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Metal Building Systems - Case Study: Why Have an EOR?

Metal building systems, also known as PEMB or "pre-engineered metal buildings", continue to hold a solid market share in the construction marketplace - from strip centers to car dealerships, and office complexes to warehouses. Here at Ozer Engineering, we have been hired to assist with these structure systems by many clients and appreciate the benefits they offer in terms of affordability and ease of construction. Our involvement in these projects from the early planning stages definitely helps the overall project cost less and proceed smoothly.

Sadly though, when deciding to purchase one of these building systems, it is not uncommon for the building owner or contractor to forego the services of an engineer to serve as an Engineer of Record (EOR) for the overall project, assuming that an engineer only will be needed to design a simple foundation once the building itself is already designed and ordered from the manufacturer. However, the Metal Building Manufacturers Association (MBMA) highly recommends that the end customer hire an EOR to be responsible for specifying the design criteria for the metal building system.

"MBMA highly recommends that the end customer hire an architect and or engineer of record to be responsible for specifying the design criteria for the metal building system. Collaboration is essential..."

Here we will share a recent experience that discusses why the involvement of an EOR from the beginning stages can be a key component to a project's success.

First, it is fundamentally important to understand how design responsibilities are divided between the manufacturer and the EOR. This division is something commonly not understood by the purchaser of the metal building system. Metal building system manufacturers are responsible for custom designing a building after an order is placed based on the applicable building code, loading conditions, and serviceability requirements. They do have professional engineers on staff who are highly skilled and supply sound engineering principles to design an optimal metal building system for your needs. However, this is where the important dividing line is drawn.

The manufacturer is responsible only for the structural design of the metal building system it sells to the builder. The manufacturer is not the design professional or EOR for the construction project. This means the manufacturer is not responsible for the design of any components or materials not sold by them. This includes that they are not responsible for any of the interfaces and connections of other components with the metal building system. This includes the foundation, any existing loading docks or other features on the site, and any other structures it will connect to.

Exterior loading dock adjacent to metal building
Exterior loading dock where new metal building system is to be located, rear view.

Now for our recent experience. We were contacted by an industrial facility that had ordered a metal building system through a general contractor prior to contacting us. By the time they called us they were in a hurry to get the building installed so asked us to move quickly to provide them with a foundation design. This may have been simple if it was entirely new construction, but when we visited the site, we saw the metal buildings were to be placed where there were exiting concrete loading docks, access ramps, and existing metal buildings.

The metal building was intended to enclose the loading area over the existing docks and ramp. The metal building system manufacturer had visited the site and was aware of the docks, ramp, and adjacent existing buildings, but hadn't fully accounted for them in their design. The column locations that the metal building system manufacturer had laid out would have encroached about 2' into the docks and ramp, not allowing them to function fully. Once we worked through all the layout details, the owner decided to have the manufacturer go back to their design and move the columns per our layouts, which caused delays in the project.

Exterior loading dock where new metal building system is to be located, front view

While it's easy to blame the manufacturer or contractor for this oversight, design for complex field conditions is not their area of expertise, that's the job of an EOR. And in truth, the manufacturer and contractor should have told their client, once they had become aware of all the conditions, to get an EOR on board. We hope they both learned a lesson from this and will do so next time a complex existing condition situation arises.

For the owner, the assumption that an engineer would not be needed from the start ultimately created greater expense and more importantly lost time that could have been avoided by having us, as an EOR understand the existing site conditions and communicate them during the design process to the manufacturer.

If you are considering a metal building system, feel free to call us at 901-305-6540 first.

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