Jarrett Davis, National Technical and Building Science Director, Charles Taylor, President of Taylor Clay and Stewart Adams, Vice President of Taylor Clay
Having effectively transitioned from concept to widely-accepted best practice, constructing modular buildings with structural components that are manufactured offsite and indoors under controlled plant conditions—commonly referred to as panelization—has become a game-changer in the construction industry. The opportunity for commercial developers and general contractors to shorten the entire construction schedule by weeks, limit their liabilities through safer conditions for workers, and improve quality through refined indoors manufacturing processes has made panelized construction a widely popular method across the globe. The new “best way to build” is expected to proliferate as more architects, designers, engineers, building owners, contractors, and subcontractors realize these benefits on all types of projects.
However, panelized construction has both new challenges and opportunities with the proliferation of advanced building and energy codes as more states and local governments seek to make buildings more resilient and sustainable to ensure public safety. As such, the design community and developers need to find ways to increasingly incorporate modular building components, panelized construction, passive design, and zero net energy ready building practices and principles into their work. Doing so will yield a building that can, in the case of true high-performance design and construction, maintain a comfortable temperature inside with little or any heating or cooling systems. To this end, building enclosure systems—the system of wall components that separates the indoors from the outdoors—are the most important element to satisfy diverse performance parameters for owners and occupants that prioritize energy efficiency, indoor air quality, fire safety, and thermal comfort.
"We are innovating the building enclosure to meet the growing needs of cost-effective and energy efficient buildings. Our concept of the green building is rooted in lasting resiliency"
Looking ahead to what the construction market may look like in 2021 following the pandemic, a lack of available skilled labor on job sites - whether due to social distancing requirements or market economics - can be mitigated through panelized construction. Manufacturing panelized systems offsite, shipping them on-site, and having them installed by fewer workers can save time, money, and reduce the impact of possible labor shortages.
Set against this backdrop, MaxLife Industries—a subsidiary of Taylor Clay Products, a leading player in the ceramics space—offers state-of-the-art and code-compliant building enclosure products for all types of new and existing commercial and multifamily buildings. Beginning its journey as a manufacturer of thin brick panels, MaxLife has evolved to become a pioneer in the construction materials manufacturing industry with its flagship offering, ArmorWall. ArmorWall Structural Insulated SheathingTM is a series of high strength, fire-resistant, exterior insulated wall sheathing products (commonly referred to as a SIS panel) that essentially combines four traditional material components into one, resulting in industry-leading continuous insulation value, durability and strength, and more. This Underwriters Laboratories (UL) classified and tested product line helps designers and contractors meet the aforementioned performance and safety needs while enabling building designs that are simply not possible with traditional building enclosure materials.
MaxLife Industries: Initiating a New Phase in Modular Construction
ArmorWall is powered by MaxLife Industries’ patented fusion technology that combines several standalone attributes and components of traditional wall assemblies into one—including the water-resistant barrier (WRB), fire blocking materials, and sub-framing assemblies for cladding.
“Instead of laminating materials to the sheathing like many products in the marketplace, we offer a ready-to-install product with all of the different functionalities ingrained in the design stage. Subsequently, a contractor can complete a project faster and with less labor, while increasing performance and adhering to the most stringent building codes and green certification programs,” says Jarrett Davis, National Technical and Building Science Director, MaxLife Industries.
WHY PANELIZED CONSTRUCTION?
The benefits of panelized construction are clear and real, though it has taken innovation in design, manufacturing and construction processes from companies like MaxLife Industries to fully realize them in today’s market. Compared to traditional buildings methods, panelized construction offers:
• Significantly shorter construction schedule through faster installation
• Higher quality materials with factory-applied coatings and finishes
• Increased flexibility in design
• Continuous insulation at the precise amount of R-value
• Reduced labor time, costs and liabilities
• Increased durability, strength, performance and fire ratings
• Mechanically fastens to CMU, wood or metal stud-framed walls
• Reduced material waste and job-site clean-up
• Panels can be scheduled for a “just-in-time” delivery, reducing onsite storage space and preventing costly damage from equipment, theft or weather
At the core of MaxLife’s material innovation is its fusion technology that combines materials like Magnesium Oxide (MgO), Portland cement board, and polyurethane insulation in a single SIS panel, giving ArmorWall its unique capabilities and benefits. This industry-leading innovation can be illustrated in how ArmorWall meets, and in many cases exceeds, current building codes in place across the US.
When the 2012 edition of the national building codes dictated that buildings built with metal or steel studs must ensure continuous insulation, US states, and the Canadian government increased their attention on the new requirements. In turn, almost every manufacturer of wall enclosures attempted to address this criterion by using combustible materials for insulation that, unfortunately, placed occupant safety at stake as their products failed to pass the standard fire test method defined by the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) and the International Building Code (IBC). Unlike these manufacturers, MaxLife Industries, leveraging its unique fusion technology, used MgO on the exterior face of each panel in place of the gypsum and other cementitious compounds used by others, which require several different layers of coatings to be applied either offsite or on-site. A naturally formed mineral, MgO’s flame-retardant properties have helped ArmorWall successfully undergo the NFPA (285) fire test without the requirement of an additional cladding—perhaps the first sheathing product of its kind to achieve this feat. “We’re protecting the insulation within the assembly; so, our clients don’t have to worry about combustion,” Davis says.
