Industry Interview with Abi Michailidis, Industrial Mechanic and stone fastener expert and with Tile Eze

Keil Anchors, Ventilated Facades, Natural Stone, and More in this Interview with Abi at Tile Eze

In this Industry Interview, Monarch Metal CEO Brandon Bingham speaks with Abi Michailidis, Industrial Mechanic and stone fastener expert about Keil anchors , ventilated and nature stone facades, and more.

How is the Keil anchor different from other construction anchors that are available?

We have to make a difference from a construction anchor and a concealed anchor for ventilated facades. The Keil Anchor is not a wedge anchor, where you put in a concrete wall. It’s made specifically for panels. It can be porcelain, stone, fiber cement. We have I think over fifty varieties of materials that we’ve tested already.

And there are not many undercut anchors, concealed undercut anchors that dock. They’re two different concealed anchors, and one of those is Keil. And doing this for twenty years, I’ve seen people who tried something similar, tried to copy it. Quality is not there, we’re talking about a high quality product and we have very tight tolerances. And if you can’t keep those tolerances, you will have breakthroughs, you won’t have the whole post strength. So it is important to have a quality product. 

Can you tell us about the important design constraints for architects when laying out a rain screen design for use with Keil Anchor (panel edge distance, the importance of the wall thickness of the substructure rail, depth and distance from the front of the panel)?

In this case, the architect himself, he has to know if he wants to have a ventilated facade or not. This is how everything should start. Now if he has a ventilated facade, he should calculate there is going to be a gap between the front of the panel and the wall itself. This is where the substructure comes in. 

And I don’t actually think that architects have any kind of limitations. This is an engineering feature. Because the engineer has to think about edge distance and stuff like that. Again, the architect has to know if he wants a ventilated facade, and if he wants a visible or concealed anchor. 

There are no limitations for the architects actually with the regulated facades. Because they stay away from the wall. They have actually even more possibilities to create the fantasy. Most architects have.

What is the biggest misconception of Keil Anchors?

One of our biggest issues is the installers the first time. We don’t have enough qualified installers in the United States as of now. So one of the problems is the installers are a little bit scared about the system. However, once they receive the right information and it’s a lot of substructured companies have a small little ‘V’ on the website, you know it’d show the whole process of how it’s going up. 

And once I see the substructured company or I talk to any of the installers, they feel much more comfortable because it is a very straightforward application. Again, but it’s like if you’re driving your bike, if you never did this, you’re scared. Once you know how to drive it, you don’t care anymore. 

And another big issue is when customers start about the price. Yes, it is not as cost effective as to model something on a wall. However, if you see the safety factor, if you see the lifespan of the Keil anchor. Or any rain screen facades, if it’s visible or concealed. You have a higher safety factor in these facades. And also the lifespan, it’s much higher in a ventilated or depends, some say ventilated some say rain screen. We still have to agree in the United States what kind of term we are going to use. I try to use ventilated rain screen facades because this rain screen is a little bit different if you also have ventilation. 

But once you see all the benefits of ventilated facades, the costs are actually less over time. So it doesn’t help you if you mortar something on for pennies, and this panel comes down in two or three years. Worst case scenario, falls on somebody’s head, which actually happened just recently in New York.  If you compare the efficiency of the installation, and the safety factor, and the lifespan. This product, ventilated facades are actually more cost effective than to mortar something on the wall, over time.

What types of cladding materials are best suited for the Keil Anchor?

As I mentioned previously, we build with all kinds of materials.  We are really not limited, limitations come into metal panels. And it’s not limited. Metal panels don’t need a concealed anchor. You can weld a stud on the back of the panel, use a nut and secure it that way.

Other than that, sure honeycomb doesn’t need to be concealed if you have a posentile with the honeycomb all natural stone, actually most is natural stone with the honeycomb.  You don’t need a Keil anchor for that either. There are other products available for this kind of application.

Other than that, we build with close to every material on the market right now. 

Can you talk about when testing is required for a project? For instance natural stone versus manufactured products?

It really doesn’t matter if it’s a manufactured product or a natural stone. Each material should be tested. Let’s take even a porcelain tile that should be very uniform. As soon as the color changes, the pull strength will change also. Or the tensile strength. Now this is not going to be a very high number. It’s going to be in the small Newton meters really, you can pretty much say most tiles have the same pull strength. They vary a little bit in pull strength. 

Now in natural stone, it’s actually more complicated. It is a natural product. And it can be that the natural stone can vary in the pull strength from the left side of the quire to the right side of the quire. So this can change because the stone on this side got compressed a little bit more than the one on the other side. It doesn’t have to be, it can be. So, especially natural stones, and we test our materials every five years to make sure our numbers are correct. But testing has to be done. The engineer needs those numbers to make his calculations his best.

