AGC member David Key has a vision for how to build a better building frame - and plans for how to deliver it.
Key is currently preparing to launch a new company, Precision Steel Inc., which will combine advanced technology with automated robotics equipment to design and mass produce steel walls and trusses engineered to be superior to traditional wood frame structures or buildings that use traditional steel framing. The company is a spin-off of a previous company of which Key was formerly President and CEO, Virtual Engineering in Fresno, which did architectural engineering and designs, 3D virtual tours of the plans, and interior build-outs for a variety of projects. In this Q&A, David Key describes the plans for this new company, the technology it will employ, and how he sees it changing the industry.
California Constructor: How did the idea for this technology and the creation of Precision Steel, Inc. come to you, and how did you develop it?
David Key: The actual idea for the Precision Steel when we (formerly company Virtual Engineering) designed and built an apartment complex (Casa de Luna on Shaw and the 41 freeway). While watching the framers frame the wood, I had an idea. Why couldn't we do this in puzzle pieces? We were able to convert the CAD engineering to virtual tours, so I thought..."why can't we then convert the engineering to the puzzle formats and break the structure down by each individual stud...?" We were able to do this, but the wood was too heavy to lift if we made the walls as one piece of the puzzle. In addition, wood is too tough on equipment when assembling the walls as one unit. So we looked at light gauge steel. It was light, easy to cut, simple to assemble and didn't rust, mold, rot or burn. Sounded like a perfect material.
We then developed the technology to break down the entire project by the walls, and then by each individual wall within the complex. The software analyzes each square foot of the structure for better structural support. This makes the walls stronger than traditional stick by stick framing.
Our final chapter was to develop automated equipment that can assemble each wall in sizes that can be easily shipped (locally, nationally or worldwide). The technology knows how to cut each stud with precision for each wall, then cut them in the order they are to be assembled by the robotics equipment. This allows us to robotically manufacture steel walls in puzzle form in a mass production environment. The factory will have the capability to engineer, mass produce, store and retrieve huge volumes of steel walls for shipping.
To sum this up, we will have the largest mass production facility of its kind that uses existing engineered projects, converts them to reinforced structural robotic puzzle pieces (all of which are reviewed and stamped by a licensed structural engineer), which then are delivered to the sight for fast framing installation.
California Constructor: What are the primary benefits that Precision Steel's productions will have over traditional steel or wood framing?
David Key: Contractors for decades have been getting their studs by having the studs (same length) delivered to a site, then having framers manually cut each stud to frame a building "stick by stick." Well I'm taking steel framing to another level by providing contractor/builders with a better, stronger, more precise product using robotics. Our goal is to save builders time, labor and money by using pre-made puzzled walls for fast installation. It's better than an erector set.
We will be able to do this with steel that is up to 90% recycled steel, making it a green material. This allows builders to qualify for green incentive tax credits from the state. We are serving an existing market (steel framing) with a stronger product that is easier and faster to frame. Mass production keeps the cost down.
California Constructor: What is your time frame for opening your company, and how many people do you expect to employ?
David Key: We are targeting the second quarter of 2010 due to all the equipment that will be ordered and training for employees. Initially there will be approximately 30+ employees which will grow to over100 employees by year two. Our corporate engineering facility will be located in Irvine, Calif. and will be the central hub for all engineering for each factory (placed regionally). The first manufacturing plant is planned for Fresno.
A Contractor's Perspective:
During the AGC of California's Spring Conference this past May, David Key showcased the technology his company will use to a receptive group of AGC contractors in an impromptu presentation organized by David Colon, NK David Contractors.
Colon is enthusiastic about the potential for the technology, commenting "there is a need in the commercial construction market place for pre-built steel walls using recycled steel. Pre-built walls can reduce the construction schedule by having the walls built off-site while the underground and foundation work is being completed and then delivered to the jobsite ready for installation Pre-built walls can help lower the costs of field labor thus reducing the projects costs."
Colon adds, "Using recycled steel will projects meet LEED requirements and will add to our Green Building initiatives, and recycled steel may be less expensive than wood or new steel. Overall the potential for pre-built steel walls is great."