By Rocky Landsverk

Cautious optimism was in the air during the 55th Annual National Frame Building Association Conference & Expo held February 22-24 in Louisville, Kentucky.

More than 140 exhibitors set up at the Kentucky International Convention Center to show off new products and meet both existing and potential customers. The most common question? “Will there be a dropoff this year?” The most common answer was “yes, eventually there will be a slowdown, but if it’s happening this year, there’s no evidence to that effect.” The near future of the financial markets, both broadly and specifically in post-frame, was the single biggest topic of discussion at the Shield Wall Media booth and at social events.

“Cautious optimism continues to be the theme in our market,” said Mike O’Hara, National Sales Manager for Levi’s Building Components. “Rollformers and contractors continue to be busy and are anticipating a good first half of the year.”

That isn’t to say that there won’t be an overall economic decline. What the post-frame and metal building markets seem to be exhibiting, though, is that they are the solution and not part of the problem. “Metal roofing continues to gain in popularity for residential use,” O’Hara said, while post-frame companies also said their practicality offers hope even if or when the building boom declines.

SWI Machinery’s Marxman Plus Automatic Slitter was demonstrated throughout the event.

The biggest industry news came from the NFBA itself, which announced it has created an online course in conjunction with the University of Missouri Extension entitled “Basic Principles for Post-Frame Construction — Basic Self-Study Guide.” It is intended for contractors and builders to educate employees and hopefully create an opportunity to recruit younger people by demonstrating a clear path to a good job.

Headlining the new products on display is a new precast concrete skirt board product from Perma-Column®, while Steel Dynamics (SDI) has a new ability to print on metal that will likely be game-changing as well.

There were multiple software companies on the show floor, including:

• SmartBuild Systems, which bills itself as “the construction industry’s only complete design system.”

• ABIS, which offers a comprehensive software suite for the purpose of running an entire company including a CRM. 

• CM (Construction Maestro) was on hand showing people its Encore product. 

• Idea Room, which allows your customers to design their own buildings.

• Simpson Strong-Tie, which is in beta with a product that works with SmartBuild and will offer truss design, which is not currently available with SmartBuild.

Here are some of the biggest newsmakers at the show. 

Perma-Column Concrete Skirt Boards

Perma-Column® introduced precast concrete skirt boards which it says “elevates the post-frame industry again.” A patented product, precast skirt boards have a hybrid concrete-wood design that eliminates all wood contact with the ground. “There’s nothing like it in North America,” said Mark Stover, CEO and President of Perma-Column. “This is the new way to build.”

The company also announced a new Pro Builder program. Pro Builders receive sales and marketing support from Perma-Column®, branded gear, and exposure on Perma-Column®’s social channels and website, in exchange for supporting the program. “Perma-Column® Pro Builders have fantastic stories to tell and knowledge to share with fellow post-frame builders,” Stover said. “They have made a commitment to building on permanent foundations that benefit customers. Their inspirational stories serve as valuable learning experiences for the industry overall. We’re looking for more builders like them to recognize and honor.”

Stover said Thursday of the show was one of the company’s best ever, adding that “builders are very optimistic about 2023.” He said there were four Perma-Column® distributors exhibiting.

Steel Dynamics is now coating steel to make it look like wood. Hickory Natural (top) and Rough Cedar Gray (above) are shown.

Steel Dynamics Digitally Printing on Metal

Steel Dynamics (SDI) has started taking orders for its new product that is unlike any previous attempt to print images on metal. The company is using the latest technology including “electron beam coatings and curing.” Don Switzer, company Sales Manager of Special Products, said it’s been a few years in the making and available a few months. “We have been painting steel for 20 years and our customers have been after us to do prints,” he said. “We were waiting for the technology to catch up. About three years ago, we started investing in the process. We have spent a significant amount of money and time developing the process.”  

It paid off with a product that’s been available a few months. It’s called TruυSteel HD and it prints a reproduction of an actual picture or image, which doesn’t repeat for up to 32 feet. The high-definition image is 400 dpi and “it’s very lifelike. We’ve been fortunate at this show to have customers lined up. The reason is we start with real wood and our creative team does their magic.” 

Typical use cases: 

• “We are working with a company that makes log cabins and we’ll be able to do the chink line, as an example.

• “Others might want a shed in their backyard that doesn’t look like a shed, or they might want it to look like it’s been there for 25 years, and we can do that.” 

• He said there’s also a lot of upside in the garage door industry. “It’s the largest moving thing in your home so people want it to perform like steel, but they want it to look like wood. There are some products out there today that look OK, but we’re going to take that to another level.”  

Switzer added that SDI is “intentionally sustainable,” so it is important for him to also note that this product has no VOCs. 

[You’ll learn more about Tru>Steel in an upcoming edition — Editor.] 

Online Post-Frame Training

The NFBA announced that it has created a Post-Frame Builder Training Curriculum which includes an online course to teach people the basics of post-frame construction. The online study course is described as “a great way to teach the students if you do not have the time or resources to teach the course.” The online study course is conducted by the University of Missouri. 

The Variobend has new branding, as exhibited in the Hershey’s Metal Meister booth.

The curriculum is primarily a tool to help newcomers quickly become good builders and employees, and it is also a good tool for sales and support staff to learn about their products. 

According to the NFBA website, “The objective of this curriculum is to familiarize employees with concepts and terminology relevant to post-frame.”

Topics include, but are not limited to, post-frame basics and terminology, math foundations, reading plans and specifications, site preparation, site preparation, structural framing, metal cladding, and more. 

The NFBA Membership Committee was tasked to create the curriculum. The Committee members involved were Joseph M. Zulovich, Ph.D., P.E.; Josh Nowlin of Suburban Buildings; Matt Greiner of Greiner Buildings; Linda Young-Vap of Vap Construction; and Steve Shouten of Remuda Buildings, along with support from Morgan Arwood of the NFBA and many others around the industry. Josh Nowlin and Joe Zulovich gave the presentation at the show. RF