As the ACM wall panel industry has grown and continued to gain market share over traditional 1/8” aluminum plate panels, the failure of both the architectural and specification writer community to perform their due diligence, and attempt to educate themselves in gaining a better understanding of the difference between the two products has never been more obvious. To be fair, there are so many options out there to choose from: dry joint systems; wet joint systems; exposed fasteners; concealed fasteners; countless different system depths; pressure equalized rainscreen (PER); or drained back ventilated systems.
QC Numbers and Paint Codes Should Not Define Wall Panel Specifications
With all of this being said, we would attribute one major issue to the massive number of specifications that are published on a weekly basis that simply can’t be followed because they are written so poorly – usually using no more than QC numbers and Paint codes. You see, 20 years ago before ACM wall panels became a legitimate option, aluminum plate was the only choice we had when cladding our buildings. Architects didn’t necessarily know or care if their finished panel products were made from 3003, 5005 or 5052 grade aluminum, they only knew what they wanted them look like. Most, if not all, were clear anodized or a specific PPG or Valspar QC number that they saw in a catalogue. To be fair, this level of product knowledge was acceptable at that time because most plate wall panels were simply broke on a break press with overlapping flanges and screwed to a wall. There were no systems per say to understand, nor was there specific testing criteria that really applied. Your project pretty much got whatever design the fabricator decided to manufacture for you. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case in the world of architectural products we live in now, nor should it be acceptable. There is far more to be considered with, and a great deal more information available to assist you in gaining system knowledge, that should be understood and incorporated when designing a proper wall panel assembly.
ACM Plank Manufacturers Are Not The Same as ACM Wall Panel Manufacturers
At times, our industry is in some way it’s own worst enemy. When pre-painted ACM plank was first introduced, the manufacturers had the opportunity to educate the architects on their shiny new product (Aluiminum Composite Material or ACM) and show them how it works when it is properly fabricated and affixed to a tested aluminum extrusion system. However, rather than educate, they choose to market their products based on razzle-dazzle. They jousted over C.I.D. (Corporate Identity) programs and compared who has the most standard colors, or the latest shiny new finish. As a result, they have trained the architectural industry to view ACM as nothing more than a paint code in a brochure, no different than the aluminum plate systems of the past - simply a commodity. So when you really think about it, we as an industry have no one to blame but ourselves for the often confusing and frustrating position we find ourselves in, reading specifications that constantly call out ACM plank manufacturers as ACM panel fabricators - when they are not.
The truth is, most plank manufacturers to this day still don’t understand systems. They have little to no knowledge of how their products get fabricated or installed. This puts the fabricator community in a very precarious position when attempting to convince an architect of why his system should be considered as an “alternative product” to the plank brands they specified on the project when they are still going to have to use them in the manufacturing process.
Here’s what we would like to say to the industry:
A point of interest on your next project and something to consider when selecting products for your clients. NONE OF THESE COMPANIES MAKE ACM PANELS, NOR DO THEY INSTALL THEM:
- Reynobond®: Alcoa
- ALPOLIC®: Mitsubishi
- larson®: Alucoil
- ALUCOBOND®: 3M plastics
Please respectfully consider this change of direction.
Until the arrival of the EVO “rivetless ” panel system, the lack of a nationally recognized wall panel system and the number of different systems that are in the market has contributed to poorly written specifications. Specifications are typically inaccurate due to the use of `cut and paste’ tactics, which define a specific ACM plank brand. Uncertainty becomes immediately apparent to the estimators and fabricators who do recognize the unique requirements and differences between systems. This is a flag waving moment by most of us that we experience all too often.
Our industry has developed a bad habit of looking at past projects and specifications, and without better knowledge or know how, Architects and Specification Writers are essentially constantly driving a square peg in a round hole by using ACM wall panel specifications they’ve been comfortable with in the past, without fully understanding wall assemblies and how they work. So with that said, we at Carter have been on a mission over the last 2 years to educate and help Architects and Specification Writers better understand a properly designed wall panel system assembly. One of the biggest mistakes that we see on a daily basis is in defining the difference between a system or a system manufacturer and an ACM plank or ACM plank manufacturer. The difference being that the system consists of the engineered aluminum extruded components necessary to form a framework and to hang the panels on the building, while the ACM plank is the pre-finished coil coated aluminum with a plastic resin core, provided by (hopefully) a North American based ACM plank manufacturer.
We often see Architects that are also confused with their specifications when it comes to the wall panel section. Rather than calling out a manufacturer for a properly designed panel system, they simply call out an ACM plank manufacturer. Their perception is that those are the same people who are fabricating the panels.
This is not the case. Here are the 4 top misconceptions about most ACM plank manufacturers. They:
- Do not have their own systems
- Do not have tested systems
- Do not manufacture or fabricate or install systems; and for that matter
- Don't understand wall panel systems or pressure-equalized rain screen designs
So there needs to be a very clear separation in the specification, on what the Architect's expectations are for the wall panel systems performance and to identify the actual panel system that provides the optimal performance criteria, separate from the ACM plank of choice.
The Importance of a Nationally Recognized Specification for Division 07 ACM Wall Panel Systems
After all, in threatening climatic conditions, it is the extruded framework’s structural integrity and the design of the panel system that is going to prevent the panel from becoming airborne; not the pretty color or texture of the ACM plank that’s been chosen. It is crucial that Architects and Specification Writers keep up with their CE credits and gain greater insight and education into developing `the performance specification’ for their wall panel system. Failure to clearly define the performance requirements ultimately leads to the compromised safety of the building from many vantage points. The advancement of building envelope sciences allows for a more consistent and disciplined approach to panel system design and construction than we have ever had in the past. Having the performance criteria approved through scientific rigor and a nationally-recognized tested wall panel design, such as Carter's EVO™ RIVETLESS™ or FUSION™ DRILLFREE™ system is representative of a proper specification for Division 07 – Wall Panel System.
The Architect has been commissioned or hired by an end-user or building owner to ensure that they get a quality product and that the building that can stand the test of time. In essence, every time an Architect produces a poorly written specification, it is opening the floodgates to a myriad of alternates or substitutions being offered up for consideration, in place of a properly tested wall panel system. Generally, these are not `like systems’. Rather, they are different systems, designed by different people, in different parts of North America and they inevitably end up in a situation where, on their customer’s behalf, they are trying to find the right system for the right price. But with this approach, they are not comparing apples to apples. You could end up with 5 different systems with 5 different sets of details with 5 different approaches to fabrication with 5 different approaches to installation. This inconsistent approach could lead to a poorly designed and poorly constructed exterior building envelope.
What we want to have happen is a breakaway from a complacency model in this scope; by not accepting a panel design just because someone knows of someone that installs panels, or someone prefers one color over the other. We want to prevent failure of the building envelope and potential legal matters that can arise. In the past, it would appear many decisions were based on something other than science. The benefit of Building Envelope Sciences and developing a stronger specification for Division 07 wall panel systems looks good for the future because of the new requirements of better firms, smarter building owners and the firms that they hire insisting on more stringent testing, striving to construct an environmentally, economically, efficient wall panel system/assembely for their building envelope.
By clearly defining the performance requirements at the outset of a building project separate from a brand or plank color and to consider proper pressure-equalized rain screen systems with the importance of a nationally-recognized panel system, these essential considerations will establish a better approach to Specifying a wall panel system.