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Light-Gauge Framing

The Steel Framing Solution

Metal Construction News sat down with Ray Frobosilo, president & founder of Edison N.J.-based Super Stud Building Products, to get his thoughts on trends in the metal framing market segment both now and in the future.

MCN: What will it take to make light-gauge steel the framing material of choice for non-residential construction?

Ray Frobosilo: Light-gauge, or coldformed steel framing (CFS), has made significant strides as a cost-effective solution in commercial, industrial and institutional construction over the past eight years or so. This has happened largely due to the American Iron and Steel Institute's (AISI) coordinate committee work to integrate CFS prescriptive standards into the new International Building Codes (IBC).

Those efforts have been ongoing since the early '90s and culminated in the IBC recognizing and integrating many of the advantages CFS can offer into the codes starting with the 1998 revisions. CFS can now be used in taller structures than before and that has opened up new opportunities and design solutions. In the years since these code changes, architects, engineers, owners and GCs have been more open to CFS as an alternative to wood and concrete.

CFS saves time through integration of more work through fewer trades and the ability to utilize panelization. Since it is lighter, it most often reduces foundation costs. Since it is non-combustible, it offers quantifiable savings to the owner going forward, notable with fire insurance and reduction in mold related issues. These are especially relevant in the hospitality, assisted living and multifamily markets where schedules and ongoing operating costs are especially relevant.

MCN: What are the obstacles to light gauge steel framing playing a larger role in the residential market? How can the industry overcome them?

Frobosilo: The biggest single obstacle is atrained labor force, especially if steel tries to compete with wood framing on a stick-for-stick basis, which is how most carpenters are going to relate to it. Further integration of prescriptive method for single-family homes is also going to be needed, as currently most every steel framed home must be engineered, which is not the case for wood framed homes in most of the country.

Other things that will begin to change this will be integration of new products and methods that will reduce the barriers to CFS being a cost-effective option, including things such as proprietary panel systems like Fro Mar, and panelization in general will reduce the amount and level of skilled labor needed to build a home. To date, these have been the most significant barriers to entry into single-family markets. Some large builders have put significant resources into the effort with varying degrees of success, but even the most noteworthy of those endeavors were not prepared to deal with the impact of the banking debacle that came to light in2008 and its impact on the overall construction markets.


MCN: What are the newest innovation in steel framing?

Frobosilo: The most prevalent innovations relate to non-structural framing where there has been an emergence of "EQ," or equivalent drywall framing products that have resulted in many new design innovations that will represent significant savings in partition wall framing in the long run.

Super Stud's product in this genre is called The EDGE and it is having a very positive impact on our business. There are also new panel and structural systems being brought to market that will render CFS more cost-effective than ever. Our Fro Mar panel has recently obtained the difficult Miami-Dade approval for sustained 150-mph resistant construction, and this will allow CFS to be more relevant than ever in affordable, sustainable safe housing in disaster-prone regions.

MCN: How is steel framing important to the green building movement?

Frobosilo: Steel is the most recycled material on Earth. As such, CFS is a major contributor to LEED qualification. Unfortunately, this often results in misunderstanding and misinterpretation on the part of contractors and design professionals, as they tend to rely on steel to contribute more to this process than is allowed under the LEED criteria. There needs to be some stabilization and better education as to what LEED is and how steel can contribute to this process. This misinterpretation often results in confusion in the construction process and this can result in delays.

MCN: Who specifies steel framing… the architect? The contractor? How can they be influenced?

Frobosilo: The architects are key,as much of the liability for a satisfied client falls on their shoulders. In that regard, the owner is also a key influencer. Once these two buy into CFS as a viable option, the GC generally is on board. We talk above about the benefits that are now being legitimized by the IBC, and that is huge in this process. The key is to know the facts and not misrepresent what CFS can offer. The process has to be managed credibly for it all to come together.

MCN: What are the architectural benefits to steel framing over other materials?

Frobosilo: Lighter weight affords the architect innumerable design options compared to other materials while significantly reducing foundation costs. For example, many of Frank Geary's enormously complex designs are framed using CFS. Also, the lion's head at the entrance of the MGM hotel in Las Vegas is framed using CFS. Take a look around Las Vegas or Orlando and much of the theming you see can only be accomplished using cold-formed steel. In the case of more traditional structures such as hotels, the architect can offer the clientas many design options as with any other material while still keeping weight and costs down and providing a safe, sustainable, mold resistant structure. No other material can make those claims.

MCN: What sets your company's product(s) apart from your competitors?

Frobosilo: We are fortunate to have been able to grow our business by focusing on customer service and relationships. That has allowed us to be financially successful, and we have poured those profits back into our business to develop new products and expand our product range into related markets that are not necessarily steel related.

Most noteworthy among our products that set us apart from our competitors: The EDGE EQ framing system has set a new standard for this product genre.

Fro Mar is the only steel panel yet approved by Miami-Dade that does not require any additional sheathing to obtain a 150-mph sustained rating. This product has tremendous potential for military base construction, as well.

We manufacture a complete line of hollow metal doors at our plant in Edison, N.J.