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Reprinted from

The Construction Specifier, April 2007

Precast and steel framing hybrid more than the sum of its parts
by Brian Smith and Michael Chusid, RA, FCSI, CCS

nnovative combinations of construction materi- enclose a building envelope. Combining the two mate-
als and methods often result in new and improved rials provides both skin and bones for a wall. The con-
building systems. A case in point is the union of crete resists shear (in-plane) loads and braces the steel
architectural precast concrete and light-gage, cold- framing, while the steel studs carries most of the wind
formed steel stud framing. Both materials have long (transverse) and gravity (vertical) loads.
records of service in construction and offer many ben- This fusion of steel studs and precast concrete
efits. While each technology has inherent limitations, is termed thin-shell, cementitious-coated, cold-formed
using them together can yield a synergy in which the steel stud wall panels by the International Code Con-
combined performance exceeds the sum of the parts. ference Evaluation Services (ICC-ES) Acceptance Cri-
Architectural precast concrete, for example, is teria (AC) 282. More simply, the hybrid system is often
a versatile building system that can be quickly erected referred to as studcast or pre-framed precast concrete.
to provide durable walls. Unfortunately, traditional The result is a prefabricated system suitable for clad-
precast can be very heavy, making it difficult to handle ding, curtain walls, shaft walls, and exterior and interior
and adding dead load to a structure. Cold-formed steel load-bearing walls.
framing, on the other hand, is lightweight, but does not Precast concrete and steel framing are both es-
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tablished materials, and the construction industrys ac-
cumulated experience with them has benefited studcast.
For example, studcast walls can generally be engineered
and installed in accordance with applicable standards
created by organizations such as the Precast Concrete
Institute (PCI), Steel Framing Alliance (SFA), and Steel
Stud Manufacturers Association (SSMA), while spe-
cialized fasteners, connectors, and other accessories are
readily available. These materials do not support mold
or mildew and are impervious to damage caused by ter-
mites or vermin. They are also non-combustible and can
reduce property insurance premiums, while improving
life safety.
Studcast concretes light weight makes handling
easier, reduces or simplifies connections necessary to
attach the wall and adjacent construction, and allows
the use of smaller, more economical cranes. Alterna-
tively, larger panels become practical, with designs only
limited by transportation and job-site handling consid-
erations. Larger panels require fewer joints and can re- The layout of steel studs in walls always has to be coordinated with
duce air infiltration. Prefabrication leads to faster build- the layout of floor and roof framing members to optimize the load
ing enclosure, allowing other trades to work out of the path through the steel framing.
weather. walls, interest appears to be growing. (Various producers
Unlike conventional precast, studcast compo- have opened shop in climates as diverse as Eastern Can-
nents have built-in cavities for insulation and utilities. ada and California.) A selection of proprietary studcast
Interior finishes can be applied directly to the studs systems are available, primarily differing in the way the
without the additional furring. As the entire wall concrete is joined to the steel. For example, in some cas-
frame and skinis thinner, studcast concrete walls es, stud anchors can be welded to panelized steel frames
yield more floor area for the same building footprint, and embedded into fresh concretea method requiring
typically saving approximately 70 to 100 mm (3 to 4 in.) a qualified welder for panel fabrication. A simple alter-
around the perimeter of each floor. native is to use shear-transfer strips that can be screwed
Studcast systems have been used for the past two onto studs by any worker; the shear-transfer strips have
decades and while they still represent a small share of flanges that anchor in concrete. Another technique uses

Automated equipment can produce details in the steel framing that would be impractical with ordinary fabrication techniques. These
details, such as swaging the ends of studs and using notched studs instead of U-shaped channels for top and bottom rails contribute
to increased wall strength. Details like pre-punching and dimpling fastener holes also ensure more accurate dimensions and allow
fastener heads to be recessed. The end result yields a flatter substrate for better drywall application.
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Light on the Environment

eight (i.e. mass) is an oft-overlooked issue percent more.
in the determination of environmental The cellular concrete can contain as much
sustainability. Mass is an indication of as 50-percent recycled material content, while the
the quantity of material consumed in steel can be even higher. Both components can be
constructionbuildings with less mass simply use produced from locally extracted raw materials.
less of the planets mineral, biological, and chemi- Fly ash is a recycled smokestack by-product, and
cal feedstocks. When pursuing green goals, it is framing can be fabricated from post-consumer
always important to evaluate products from a to- recycled steel.
tal, balanced, sustainability point of view. As such, Further, the prefabrication process pro-
it is crucial to take into account various aspects of duces almost no waste, either in the factory or
a materials environmental impacts at its various on-site, and the product has no volatile organic
manufacture, use, and end-of-life stages. Never- compounds (VOCs) to emit. The cellular concrete
theless, mass does come into play. provides thermal insulation, and its light weight
Transporting and handling heavy mate- makes it possible to fabricate and handle very
rials generally consumes more fuel and creates large panels that reduce air infi ltration to con-
other transportation-related environmental im- serve heating and cooling energy.
pacts. Mass also translates into building dead load. The concrete in most studcast systems is
Minimizing a buildings mass can reduce the size only 51 mm (2 in.) thick and contains less than
of structural members and conserve materials and 75 percent of the material required for thicker
energy otherwise entrained in its foundation and conventional concrete walls. The small volume of
superstructure. concrete translates into low cement consumption,
By this standard, studcast precast walls reducing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO 2). (A
with cellular concrete are mass misers. At as little ton of the greenhouse gas is emitted per ton of ce-
as 575 Pa (12 psf), cellular studcast have about ment clinker produced.)
the mass of wood framing with 22-mm (7/8-in.) Finally, studcast walls have a long lifecycle
thick stucco far less than most noncombustible and require minimal maintenance. When it is
load-bearing wall systems. A conventional precast eventually demolished, most of the materials can
concrete wall, for example, can weigh at least 400 be readily separated for recycling.

