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Donald L. Johnson, P.E.: Demonstrates a commitment to innovation in structural design and design standards

2013 Metal Construction Hall of Fame

Hof  Johnson  Donald

Donald Johnson's leadership in product research and testing has directly resulted in product improvements that have been implemented by metal building manufacturing companies worldwide. Throughout his career, Johnson has demonstrated a commitment to innovation, structural design and design standards, with a focus on primary and secondary frames.

An early start

At the young age of 15, Johnson joined Butler Manufacturing, Kansas City, Mo., as a blueprint clerk. After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Kansas, where he received a Bachelor of Science

degree in civil engineering. Throughout his college years, Johnson worked at Butler as a technician and designer. He became a full-time employee of Butler after his graduation, and in his 40 years at the company, he advanced from engineer to principal engineering consultant, eventually leading Butler's engineering department.

"Butler was a challenge every day, but there wasn't a day that I didn't enjoy going to work," Johnson says. "I said that at my retirement party. I've always loved great people working with me. I recall few obstacles over the years; I was fortunate to work for a company that was always supportive of new ideas."

"The metal construction industry is important because from the beginning, it has provided professionally engineered buildings to the public for industrial, commercial and civic applications that are also economical."

Donald Johnson

While there were few obstacles at Butler, there were industry challenges that Johnson encountered. "In structural engineering no one has all the answers," he says. "The specifications that define our designs are changed every few years as research is completed at industry and university laboratories. This will be the case in the future." Johnson's major accomplishments at Butler include integrating the computer into the engineering department, developing full-scale testing to study problems that were not being addressed in the specification(s), and the establishment of standards (best practices) for design and fabrication to be applied uniformly at all design/fabrication facilities around the country.

Industry advocate

Over the years, Johnson has offered his engineering expertise to many industry organizations, including the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC), (AISI), and the American Society of Testing and Materials, among others. He served in a leadership role at Metal Building Manufacturers Association (MBMA) as a two-term chairman of the technical committee and chairman of the certification committee. As chairman of the certification committee, Johnson spearheaded the formation of the AISC-MB certification program. This functions as a quality assurance program and differentiates the metal building industry from other forms of construction. This program is now implemented by the International Accreditation Services.

"MBMA began looking at certification at a time when there was a widely held perception that metal buildings were only good for shade and shelter," Johnson says. "Publicizing a certification program managed by a highly respected organization like AISC added considerable credibility to the marketing programs of our industry. The discipline and self examination of each company's practices resulted in improvements across the board." Johnson feels with many associations related to the metal construction industry, among the most important are the regulatory organizations: national, state and local. "A minor change in the building code can have serious implications for everyone in the industry," Johnson says. "Competing material suppliers are at the hearings pushing changes to benefit their products. It is essential that the metal construction industry has representatives protecting our interests. The same rationale is appropriate for the specification and standards organizations."

Johnson assisted in leading the MBMA's first major research initiative in 1966 with Dr. George Lee of State University of New York at Buffalo. He completed a study on tapered structural members, which positively impacted building codes and material specifications, bringing metal building solutions to the forefront of the construction industry. Johnson's research and testing of welded sections fabricated from thin flange and web materials resulted in design formula adopted by AISC. The formula determines the effective section properties of these structural members, which are the basis of primary frames.

Still active

Johnson has remained an active member of the industry since his retirement in 1996. He has served as a consulting engineer for Butler, where he advises on metal building retrofits, leads Butler Builder seminars and presents to engineering firms in New England, where he currently resides. He is committed to mentoring young engineers, both at Butler and other companies, to enrich the future of metal building construction. Looking to metal construction's future, he anticipates continued improvement in appearance options, and expanded flexibility in both wall treatments and computer-controlled fabrication.