When a Jeep dealership contacted Todd Berg of Architectural Sheet Metal Systems Inc. (ASMS) of St. Louis, Missouri, Berg was quick to respond. The owner of Lou Fusz Jeep in O’Fallon, Missouri, was looking to install a sleek exterior to enhance the façade of the dealership and Todd knew he could help.
After several client meetings, ASMS offered their own solution and fabricated and installed their own ACM (aluminum composite material) and MCM (metal composite material) panels to create a sleek exterior look for the Lou Fusz Jeep dealership.
The panels consisted of Alpolic 4MM PE Core Anthracite Grey, Harvest Trail Bamboo, and HPA Silver. Similar panels have an outer skin of aluminum or metal (such as zinc, copper or stainless steel) over a plastic or fire-retardant core. They are used on “high-end commercial buildings,” according to ASMS president Todd Berg, “for a contemporary look for businesses such as car dealerships, banks, and hospitals.”
Saving time and improving project turnaround was the main incentive for the decision to fabricate and install their own ACM and MCM panels, Berg said. The typical lead time from outside manufacturers is four to 10 weeks, but “when we do this ourselves, we can have panels in one to two weeks. If you would like to control your schedule, it’s well worth making your own,” he added.
This project illustrates the options a contractor has when faced with weeks or months to receive a delivery of similar panels needed for a project. “You can save time by making them yourselves.”
On the Jeep project, “we installed the panels in a rainscreen system (dry joint) with route and return legs attached to extruded mounting hardware,” Berg said. That reduces the need for caulking, which increases efficiency and reduces leaks around joints.
As fire-rated products, the panels also have safety as well as cosmetic advantages. The finish also has a 35-year warranty.
While successful, bringing fabrication and installation in-house was an expensive, but strategic proposition: “We had to add a building and purchase an AXYZ machine,” Berg said. Training and personnel added to the equation. “We were lucky to have employees who were fluent in AutoCAD (2-D and 3-D computer-aided drafting software), but had to provide more training to be able to actually make our own panels. It probably cost us around $200,000 to start from scratch.”
The strategic investment has been a profitable move for ASMS, enough so that “we just bought a second machine at $150,000,” said Berg.
By bringing fabrication in-house, “we are starting to lure our competitors to buy from us instead of non-union shops,” said John Hyde, CEO of Architectural Sheet Metal Systems. Berg added that “since we’re using trained union sheet metal workers to draw, fabricate, and install, we think we have a better product.”
As the only Local 36 contractor currently making their own ACM panels, ASMS is in an enviable market position. They offer competitive pricing on the panels to other Local 36 contractors and sell to some area customers (selling the panels out-of-town is not feasible, due to the cost of transport). The potential for saving time and increasing efficiency has led Local 36 to encourage other contractors to consider fabricating their own panels.
ASMS’s decision to make their own panels and Local 36’s support reflects a national SMART union trend to expand ACM and MCM paneling fabrication by sheet metal contractors. SMART will subsidize training and help contractors pay for necessary equipment.
“There is a real need for this. Customers had been complaining for years about having to wait for panels, and we saw an opportunity,” said Hyde. “Only about 5 percent of union contractors nationally fabricate their own panels at the moment, so there is a lot of market available.”
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