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Cold-Formed Steel Framing Gets Complicated: Translating Complex Concepts Into Buildable Structures

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During the medieval period, complex Gothic structures were built from drawings that communicated a designer’s overall vision without detailing specific means of construction. Master craftsmen translated designs into buildable structures using simple tools available at the time. Now, in some respects, the construction industry has come full circle.

Complex concepts envisioned by contemporary designers are being translated into buildable structures by a new generation of master builders. The differences, however, are today’s building materials can be considerably lighter weight than stone masonry of yore, and the craftsman’s tool kit includes building information modeling (BIM) capabilities.

Recent advances in cold-formed steel (CFS) framing illustrate this transition. CFS uses thinner materials with different structural characteristics than hot-rolled sections. Thanks to the efforts of AISI, Cold-formed Steel Engineers Institute (CFSEI), and other industry organizations, there are well-established engineering and fabrication guidelines for orthogonal CFS structures. However, using CFS for complex curved or faceted surfaces still relies on master crafters—now called subject matter experts (SME)—with specialized skills and knowledge.

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