Metal Architecture Home

Metal Buildings’ Major Components

An established, robust and economical method of steel construction

Chief Buildings Feb18 01

Metal buildings. Steel buildings. Systems buildings. Pre-engineered metal buildings.

What are we talking about? We are talking about an established, robust and economical method of steel construction that dates back almost a century. Standing seam roofs, a staple in the metal building industry, followed later in the early 1900s. So why is it that so many people are confused about what metal building systems are, and what they can and cannot be used for?

Primary Framing

Primary framing is comprised of fabricated columns and rafters; referred to as frame lines or main frames when bolted together. These are the heavy members in the superstructure that bear the brunt of the weight and applied loads. These components are the distinguishable elements that people can see, and know without a doubt, that they are looking at a metal building. Unlike other steel construction methods that utilize only hot-rolled sectional members, a metal building’s primary framing members can be tapered.

Still an I-shape in cross sectional view, the depth of that cross section will vary along the length. These tapered members are comprised of carefully selected plate steel of various thicknesses for the web, top flange and bottom flange. This varying of the web depth and plate thicknesses allows the strength of the section to match the actual member’s requirements while achieving maximum efficiency. Specialized equipment used by metal building manufacturing plants handle the welding of these tapered, structural members so that quality and precision can be better controlled.

Secondary Framing

Secondary framing is comprised of cold-formed members shaped to cee or zee profiles. Referred to as girts, purlins and eave struts, these members primarily tie the main frames together, can offer stability in weak axes, as well as bear weight and resist other applied loads based on the designed usage. Like the primary framing, the secondary member attachment is with bolted connections. Unlike the primary framing that is welded together, secondary framing is formed by rolling a flat sheet of steel into a functional profile, hence the term cold-rolled or cold-formed. Holes are added via CNC-controlled machines. Advanced machinery is key for quality and precision.

Building Envelope

Typically comprised of pre-coated, single-skin metal panels; however, insulated metal panels are becoming more commonplace. However, just as common, the materials used to enclose a metal building structure can vary from masonry to glass,wood siding to innovative architectural panels,and beyond. Chances are the brick façade you see on your favorite retail store is hiding a metal building beneath. In certain applications, the metal panels add structural integrity to the building system as a whole, and why the term metal building systems is commonly used. Single-skin panels and the metal components of insulated panels are cold-formed, just like the secondary framing.

Sheet steel runs through a progressive series of rollers that shapes the flat material into a specific cross-sectional profile that is strong and durable. After cutting to length, appropriately bundled and crated, the finished product is ready for delivery. While an economical option, the through-fastened metal panel remains a long-lasting, attractive and versatile product. Architectural metal panels offer concealed fastener options, with enough variety to likely satisfy all aesthetic demands. For the ultimate in longevity and low maintenance, the standing seam roof system is a proven choice. Utilizing mechanical seams and no structural penetrations within the field of the roof plane, these systems
are a lifetime solution.

Metal Building Benefits

Metal buildings can accept the full gamut of wall finishes and treatments. These buildings are used for almost every application imaginable. A metal building is a viable alternative to most any other common design method: tilt-wall construction, stickframed, cast-in-place and conventional steel construction. Albeit, some methods make more sense than others due to specific building uses. Making up approximately 50 percent of all new construction for low-rise, non-residential applications, opting for the metal building is actually commonplace.

Metal buildings have also proven to be an economical solution that can save time and do it responsibly. Because steel is recyclable and there is minimal waste at the job site, a metal building is green by fact. Choosing a design-build firm could mean that facilities are occupied months before any other construction delivery method can offer. A metal building erector will typically stand up the framing and close in the building when metal panels are used. Competing methods often require multiple, separate tradesmen and suppliers, and that alone can add time to your schedule.

Brian Shelton is marketing manager for Chief Buildings, Grand Island, Neb. To learn more, visit or call (800) 845-1767.