GUEST BLOG: Building globally with composites

by James P. Antonic, President & CEO of Composite Building Structures Ltd, a Fort Myers, Florida, based company producing pultruded composite framing and panels for house construction. 

When Henry Ford asked his customers "What do you want?," the answer was a faster horse.

When Steve Jobs was asked "What do your customers want?," the answer was, they will not know what they want until I show it to them.

Steve Jobs' answer seems to be the same as the answer for introducing composite structural framing as well.

Population pressures require faster building, and sustainability, and no company has put game-changing materials, systems or methods together as a holistic system able to produce custom designs at high production output and competitive costs.

We can no longer continue to build in the same ways we have been building or even rebuild using traditional methods. We can do better, should do, and use some of the practices refined over the past 100 years. We must build faster, stronger and longer-lasting dwellings with lower embodied energy.

Winston Churchill said "We shape our dwellings and for many years after our dwellings shape us." People will develop a preference as soon as we show it to them. Nothing is new, just existing materials, systems and methods from other industries rearranged for building and construction. Governments, developers, engineers, architects and builders will eventually be required to provide improvements that are more sustainable and environmentally responsible.

Stronger, safer, long-lasting

Currently, it is the builders and traditional suppliers that control and distribute throughout the construction and building industries. Insurance becomes increasingly expensive because of potentially imminent natural catastrophic disasters and the fact that similar problems around the world have not be solved. With buildings that are stronger, safer and longer-lasting, insurers will collect years of premiums without catastrophic loss payouts. Competitive or lower initial home prices combined with lower insurance premiums mean that more people are qualified to buy. Actuaries can create the win-win with reduced risks and higher premium profitability.

In our business model, sales of composite structural framing is only made to licenses or joint ventures under inspections and quality requirements of their license. We do not believe that these products should initially be sold through distributors or directly to builders and DIY outlets without such controls. Protection of lives and property requires continuous process control and component structural evaluations. These conditions exists in plants but rarely in the field or on the job-site.

To be cost competitive, it is necessary panelize on production line jigs. Better materials can be used and assembled straight, plumb, and square by semi-trained workers saving over 71% of the labor costs, and the panels already contain partial work from up to seven skill-trades when they are loaded for transport. Licensees are encouraged to source locally made components or through group co-operative discounts. Higher initial cost engineered materials easily compete with traditional materials when custom homes are produced on assembly lines. Cars are assembled the same way. Any size style or type of building can be made on the assembly line, running at the same production speed, using interchangeable glass fiber composite structural parts and precision pre-cut components and sub-assemblies infilling between the studs.

Production methods and assembly systems must be more than just a composite replacing a wood, steel, or concrete counterpart. In order to satisfy all requirements, studs, parts, and sub-assemblies must fit together quickly, like assembling Lego blocks in a playschool or cars on an assembly line. Using vertical layout jigs, studs and the components are joined using stainless-steel screws and battery-operated screw guns.

No measuring or cutting is required. All the pieces arrive precision pre-cut to the length for use following a custom panel layout diagram. Semi-completed building wall, floor, and roof panels are plumb, square, straight, and correct. Conditions rarely accomplished when building on-site. They are made, shipped, and erected vertically as total protective building enclosures or as in-fill walls for high rises already insulated, fitted with windows, and sheeted on both sides.

A wide variety of materials fit between the studs to achieve any required specification from ballistic shields to freezer walls, adobe, waddle and daub, and etc. Windows, doors, insulation, electrical chases, shear sheeting, exterior sheeting and interior sheeting is installed on the assembly line. Partial work of up to seven trades is already included in panels delivered for erection.

The licensee transports and erects the entire protective building enclosure for others to finish. By this method, disaster resistance integrity of the entire shell has been inspected and controlled. Licenses are turnkey businesses. Groups of builders, developers and investors can participate in a business with a substantial proven market.

Better homes, produced faster

There is a never ending high value market fueled by population explosions and worldwide housing deficits. These assembly lines employ locally and generate taxable sources for governments. A licensed panel businesses can produce a 2,000 ft2 (186 m2 ) building in two to three hours and erect it in four to six hours to be sealed and locked on a date certain before others arrive to decorate and deliver the building.

Using a composite framing system, no trade or profession is totally eliminated. Architects and designers create their own unique plans, professional engineers convert plans to shop drawings, panel workers provide the heaviest work for trades to follow, amenity installers provide the appliances, and finishers detail and decorate.

The results are better homes, produced faster, with continued participation by all people currently involved in building and construction. More homes can be delivered each year by the same size builder crews. Insurance is minimized. Owners have less maintenance and higher resale value. Composite structural framing is the optimal skeleton that does not deteriorate or lose superior energy efficiency. Any type or style of architecture will simply be a better building.

By establishing a multi-country network, we will be able to demonstrate to buyers what they will prefer, want, and deliver to them composite framed buildings fulfilling an outcome that Steve Jobs understood. ♦