Orginally published in the Bakken Construction News - January/February 2014
Builders face a variety of challenges in the Williston Basin from the high cost of and access to construction materials and labour, but a New Zealand-based company hopes to provide an innovative light gauge steel solution to address those needs globally.
Supply chain and labor challenges
Because of the historically small volume of construction in the region and the long distance from urban centers such as Minot, Bismarck, Fargo and Billings, Montana, the quantity and scale of building materials suppliers in western North Dakota is small and the transportation costs for material delivery is high. Add to that the increase in annual construction volume as measured in building permit valuation from $10 - $20 million in 2002 to 2005 in Williston to a range of $40 - $470 million since then and you can imagine the strain on materials sourcing.
The exponential increase in activity also put a strain on the available labor market resulting in the majority of labor and trades having to come from outside of the region. Additionally, subs and contractors have to deal with the same lack of housing as everyone else.
The supply and demand imbalance created high costs in both materials and labor, as well as long, costly lead times. Product sourcing challenges, labor access, increased planning, and project management requirements and prices test even the most seasoned builder when tackling a construction project in western North Dakota.
FRAMECAD expects to address challenges
FRAMECAD, with offices in Africa, Australia, Asia, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates and Carrollton, Texas, has created what it calls an “all-inclusive solution” that addresses these types of challenges throughout the world. Its steel framing is being used in a variety of projects worldwide encompassing commercial, industrial and residential projects including workforce and military housing.
FRAMECAD’s cold-formed, or light gauge, steel framing allows clients to achieve fast, reliable and automated production and construction capabilities while minimizing the need for skilled labor, which results in accelerated project completion and improved product quality, according to Tom Reed, FRAMECAD America Inc. senior executive program manager in the U.S., its territories and Canada.
The system can take project drawings and create the resulting framing components. It then takes roll-fed steel and fabricates the construction materials including stamping for assembly. The building materials and assembly process reduces the skill level necessary for framing. While this is an oversimplification, itsummarizes the process. Fully engineered building materials are created by the system and shipped to location in containers or a system can be located regionally or directly onsite in what is called a “Factory in a Can.” These features along with the less-skilled assembly requirements are expected to be a good fit for the challenges facing Bakken region builders and developers.
“FRAMECAD is the world’s most advanced end-to-end steel frame design and manufacturing system, allowing you to mass produce cold-formed steel frames with precision accuracy that is determined by the system, not the skill level of factory workers or on-site assemblers,” Reed added.
Advantages and disadvantages
The company claims steel is a better construction material, resulting in superb building attributes with benefits to the builder, consumer and planet. Steel, an inorganic material, will not rot, warp, split, crack, or encourage mold growth and is not susceptible to termites and other insects. It has the highest strength to weight ratio of any building material including wood.
Steel does not expand or contract with respect to moisture and it is non-combustible and earthquake resistant. The benefits to a builder or a developer using the FRAMECAD system solution along with light gauge steel construction includes speed that is up to 25 percent faster than wood and 50 percent faster than concrete, according to Reed.
Consumers opting for light gauge steel framing see benefits ranging from less maintenance to a stronger, lighter structure to healthier air quality due to a lack of off-gassing and chemical treatments. Steel is lighter in weight than other framing materials — 30 percent lighter than wood and 60 percent lighter than concrete — creates minimal waste, results in fewer call-backs for warranty issues such as popped nails and expansion and contraction, and is “green” because it can be recycled. In the end, life cycle steel is more resilient and ultimately a less expensive building method, Reed added.
Despite its many advantages, steel does conduct heat and cold more than wood and requires mitigation to address heat transfer. Steel would require insulation similar to other building materials such as wood which is typically applied along the exterior flanges of the stud wall, thus isolating the steel from the outside environment. This, according to Reed, comes at a small incremental cost to the additional insulation required in a steelframed wall compared to a wood-framed wall, while it still maintains FRAMECAD’s cost and schedule advantages.
“Once that is done, the thermal conductivity of steel will no longer become an issue and steel will perform the same as or better than a cavity insulated wood-framed wall. The insulated steel wall does not permit condensation to take place in the wall cavity and therefore, no discoloration or shadowing effect will happen,” Reed said. Other potential drawbacks are the overall strength of light gauge steel and the fluctuating costs of framing materials.
Metal framing, according to some, may not provide enough support for cabinetry and heavy wall hangings, thus requiringadded support and greater expense. Reed countered, noting blocking is installed between the studs to support kitchen cabinets — the same procedure done when using wood framing. “Furthermore, steel has a more consistent price point and you can control your manufacturing through lean processes by using our system,” he added.
Contrary to reports stating steel framing requires specialized tools and associated construction materials that make for a more expensive option over wood, Reed said specialized tools are not required for a FRAMECAD steel-framed structure. The only tool required is a power drill along with screws and fasteners. Drywall is typically screwed to a steel wall the same way it is screwed to a wood wall. The FRAMECAD system does not require any additional tools such as those needed in a traditional steel stud and track system.
Expanding in U.S. Markets and the Bakken With more than 100 employees and close to 500 manufacturing locations worldwide, FRAMECAD has expanded its reach to more than 60 countries. The company ships 80 to 100 20- and 40-foot building product containers each week throughout the world. Reed says the company, which was startedin 1987, has been the recipient of a lot ofinterest throughout the U.S.; including the military which is currently utilizing FRAMECAD’s system to manufacture light gauge steel in a mobile factory at an Air Force base and throughout the Middle east.
He said FRAMECAD is looking to expand in North America and is currentlyworking in the U.S. to create centers of excellence in steel building processes that will ultimately enable more developers,builders and contractors to build with light gauge steel in a rapid assembly resilient building process while also training and developing steel frame labor resources from the unskilled labor pool.
“FRAMECAD believes that the U.S. market is primed for the adoption of steel and its resilient offerings to the consumer and to the planet. We are extremely hopeful that developers, contractors, builders and owners are ready to adapt to a cutting-edge building technology that can provide a quality product to the end user and ultimately be more cost competitive due to our rapid assembly building processes,” Reed said. The company is also focused on North Dakota because the state “has such a need” and shortage of suppliers and labor given the booming state of oil and gas activity in the Bakken shale play.
“We really have a good solution that could be applicable to commercial and residential applications in the area. We’re trying to see if we can make penetration into the market. We’re hoping potentially this spring,” said Reed.