof provided owners, designers, and contractors with a high-quality roof designed to be installed on even the largest of buildings. The expansion capabilities of this roof, along with the low upfront cost and the long-life cycle performance, helped to make metal buildings the preferred building method for low-rise, non-residential buildings. Advances in metal roof construction at this time also greatly reduced the potential for leaks.
With these improved products, the manufacturers began impressing architects and engineers. However, the manufacturers quickly learned that their partnerships with local contractors were the best way to increase sales. For the industry to grow, the manufacturers needed to help individual contractors to grow. By working closely together, the contractors and the manufacturers would quickly learn they needed each other in order to build successful businesses.
Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the building manufacturers trained their local contractors (dealers) on how to sell, erect, and service their metal buildings. With the manufacturers providing the structural engineering, the contractors started selling buildings directly to building owners. No longer did the contractor need to bid on a set of plans in hopes of being the lowest to sell a project. With the engineering strength of the manufacturers, the contractors could work directly with end owners to sell their construction services. The ability to sell directly to building owners quickly became today’s design/build construction process.
While it may be unfair to say that metal buildings invented design/build construction, it is fair to say that metal buildings greatly helped to grow the design/build market and that design/build helped to grow the metal building industry. Throughout the years, building owners began to see the cost and speed of construction as the advantage of metal buildings and design/build construction.
The 1990s and Early 2000s: Computer Technology
By the 1990s, the industry had moved beyond its “pre-engineered” roots. The advancement of computers in the 1990s and early 2000s only helped to create more robust design systems and a higher level of professionalism from manufacturers and their building contractors. Through advancing computer engineering systems, manufacturers and contractors were able to quickly price and present building owners with detailed preliminary building design drawings.
2004 to Today: The Green-Building Movement
As building needs have evolved, so have metal buildings. Metal buildings are well positioned to meet the demand for sustainable and energy-efficient structures.
Green advantages of metal buildings:
- Highly recycled content—nothing is more recyclable than steel.
- Life-cycle cost advantages of the standing-seam metal roof—with many metal roofs lasting 30 years and beyond, building owners are seeing the long-term cost advantages that metal brings as compared to many of the other roofing materials.
- Natural daylighting works well with metal building systems.
- Energy efficiency—great improvements in insulation systems and products allow metal building to be properly insulated to meet today’s building codes.
There were many contributing factors for the growth and success of the metal building market, but the relationship/partnership between manufacturers and contractors was the most critical. Throughout the years, each needed the success of the other to continue to grow the market, provide innovation, and to continue to meet the needs of the marketplace. This rich history of collaboration has helped metal buildings gain recognition for what they represent—one of the best options for energy-efficient, low-cost buildings.
This article was published in the February 2016 issue of Insulation Outlook magazine. Copyright © 2016 National Insulation Association. All rights reserved. The contents of this website and Insulation Outlook magazine may not be reproduced in any means, in whole or in part, without the prior written permission of the publisher and NIA. Any unauthorized duplication is strictly prohibited and would violate NIA’s copyright and may violate other copyright agreements that NIA has with authors and partners. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to reprint or reproduce this content.