Customization, Module Optimization and Solid Metal Panels

Achieving a very specific look for a new structure—everything from a high-rise condominium or office building to a parking garage for thousands of cars—often requires one common denominator: customization.

Metal panels create customized looks

By Peter Scharr

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Architects and designers know that they can more readily distinguish their designs—and please their clients—if they are able to specify external cladding that is unique in size, texture and color. With such a selection, they can deliver what their client seeks: a compelling building, one that has its own signature.

Among the important questions that come with customization: How much is it going to cost to achieve that level of differentiation? From a manufacturer of exterior wall cladding, the response is quite often universal: it depends. Utilizing solid metal panels to create a customized look comes with many pluses, particularly when the manufacturing process optimizes the modules to be used.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Architectural plate panels have a number of advantages over more mass-produced panel systems. For one, they can be formed from raw aluminum in increments of 12 inches. This comes from sheet stock commonly available in sizes of up to 72 inches wide. Starting with such options provides a broader canvas for customization without added costs.

Also consider that plate panels are usually finished following the fabrication process. This means only the finished panel needs to be painted, reducing wasteful drop-offs of finished metal from larger coil runs of more conventional rollform or composite systems. In this way, a manufacturer can produce small amounts of custom-sized panels in custom colors with minimal waste and at a fairly low cost for such customization. Because of the coating process, batch sizes of 500 square feet in multiple colors can be easily achieved on a given project.

With modern production equipment, size changes are relatively easy and inexpensive. However, when you factor in the cost of hundreds of unique panel sizes on a project, it can have a substantial impact on the overall project delivery and costs. Each requires design, fabrication drawings, special panel marks, and crating and field handling of one-off sizes. Translation: longer lead times, more complex field execution and higher set-up costs.

Standardizing the manufacturing process by settling on optimal sizes can have a positive impact on overall budget and delivery time. Sizing panels between 24 to 40 square feet per panel reduces the number of hours to fabricate a typical panel, crate it and unpack it on the job site. For example, it takes twice as much time to make two, 2-foot by 8-foot panels as it does to make one, 4-foot by 8-foot panel and significantly more lumber to crate and handle at the painting line.

In addition, the recovery of waste in the fabrication process of mill-finished products is upwards of around 99%, which flows directly back into the recycle stream for the next project. The finished panel itself and its components are all recyclable when the product has reached its end life in two to four decades.

Time and Money

The size and weight of external cladding when it rolls off the manufacturing line directly impacts how quickly and efficiently it can be installed on the job site when the product arrives. Choose the optimal weight and size of a panel ideal for two men to install in the field, and it translates into labor savings. Fewer hands and equipment will be required to put the product in place.

Consider the number of touch points required as well. Metal panels that only require fastening along the long axis of a panel reduce the number of screws required to be drilled into the framing. Larger modules can also reduce the quantity of sub-framing to attach the panels to the stud work. Smaller format panels in lighter gauges require many more screws and sometimes additional clips and sub-framing for installation. This adds labor costs, potentially driving up the overall cost of the project.

Advance Planning Adds Up

Solid metal panels provide a wide array of customization options for discerning designers seeking that unique, modern look. When designers and manufacturers work together to optimize the modules being used, the project retains that ability to differentiate the design, and everyone involved (the designer, the construction crews and the building owner) can realize cost savings that go directly to the bottom line.

Peter Scharr is senior sales executive, vice president and co-owner of Metalwërks, Kennett Square, Pa. To learn more, visit

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