Since we’re talking about testing could you tell me about the tensile and pull testing that Keil performs free of charge?

First of all, Keil is not a testing facility. So they pretty much claim on the sheets that if somebody wants to make independent tests, there’s no problem. We actually assist with those tests.  Now if somebody wants to go in the independent lab, and does a test, we assist them in controlling the material, making sure they’re getting the right depth and everything.

And then, we have to always look at some standards. We have to make sure that the testing facilities use specific standards for concealed anchors. One of the issues in the United States is, with a concealed anchor, they compare to a concrete anchor that goes in the wall. This will change, shortly. We have talked already to the ICC. We’re taking some ASTM’s. So we are preparing all the necessary steps to get some standards, in general, for ventilated facades in the United States. 

Can you tell me what customers need to provide for the testing to be performed by Keil?

What we need is ten samples of each material they’re going to test. If they have different thickness of materials, we have to use different anchor lengths for the materials. So we will need ten pieces, eight by eight inches, for the pull test. If you have different colors, if you have different thicknesses, you might want to send two or three, like twenty or thirty let’s say, laughter to Keil. Because, even if you have a uniform product like a porcelain tile, we still will have some tolerances in there. And if you have ten samples, then we can take the average. What gives us a much more accurate number. Out of this average actually we should also include the safety factor. And then you have pretty much a number in kilonewtons, you can convert it later all in pounds. Where the architect again can do his calculations with. 

For natural stone, could you describe why the spacer is used?

In natural stone, in most cases, we have tolerance and thickness. This thickness has to be compensated. If we use the regular handheld Keil machine, the zero point of your drilling or your starting point, is the back of the panel. This will push the panel, if you have tolerances, one panel will stick farther out is a facade, is the outer. So we have to compensate for that. So now instead of using the vacuum of the handheld machine, we have to clamp down the machine, to bring the zero point of the drilling to the front of the panel. This means, you do your adjustments, you make your adjustments according to your thinnest material. The machine will then countersink everything else that is thicker as is your thinnest material.

And I have actually a sample that I should have next to me that I want to show you but it’s right behind me.  If you can see that Hicca materials will get this kind of countersink, as I say, to compensate for the thickness of the stone. This means, that now that we have the countersink, the stone panel that is thicker, on the facade itself, gets pushed farther back, and makes a uniform facade. This is not necessary if the stone is gauged. Some manufacturers say okay we’re going to punish them, you’re going to have a uniform tile, or panel. Other projects require a rough surface like it should look like a regular natural stone. You don’t need this either over there. Because it’s not going to be polished, it’s going to be a rough surface. It’s really just if you have a smooth surface, and your stone varies in thickness. 

If you have CNC machines, you can do this much easier on a CNC machine or with a Keil conveyor table. Easy adjustments. With a handheld unit, it’s not difficult, you just have to clamp the machine down instead of using the vacuum.

Can you describe the process of the front calibrated drilling then?

As I stated before, the Keil anchoring machine, in a normal procedure, it creates a vacuum that is pretty much sucking onto the material that you’re drilling. As I said in this case, you zero point, the point that you start your fifteen millimeter, for example, to drill, is the back of the panel. If you clamp the machine down, and have it a little more forward so you can slide the panels under the machine. Then, because now you have a constant measurement from the machine to the distance of the table. So now your zero point is the front of the panel. It sounds a little complicated. I have actually made a drawing that makes everything much more understandable. 

This is only necessary if you use the handheld unit. If you use a conveyor table or a CNC machine, you make those adjustments right there. So you don’t need to clamp your machine machine down, the machine itself is going to do these adjustments.

And it’s still a one step drawing. It’s not two steps. With the countersink, you have a special drill bit that has instead one diamond on the tip to drill into the material. Another diamond on the shoulder, on the drill bit, that creates the countersink. So it’s a one step drilling, there’s nothing to think about. 

Can you tell us about the conditions in which you would recommend that the customer use a neoprene gasket on the rail and the function of that material?

Yes, the neoprene has actually several purposes. Number one is we have tolerances everywhere. We have slight tolerance in the anchor. What is minimal but is not even 0.4 millimeters, it’s very tight tolerance. So is the bolt. Now we have the aluminum clip where the tolerances are a little bit higher. However, this neoprene can compensate for those tolerances. So the clip, if it’s too loose, it doesn’t spin around like a propeller. So it still has a nice grip, actually I can show you right here. You know it doesn’t spin freely. It should spin freely because this is one of the purposes of the Keil anchor, but it shouldn’t spin like a propeller. 

