Need Metal Wall Panels? How Many Copies?

By Scott Kriner, Green Metal Consulting

It's important for designers to have at least a cursory knowledge of the vast universe of building products and materials at their disposal. To assist them, architectural firms maintain libraries containing thousands of samples of everything from carpeting to roofing. Many of these building materials have been available for decades, and as a result a designer is normally familiar with the physical properties of them. Metal assemblies on the building envelope can be in the form of metal roofing, metal wall cladding, metal composite materials, and insulated metal panels. The metal on these materials can be steel, aluminum, zinc, copper, and stainless steel. Within each type of metal used, the designer can select from a range of alloys or processing that can change the physical properties, and can also change the corrosion performance and longevity. The same can be said for other building materials such as concrete, glass, and polymers.

Traditionally the designers have been taught that thicker and denser products are normally stronger than other types of materials. This thinking impacts the gage and chemistry of steel and other metals when selection is taking place. But that thinking is now being challenged with groundbreaking research at the Masdar Institute in the Arab Emirates.  The work at that institute is pushing the envelope for designing and 3D printing high performance materials that are unique and custom designed for specific applications.  According to SBC Magazine , Professor Rashid Abu Al-Rub at the Masdar Institute has been successful in changing the internal geometric structure of products such as metal, plastics, ceramics and composites.  This allows materials with high strength to be made lighter and in some cases with a foam-like internal geometry.

The research at the Masdar Institute has already created thousands of geometric arrangements for a given material.  By their nature these geometries are very complex which makes it very difficult to mass produce these with traditional manufacturing techniques. Technology in the field of 3D printing has caught up to these arrangements and is now being used to “print” them instead.

This should not be a surprise to those who are following the advances in 3D printing of a variety of items. For example, the DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has successfully 3D printed a house! News from around the globe recently highlighted the first 3D printed high rise office in Dubai. And closer to home, the first 3D printed motorcycle was recently introduced.

These improvements in building technology will undoubtedly change the processes that are now used when specifying building materials – including metal components.  Combining the technology from the Masdar Institute with continuous improvements in 3D printing and increasing computer technology  power will allow designers to select a material not simply on its traditional size, or strength or thickness, but instead by focusing on the desired properties of building components that can be achieve in more than one way of thinking with multiple geometric arrangements’

Not only will this development in materials design and “manufacturing” impact the designers, but it also puts more pressure on the traditional manufacturing of metal, concrete, glass, plastics and other building materials looking into the future. It will impact the building construction industry in many ways, including the cost (lower or higher?), the size, the durability , and the performance. The 3D component to this futuristic look at material design has also caught the eye of the 2016 METALCON Conference and Expo to be held in Baltimore, MD. METALCON is the metal construction industry’s annual international trade show.  Several of the speakers at the event will be talking about how 3D  printing technologies will change the way in which buildings are designed and constructed in the near future. More information on METALCON can be found at

Scott Kriner is the president and founder of Green Metal Consulting Inc. He is a LEED Accredited Professional who began his career in the metal construction industry in 1981. His company is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, the California Association of Building Energy Consultants and the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET).

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