While MgO ensures resistance against fire, the polyurethane insulation (a mix of an isocyanate with a polyol blend) provides ArmorWall with superior insulating properties. In addition, this gives ArmorWall impact resistance and strength while ensuring durability and a high degree of water resistance. “We are innovating the building enclosure to meet the growing needs of cost-effective and energy-efficient buildings. Our concept of green building is rooted in lasting resiliency. If a building that uses ArmorWall lasts for more than 100 years, we consider it to be highly efficient and “green”,” Davis says.
ArmorWall: Industry-Best Installation Process Saves Time and Money
In addition to meeting and exceeding code and design requirements, ArmorWall addresses a common on-site installation problem of attaching specified cladding materials to the various types of sheathing. With its patented design and innovative but easy installation techniques, MaxLife has been able to move the structural face of the stud to the outer face of the sheathing. “Our SIS panel essentially acts as a fireproof and smooth plywood surface that enables users to have any R-value and attach cladding anywhere on the panel without worrying about girts and sub-girts.
Subsequently, claddings become more efficient and contribute to the aesthetic needs of a building,” Davis mentions.
Being an all-in-one, cost-effective solution, ArmorWall does not require multiple sub-assemblies, and its ability to be cut to fit on-site using traditional hand tools ensures easy and quality installation. As a panelized product with factory-applied coatings and quality control testing, ArmorWall greatly reduces material defects and damages that are commonly found in site-built materials. Subsequently, little time or effort is required to finish the installed panels on-site, which helps contractors to complete projects faster, reduce the number of on-site workers, and begin interior work sooner.
These properties of ArmorWall have helped MaxLife Industries grow exponentially over the last few years and emerge as a dominant player in the market. Today, the company has clients spread across 48 states in the US, with ArmorWall being an integral part of many complex projects. In one instance, a MaxLife customer that builds nationwide was struggling to adhere to different state-defined energy codes. The company also had some projects in hurricane zones where buildings required different claddings altogether. To support their needs, MaxLife introduced them to the ArmorWall product line, which includes six types of SIS panels that are each available with different thickness, insulation values, and coatings for water and fire resistance. This flexibility helped the customer meet code compliance in several states using the same base product and installation process. With ArmorWall, designers can specify different claddings seamlessly without redesigning wall assemblies, helping them realize the same level of efficiency in every project while providing buildings a uniform look.
With many such success stories under its belt, MaxLife knows first-hand that there is no uniform requirement when it comes to insulation. That is why the company has introduced different versions of ArmorWall to address project-specific client requirements that ensure cost-effective compliance with energy code, passive house, and green accreditation guidelines. For example, the ArmorWall Non-Coated (NC) version of the SIS panel has been specifically designed for complex projects where sealant and coating breakdown might occur due to transportation and movement. MaxLife also manufactures a below-grade version of the board, ArmorWall Below Grade (BG), which incorporates factory-applied below-grade waterproofing material on three faces of the panel surfaces. In this version, insulation is protected from regular job site activities that ensure optimum outcomes for an extended period of time. Furthermore, MaxLife created ArmorWall Perma Base (PB) in collaboration with National Gypsum Corporation to offer an integrated drainage plane needed in many types of adhered masonry and stucco projects. In contrast to other versions of ArmorWall, ArmorWall PB does not attach directly into the stud. Instead, it is installed to the gypsum and water-resistant membrane to ensure the maximum usage of the drainage plane.
Envisioning the Future
Since the creation of the first ArmorWall product in 2010, MaxLife has grown tremendously as clients from across the country transition from first-time users to specifying ArmorWall on most of their projects. The company has established incremental growth goals for itself over the years and strives to achieve increased market share while maintaining innovation. Doing so allows the company’s design and engineering team to hone its ability to adapt to changing market demand, code requirements, and customer interests. “We achieved exponential growth in 2019 and are on pace for much greater growth in 2020,” Davis mentions.
To continue its pathway to “commoditized” cost-effective, high-performance building enclosure products nationwide, MaxLife will soon roll out two new versions of ArmorWall with even higher energy-efficiency. The company’s research and development team is also engineering much larger panels than the traditional 4’ x 8’ versions currently offered. Larger panels yield larger savings but introduce complexities with transportation and installation, which the team has solutions for. “Our company is propelled by the goal of doing every step of this work correctly, which is why we are always focused on research and development. Our trademarked phrase: innovating the building enclosure—exemplifies exactly what we stand for,” concludes Davis.