Industry Interview with Andrew Morris of Chemical Concepts

Industry Interview with Andrew Morris of Chemical Concepts

In this Industry Interview, Monarch Metal CEO Brandon Bingham speaks with Andrew Morris of Chemical Concepts, They specialize in fasteners, specialty hardware, and adhesives.

Can you please describe your background and what Chemical Concepts does?

What we do is we’re really product assembly people. So whether it’s manufacturers, engineers, anybody putting things together, they come to us when they need solutions. Our core products are adhesives, sealants, tapes, specialty fasteners. So if they’re looking for process improvements or they’re looking to have some kind of better performance in some way or another, or having some kind of engineering challenge that they’re trying to solve, they come to us and we try and you know kind of use our expertise in those areas to put something together for them. So we’re involved in a bunch of different industries, a lot of the collaboration that we do with you guys is in the cladding facade market. It’s a pretty wide gamut, anyone that’s using adhesives or fasteners. So it’s a fun thing we get to kind of do something different every day, you know?

And my background, it is a family business. The answer to part two of your question is I was kind of born into this. So I’m a third generation here. I’m the national sales manager and the company was founded by my great uncle, and the next year is actually going to be the 60-year anniversary. So we’re really excited about that.

When was the deform nut first developed?

So the genesis of this product, we’re the North American master distributor of a company out of Italy called Special Insert. And they’ve developed all these innovative fastening solutions. And they’ve got a really strong R & D department; they’ve got some really smart people that have come up with some really innovative types of fasteners. And we just saw them as really a great fit for us in terms of what we were doing with adhesives and sealants, and through them is really what we’ve kind of branched out into these specialty fasteners.

Because you know for a long time we kind of competed against fastening you know, kind of in a big conceptual sense. You know it’s like well don’t use a fastener, use an adhesive. But we found so many applications where people were looking for an adhesive in conjunction with a fastener, or a fastener in conjunction with an adhesive. Or it was looking to help for the best way for people to put X together, you know? So sometimes the right answer is a fastener. So they developed the deform nut, it’s a patented system. The fastener is approximately five years old.

Can you describe the deform nut for us? How it’s different from other construction anchors that are available? Is there only one specific use for it? What are those uses?

Well, it’s a specialty type of rivet nut. And if you’re familiar with rivet nuts you can go ahead and Google them, The deform nut is the kind of rivet nut technology that has been around for a long time. They’re kind of neat fasteners; they kind of act like a rivet but give you a female mechanical anchor. Special Insert has sold standard rivet nuts, standard deform nuts for probably 30 plus years, I know their company goes back three generations too.

The problem they were trying to solve was anchoring into hollow core materials. So that could be honeycomb sandwich panels, which is primarily what you and I have been working on. It could be other kinds of composite sandwich panels. But you know there’s a lot of solutions that exist for solid materials, if it’s sheet goods, sheet metals, but with these new composites that have been out there, and I use the word new, I mean they’ve been using these things in aerospace for 30 or 40 years, but it’s still these composites are always evolving. And it’s just been a challenge, how do you have us create a secure connection into a solid core, into a hollow core material?

That’s the problem the deform nut solves. So it’s a two-step fastener basically. So the part one component of it is a deformed nut where you drill a hole into the panel, the deform nut is inserted using a rivet tool kind-of machine. It crimps or deforms the back side, once it’s inserted. The backside is deformed around the skin of the panel so that it’s kind of crimped between the face of the rivet and the part that’s just been deformed around it. That gives you a secure connection to the face, but the face of the panel is not really the structural component of a honeycomb panel, if we’re talking about honeycomb panels. Actually the honeycomb core itself is really the structural component.

That gives you kind of a starting point. Then using a structural adhesive is injected into the hole and then a secondary screw, they call the grub screw is inserted while the adhesive is still wet. And when the whole thing is said and done, you have an adhesive connection to the back face, you have a rivet connection to the front face, and then that grub screw is placed into the whole center, so you have a structural bond to the surrounding honeycomb cells. So you basically are connecting to all three components of the deform nut to the honeycomb panel. And once that structural adhesive cures, you’ve got a really strong connection. You and I have seen on some of the projects we’ve worked with, we’ve had to do pull testing for some of the exterior building facades, they required pull testing on the systems and it is strong. I’m trying to remember off the top of my head some of the values, but I believe we’re in the one or two thousand pounds.

They are in the two thousand pound range in terms of sheer, I think in a similar range in terms of tensile. And you know when we were doing the shear pulls, I mean we were shearing the bolts off, which is certainly what we like to see.

And your other part of your question was how it is different?  I’m not aware of anything exactly quite like it. There are anchors that just require you to put a female insert into the honeycomb in some competitive systems out there. There’s a lot of challenges associated with that, where you have to be very careful, you have to be careful how you position things, there’s nothing holding the female anchor kind in place while the adhesive cures. So there’s a lot that can kind of go wrong in that scenario. And then you’re really just relying on the adhesive only where you know a lot of people like the fact that this is kind of a combination, mechanical and adhesive connection. And what happens is that even when the adhesive cures, a lot of engineers get scared about adhesives. Which you know having an adhesive background, you know I get a little sensitive to that but because I know what these adhesives can do, but still when that adhesive cures, you end up with like a mass of adhesive that’s bigger than the hole that you drilled. So that’s really mechanical too. Once that’s a solid mass, it can’t come out unless you pull the whole panel apart.

