Metal panels: Thinking outside the box

After 40 years of selling metal panels, Dick Schmidt thought he had seen it all. But even he was slack-jawed at the recent site of a steel “thatched” roof. “Someone was thinking out of the box to come up with that one,” he smiles.
Of course, metal roofing panels that emulate the look of shake, tile, and shingles are now common sights and often sell quite well. Through-fastened panels and standing seam metal roofs remain a staple in the market. So even if metal roofs that echo the look of straw thatching might not catch on, Schmidt points out that “the market share of metal roofs for residential applications has really grown.”
Schmidt is the owner of R&M Inland Sales of Greenville, N.C., and a manufacturer’s representative for Macsteel Service Centers USA metal panels and Dyna-Cut shears. He admires the thinking that went into making a “thatched” metal roof — as well as other, more marketable advances — because it typifies the entrepreneurial spirit that has propelled the industry to its current heights.E-Panels.jpg
“In the 1960s,” Schmidt recalls, “there were only a few basic metal panel products on the market. We only had 26 and 28 gauges, only 24-inch coverage, and only 6- to 12-foot lengths. But today there’s an unlimited number of panel products available.”
Perhaps even more important, Schmidt continues, the mindset toward metal panels has changed. Metal has always been a staple of roofing and siding for post-frame and metal frame building, usually in the form of through-fastened panels, and it remains the dominant material in those applications. But metal, in all of its shapes and sizes, is moving into new markets. “People used to think metal roofs were just for ‘pole barns,’” he remembers, “but now you see metal panels on expensive homes, offices, and commercial buildings.”
Complementary improvements have likewise aided the emergence of metal roofing and panels. Schmidt notes how the introduction of screw fasteners in the late 1960s “did a better job of sealing, so roofs last longer without leaking.” Snap-lock and clip systems also have been a boon to standing seam roofs. Altogether, he believes, “Installation of metal panels has gotten easier and easier over the years.”
At the same time, metal coatings have improved with the introduction of siliconized polyester paint systems. Five-year warranties were the standard in the 1960s, Schmidt says, followed by 10-year guarantees. Then with siliconized polyester, warranties of 25 years could be offered to customers. “Now Kynar is the top of the line,” he adds.E-Panels2.jpg
Over the past decade, the introduction of stone coating on metal panels has opened new markets. “Today you can facsimile just about any look you want in metal,” Schmidt reports. More architectural options is important, he points out, as rural building moves from strictly agricultural construction to more residential and light commercial projects. With city dwellers now moving into the countryside, attractive aesthetics are a must for rural builders.
Just as metal roofing products have evolved, Schmidt also has seen an evolution in the way they are brought to market. As the market for metal roofing and wall panels has expanded in recent years, Schmidt notes, “The number of manufacturers has really snowballed.” A growing number of small independent roll-formers have entered the market to serve a 50- to 100-mile radius. Because independent roll-formers serve only a local or regional clientele, that means “there aren’t many distributors,” he adds. “The big manufacturers have had to lower their costs in order to compete,” he explains, “and because the industry is so competitive, that doesn’t leave much room for distributors to have any profit margin.”
As for the future of metal roofing and panels, Schmidt believes that the products’ superior structural and aesthetic qualities, combined with the increased awareness of architects and consumers, guarantee expanding sales. And though he “can’t see a big market for steel ‘thatched’ roofs,” Schmidt chuckles, “maybe the next idea will be a bigger hit.”

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