So this is one, two actually, also to give it a little bit more support that should not spin. And it doesn’t happen, we never had this issue but it’s another safety factor to keep moisture out of the undercut hole. Again, it is proven with several tests that only a small amount, even on the heaviest grade, only a small amount will go behind the panel itself. But in there for the rain to penetrate into the hole, into the undercut hole, is close to impossible. However, neoprene makes it impossible.

Can you tell us about when you would use a grab nut and screw and why this is not typically the preferred solution? 

The anchor and bolt combination work for clips that are fit for the Keil anchor and bolt. Now what Keil does is they stake their anchor and bolt in 1.5 millimeter increments. They prefer a wall thickness, of the clip, of three millimeters or a little less. To have the right parameters again for the bolt and anchor combination. It’s an easier installation because you cannot over screw the bolt into the anchor, you can not push out the material. And you don’t have to be careful. Again, you just screw the bolt into the anchor. And once the bolt head hits the clip, that’s it. It can’t go farther.

Now, if you have a clip that doesn’t fit. The Keil anchor has a four millimeter wall thick, so five millimeter wall thickness. Then we have to use a crop screw. But it’s like a threaded rod. And has a hexagon on one side punched in. So you can use a three millimeter bit to screw it into the anchor. Now you have to be a little bit more careful. Because this stud you can over screw. If you’re not careful, you will push out the material. So once you hit the bottom of the undercut anchor, the anchor will lock. It’s not spinning around anymore. So you have to turn the crop screw again about a quarter, to a half-a-turn. Again, to allow the anchor to spin free. Then you have the clip you go over it. Then you take your nut, you have to hold the stud with the hex bit. And then you tighten up your screw. So it’s not that we don’t prefer it, it’s just for the customer, it’s an easier installation if he uses the anchor bolt combination instead of the anchor crop screw nail combination. It’s not that we prefer it, it’s an easier installation, and all the more cost effective, for the installation and the parts themselves. 

Can you tell us about the differences you see between the European cladding market and the US cladding market, currently?

Number one, the Europeans build for the future. In most cases, American buildings, you know they stand many, for fifty years and then they say it’s a teardown. It’s one of the reasons. Another reason is energy efficiency. In Europe, the energy efficiency is a very important part of the building. This is starting right now in the United States. It’s relatively new to insulate your buildings from the outside. And make sure that you don’t lose  heat or cold so it’s the energy efficiency itself. Actually there are studies from NASA let’s say, if you use a ventilated facade and put the whole thing together, with a rain screen, with insolation and everything, you can save up to thirty percent of energy costs. What is a lot, especially in high rises that have larger buildings.  

Even at homes, if you see this way, however this system is barely used in regular homes. If you want to use ventilated facades, we barely see it. They exist, but we barely see it. In most cases, if we have ventilated facades on residential buildings, it’s because they’ve wanted larger format panels. And now we have to secure them the correct way. Again, mortar is not going to do it. So you have to secure it mechanically. Again, it could be undercut, it can be visible. However, larger panels, even the United States, in most cases, require a mechanical anchor. 

Another big issue is actually not even ten percent of the American market in facades, not even ten percent use ventilated facades or any kind of cladding material. That makes the building look nicer. In most cases, they still use mortar and to adhere it.  If it has smaller panels. Or they use stucco and sod. The ventilated facade business in Europe, especially in West Europe, is sixty percent. Instead of, I think eight percent in the United States. So that’s the huge factor. 

What changes have you seen in the US market in the last ten years?

When we started to promote the Keil anchor over twenty years ago in the United States, we had a big issue. Again, one of the issues was installations.  The issue was the price. We pointed always to the safety factor of this system. And as of today, I think it’s one of the most important factors of ventilated facade. Again, if it’s done correctly, the European technical approval gives it a lifespan of at least fifty years. So here again we have products that are stainless steel and aluminum, this is going to hold much longer than only fifty years. They’ll not corrode very easily. 

The change in the last ten years is actually that architects, especially architects, see the benefit of using a rain screen facade because, again, of the different aspects, the different architectural realizations they can do. And again, doesn’t have, for an architect, safety and efficiency isn’t that big of an issue. However, now it becomes more and more. Because even architects want to show when they are going to do a green building. So now we don’t have only the safety factor, which was a big seller in the first twenty years, or the first ten years. Now, we have also the energy efficiency of a properly installed ventilated facade. And I think this is going again because we see more cities, more states, that want to become more green. And the ventilated rain screen facade is definitely superior to any adhesive.

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