The other types of systems that I’ve seen, basically involve putting an anchor in place while you’re manufacturing the panel. So you have your sheet metal, you put your honeycomb core on top, then you put an anchor in, and then you lay the skin on top with the adhesive and put it in your press. And so it’s kind of baked into the panel. So that’s a good solution, I mean they work well, they’re strong, they’re inexpensive, but when we get on projects they don’t always have the luxury of knowing where the anchor points are going to be when the panel’s manufactured, and we work with a lot of people that do basically secondary operations where they’re buying panels that are already manufactured and cutting them down and then gluing some kind of material to the face. So if they want to have a stone facade on a building with a honeycomb backer, or a porcelain facade with a honeycomb backer or some other kind of material, it’s usually not what you would say the “OEM” of the panel that’s really involved in doing the work. So they don’t have the opportunity to put in the anchors when the composite panel is manufactured. They only want to put in the anchors after their new decorative skin is laminated on. I guess a little of the landscape of what we’re competing against and how we’re a little bit different.

You briefly mentioned the special tools needed, but what specifically do you need? And do they get that from you as well?

To install the anchor itself you know you need the anchors, and the anchors are two parts like I mentioned. There’s the deformed nut and then the grub screws, so when you buy a set it comes like that. You’ll need a drill bit of the right size; it’s a 13 millimeter drill bit. And we usually recommend what they call an end mill cutter. So instead of just like a regular drill bit, like what they call jobber bits or that you would find at the hardware store, this kind of drill is a flat bottomed hole. This is important so that you make sure you’re clearing out all of the material, if you want to drill through the honeycomb to clear out the aluminum shavings, that would be in the middle of the honeycomb. You want to take off that layer of cured epoxy from the bottom of the reverse side of the panel. So, that you’re giving a nice clean surface for the adhesive to grab onto. So it’s important to have, it’s like a four fluted end mill cutter is what they’re called. We do sell those bits and you can get them on Amazon and other places where, once we give you the specifications, but we also sell the bits.
Installation Video

Then you just need some kind of rivet tool. There are manual and pneumatic tools. If you’re doing a small project the manual tools work fine, they’re relatively inexpensive. I think they are a hundred dollars or less for one of those. We sell them and there’s other kind of rivet tools available, rivet technology has kind of been around for a long time. We are not the exclusive source for that kind of machinery so you have flexibility in terms of getting the equipment. We are not out here to own you in terms of all the equipment; we just want to again help you out with your projects.

And then with the pneumatics, if you’re really doing a lot of stuff that we’re targeting in facades of relatively large commercial buildings; where there could be many hundreds or even thousands of individual panels. And each panel might have eight or ten fasteners, so depending on the sizes of the panels we could be talking tens of thousands of fasteners. In those cases you know the pneumatic machines definitely make sense. We’ve got a good video demonstrating the pneumatic tool, where you see it inserts the tool, crimps it, and then unthreads itself in like one pull of the trigger, so it’s a huge time saver. Those tools are relatively expensive but they’re certainly worth it in terms of man hours, it’s always the biggest concern that everybody has. So when you put this whole thing together maybe you get a link to that video or something so.

I know people are visual out there so maybe we’ll put a picture or whatever we can do to illustrate that. The last thing you need is adhesive. We sell the adhesive that goes along with it. And then those come in, again depending on the scale of the job, you might need a small cartridge of adhesive or big ones if you’re doing really a lot of these. And then what we sell is a two-part structural acrylic adhesive that fits in a little cartridge gun. You know maybe you’ve seen these kinds of systems where it’s a two-part system? That it’s like a double-barrel caulking gun kind-of-thing if you can imagine that. We sell the dispensers for that as well. That’s basically all you would need.

And then you’re going to connect that presumably to a hanging system like Monarch Metal provides for honeycomb sandwich panels. Then you would just need a bolt to connect the two systems and we could certainly help you source the bolts that meet your requirements for the thickness of the honeycomb that you’re using.

Can you give a brief statement on why people are using honeycomb panels? And how that deform nut, and the deform nut rail that we made to manufacture and sell, helps them?

It is a pretty cool technology. Most of these honeycomb panels have an aluminum core. If you look at it you see all these little kind of hexagonal cells of honeycomb of aluminum. When you have a front skin and a back skin, and that kind of honeycomb matrix of aluminum in the middle, that has a lot of air in it, you end up with a very lightweight panel, that’s also very rigid. That combination of lightweight and rigidity really solves a lot of problems that engineers are looking for. That’s the reason these kinds of materials are used in aerospace, they’re used in rail, and in transportation. We sell deformed nuts for those applications where they’re trying to attach chairs to a honeycomb floor of a train, and they want to figure out a way to attach the seating to that. In terms of facades you’re seeing, my understanding again my background is adhesives and fasteners and I’ve learned a lot about these industries from participating in it but I do not want to pretend to be an expert in facades. But a lot of my understanding is that a lot of these designs are kind of things that are going on in Europe where you’re seeing a lot of more of these ventilated facade designs coming over. There are a lot of environmental benefits to those and people love the look from an architectural design standpoint. People love the look of natural stone, it’s a natural product and is sustainable. You know sustainability is another kind of trend that this touches on where in the US we have Leed points and all these kinds of things where government programs are incentivizing companies to build green. Green building is on the mind of a lot of architectural professionals. Even without the government, there are people and private companies who want to stake their claim out there that they’re doing the right thing for the environment and rightly so.

