In an industry where owners are requesting A/E/C firms to condense schedules and budgets while a skilled labor shortage rages on, the need to incorporate solutions that require less time and fewer workers is rising. We’re currently watching (and participating in) low labor force trends.

Proprietary Steel Connections

By: Marshall Carman

How we’re seeing it used

Proprietary steel moment connections had historically been used in high seismic areas where they offered performance advantages over conventional welded flange bolted web moment frames, reduced the extent special inspections in the field by replacing full penetration welds with fillet welds, and allowed for stronger and stiffer frame configurations than previously permitted for conventional special moment frames. Now the shift is towards lower seismic markets, where the focus is on reducing erection time and taking advantage of the stronger and stiffer connections to reduce overall steel tonnage and the overall number of moment connections.

Photo courtesy of SidePlate Systems, Inc.

Challenges

Recent volatility aside, steel had been historically inexpensive. Therefore, potential cost savings due to reduced tonnage were not always significant enough alone to offset the cost/fees for use of the proprietary connections and the increase in shop labor. To offset these costs, one might have to look at erection savings, special inspection savings, engineering savings as well as connection design savings. Erectors and inspectors who are unfamiliar with the systems may not offer cost or time savings associated with the potential reduced welding and erection time.

Why it’s cool

The simplicity and speed of erecting these proprietary systems in the field is impressive. Allowing these connections to be welded in the shop, and bolted in the field can increase quality, while decreasing field labor and inspection time and cost. Because the connection design occurs during the creation of construction documents, it removes this time and scope from the steel fabricator’s schedule.

Expect to see more of it

The recent increase in steel prices makes it easier to realize the cost savings associated with these connections. Once erectors, engineers and special inspectors become more familiar with the products, they’ll be able to more accurately price their services.


Cold-Formed Steel Framing Prefabrication

By: Joe Seymour

How we’re seeing it used

Recently, some of our clients have asked us to provide input on framing details for panelized wall construction. This method of construction, which is typically used for infill framing conditions, can help save construction time on the jobsite. Rather than framing walls piece by piece on site, panels are prefabricated in a shop off-site and then shipped and erected, allowing the panels to be built ahead of time and quickly set in place once they arrive on-site.

University of Cincinnati Nippert Stadium Press Box

Challenges

1. It is most commonly used for load-bearing framing or infill framing between floors. It’s more difficult to apply to bypass framing conditions, but it can be done.

2. Shipping and shop labor costs can offset the potential savings in construction time on-site.

3. It requires fairly precise layout planning and dimensions since the pre-fabricated panels need to fit together relatively quickly once they arrive on-site.

Why it’s cool

1. It can provide valuable savings in the construction project schedule.

2. With our experience in Revit and BIM technologies, we have the capability to generate 3D models and shop drawings for panelized wall construction.

Expect to see more of it

Contractors are asking about it due to the potential to save time in the overall construction process.


Cross-Laminated Timber

By: Doug Steimle

How we’re seeing it used

The industry is really evolving in how CLT is used. Currently, we’re seeing it used in mid-rise residential multi-family and hotel construction, but many are pushing for its use in taller wood structures (6-18 stories).

Given its speed of construction and low labor required on-site, it’s preferred where labor and land costs are high; we’ve had a lot of success with the material in New York City.

It also performs very well with regards to blast resistance, similar to reinforced CMU structures and nearly as well as reinforced concrete structures, and better than conventional light gauge or stick-built wood structures from a thermal or sound perspective. Those have been major selling points for several hotel projects we’ve also been involved in on US Armed Forces Bases. Candlewood Suites Redstone Arsenal is a great example.

Candlewood Suites at Redstone Arsenal
Candlewood Suites at Redstone Arsenal

Challenges

1. Many people are interested in the possibilities of CLT, but not many are educated about it. If developers don’t understand the pros and cons, then it will be ignored.

2. Most construction types have a material/labor ratio of approximately 50/50, but due to the low labor required for CLT construction, the material/labor split is around 80/20. If contractors haven’t worked with CLT and experienced the savings in labor, it may not be reflected in the pricing, so the project might not be built out of CLT because the price came in artificially high.

Why it’s cool

CLT construction is the epitome of cool. Not only is it cool to look at, which makes it a prime candidate for being exposed in a finished structure, but it’s also extremely strong and very dimensionally stable. While the construction industry is traditionally very slow to change, great strides have been made in the acceptance of CLT in the past 20 years. It’s hard to argue against a material that has performed well in fire testing far more rigorous than what other types of construction have been up against, and one that’s made from renewable materials that are a carbon sink. As an industry, we need to consider the impact of construction on our environment; this is an economical, cutting edge and cool way to do it.

Expect to see more of it

There is so much momentum with this type of construction that I believe it’s not an if CLT becomes mainstream, but when it will. CLT offers an alternative to steel and concrete construction for taller buildings, and doesn’t compete with conventionally framed stick wood buildings. Currently, there are proposed changes to the 2021 IBC that will change what can be done with CLT construction. Type IV (Heavy Timber) construction will be broken into four different categories that will allow for CLT construction to be built up to 18 stories tall (current height limitation is six stories). Once this major change is incorporated, CLT and heavy timber will become a far more common choice.

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