There are a lot of technical challenges that come with natural stone. It’s beautiful and as good for the environment as it is compared to other building materials. If you want to get a three centimeter thick piece of granite and put it 20 stories up on a building you can imagine, or even 100 stories or whatever it is, you could imagine the kinds of engineering challenges that it poses. People want that look of natural stone, but they want the light weight, they want ease of installation. The end users want it, the engineers want it, and the installers want it. It saves everybody a lot of time and money throughout the process from install, to while it’s in use, to engineering etc. Rather than just cutting stone to size, you have to cut the stone very thin and you have to laminate it to the honeycomb panel. So there’s a bit more work on the back end but it saves a lot of work from every stage from that point on. The big driving factors are the need for lightweight, the environmental friendliness, and the logistical challenges too; those are kind of what we see driving everything.

What’s the biggest misconception that you deal with on the deform nut when people come to you saying “hey Andrew I want to use this” and they may have something wrong?

I it’s a very niche product as it caters to a very specific application. If you’ve never come across us before, it’s also a European product that’s relatively new to North America. I think awareness is probably the biggest thing that we face which is why we talk to people and they say someone told me to call you or I’m not sure what to do, I found this online or this is what we’re trying to do, we don’t know how to do it. It’s really just explaining the entire system from the beginning to them. Once they come to us and we kind of walk them through what they have to do I think we’re probably able to manage most of the unknowns from the beginning of the process. It’s just a matter of understanding the alternatives, how this compares to the alternatives, and just trying to figure out what’s the best fit for them and what we’re trying to do. If you have a honeycomb panel you want to anchor there’s very few existing systems that are just ready to go and have clear instructions.

Is there any other testing that has been performed on the deform nut or are those just the two main ones and?

In the US as opposed to the EU from my understanding, it is kind of a patchwork in terms of regulatory and testing of what’s required. There’s not really one distinct body such as ICC in Europe. They’ve done a good job in the EU in terms of making things very simple from the liability standpoint, very simple from a market approach standpoint. The cost is very expensive to do the certification but once the product is certified the liability is limited. The certification says this product was tested, that liability isn’t on the manufacturer anymore. Where they use the tested product they’ve done their due diligence and that’s basically a stamp of approval there. There’s not really an equivalent to that in my understanding here in the US. If you’re in Miami they have the Miami-Dade NOAs where they want to make sure it’s hurricane resistant. You go to California there’s special earthquake resistance requirements, there’s a lot of local things. There are ASTM tests, but the tests aren’t quite certifications. The liability is still on the engineer to basically put their signature on that and say we approve that we’ve done our due diligence and we’re accepting that.

We have done ASTM tests, we’ve done tensile, we’ve done shear. There have been some mockups that have been made for testing. There’s been some projectile testing for Miami-Dade NOAs. I’m still kind of waiting on the status of that, but I’ve seen some of the videos and what they do is they have a two by four cannon and they shoot a two by four at a mock-up. So far we’ve met every expectation in terms of what kind of testing we’ve thrown at it and I’m sure there’s going to be more stuff that people are going to throw at us in the future.

I always like to ask where people like you see the facade industry in the United States going in the future. Are you too new to answer that question or are you starting to get a feeling?

That goes back to my earlier where we are definitely seeing more of a focus on these ventilated facades. The green building trend in terms of that being more important to companies and that’s kind of a push-pull thing. You see the regulations are pushing and then the companies want to do more, they want to showcase their credentials in terms of how green they are, and show their commitment to sustainability. I am not an expert on this but I believe there’s been some legislation recently in New York that really put a lot of people in the building industry into a tailspin. This is what people are telling me at least, in terms of the thermal ratings on these buildings, you know you got all these glass buildings and they said they kind of laid the gauntlet down saying let’s improve R values. All buildings in New York City or new construction must meet the standard. From what I understand, that’s going to really drive demand for alternatives, you’re not going to see these glass buildings. You’re going to see a little bit more diversity in terms different cladding materials such as honeycomb panels that are thermally isolated.

It’s difficult to achieve that kind of thermal insulation with glass. Light goes in, it’s very susceptible for warming and cooling from the sun, you lose a lot of thermal energy. Having that air gap of a ventilated facade where you have that column of air in between really does a whole lot in terms of helping to better insulate. You basically turn a skyscraper to a giant thermos with glass construction.

I think regulation is going to keep driving things forward. I think companies are going to keep driving things forward and I think design is going to keep driving things forward. There are great architects doing really beautiful things, and I think people are always going to want nice looking buildings. There is this competitiveness in the industry for design and performance.

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