special metal forming equipment to modify the flanges forming machine transforms a coil of steel into studs
of the studs so they can be embedded into concrete. Re- and channels ready for assembly. The components are
cent innovations in studcast precast walls take advan- automatically cut to exact lengths so panels can be pro-
tage of two new technologiessteel framing automa- duced to accuracies within 1 mm over 23 m (1/32 in.
tion and cellular concrete. over 60 ft) of wall.
The automated equipment also fabricates steel in
Automated fabrication ways that improve performance, but would be difficult
Conventional steel panelization is labor-intensive. or impractical to manually implement. These include:
Standard lengths of studs must be measured and cut to pre-drilling all pieces for screw assembly, which en-
size, workers must be specially trained, and assembly ables a single worker armed with a screw gun to assem-
requires special jigs and quality controlthese factors ble panels without special clamps or jigs;
combine to add time and expense. As steel stud fabrica- dimpling screw holes so screw heads lie flush with
tion catches up with the digital age, the project design- the panel surfacethis provides a flatter substrate for
ers CAD files can now be converted into instructions gypsum board, which, in turn, allows higher grade fin-
for computer-aided manufacturing equipment (CAM) ishes;
to improve the speed, economy, and precision of fab- swaging stud ends for accurate mating with the in-
rication and assembly. A compact, computerized roll- ternal profile of the channels (allowing studs to bear
www.EcoliteConcrete.com 800-755-0555 3 April 2007 The Construction Specifier
directly on the bottom of the channel for better load
transfer); and
aligning holes in the stud webs for easier installation
of utilities in the finished wall.
Conventional steel framing uses U-shaped channels
at the top and bottom of C-shaped studs. Since the C-
shaped profile is stronger, the new system notches them
so they can be employed instead of U-shaped members
at the tops and bottoms of walls. Using the same profile
for both horizontal and vertical members, in conjunc-
tion with the swaging, also contributes to a flatter sub-
strate for gypsum board.

The champagne of concrete

The other significant innovation is cellular concrete,
which contains a potent, performance-enhancing addi-
tiveair. By replacing 50 percent of the concrete vol-
ume with closed-cell air bubbles, panel weight can be The cementitious slurry contains up to 50 percent fly ash, a recycled
cut to as little as 575 Pa (12 psf), half the weight of stud- material. It is a pozzolanic material that increases the strength
cast panels with normal concrete. and density of the concrete and acts as a filler to reduce portland
This type of cellular concrete is generated by cement use. The free-flowing material encapsulates the expanded
metal and, when cured, produces a composite structure.
mixing cement paste with a froth. The resulting con-
crete foam has been used for many years in horizon-
Light on the Environment, page 58.)
tal applications like roof decks and below-grade fill.
The aggregate used in this mixture consists of
However, its use in studcast construction is one of its
billions of bubbles, rather than the crushed rock and
first applications in walls. Unlike some types of cellu-
sand found in conventional concrete. The froth creates a
lar concrete, (e.g. autoclaved aerated concrete [AAC])
flowable and self-leveling mixture, even with a low wa-
the frothed mixture does not need to be heated during
ter-to-cementitious materials (w/c) ratio. Keeping the
curing; the reduced fuel requirement contributes to the
w/c low increases concrete strength and decreases dry-
environmentally sustainable aspect of cellular studcast
ing shrinkagetwo factors minimizing cracking. Syn-
walls. (For more on green implications of studcast, see
thetic fibers are also used to increase concrete strength
and crack resistance.
The cement paste is a blend of portland cement
and as much as 50-percent fly ash. The latter acts both
as filler and as a supplementary cementitious material
(SCM). Since fly ash is a pozzolan, it improves the con-
crete by correcting a fundamental problem with the ce-
ment. As portland cement cures, approximately 20 per-
cent of the products of hydration become lime (calcium
hydroxide), a compound that does not increase concrete
strength and is water-soluble.
Lime can leech out of the concrete, leaving
microscopic pores that allow moisture to enter. Lime
deposits on the surface become efflorescence and can
permanently disfigure concrete. In contrast, pozzolans
Cellular studcast walls are given form when an architects CAD react with the lime to form additional cementitious
design is convertetd into a building information model (BIM) that crystals that densify and add strength to the concrete.
analyzes loading conditions, lays out studs and components ac-
cording to pre-engineered algorithms, and determines the length
Fly ash decreases potential for efflorescence and creates
and detailing of each component in the wall. very dense cell walls of cement paste around each air
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After frames are assembled, expanded metal is screwed to one face, and a perimeter mold strip is attached to form the edge of the
concrete facing and hold the framing at the correct height above the casting table. At left, the framing has been set in-place above thin-
brick veneer that will be cast into the face of the concrete. The photo at right provides a size comparison between a penny and cellular
concretes closed-cell air bubbles. By replacing 50 percent of the concrete volume with air, panel weight can be significantly reduced.

bubble to limit moisture migration. Form liners can be used to precast the concrete
The wedding of CAD/CAM-produced steel and with a variety of textures and patterns. The studcast
cellular concrete is a quick and easy ceremony. Instead concrete can also be integrally colored or finished with
of the welded wire mesh used to reinforce other stud- thin-brick, exposed aggregate, or other materials cast
cast panels, the new system uses expanded metal direct- into its surface. Alternatively, the concrete can be fabri-
ly screwed to one side of the panelized steel. Without cated with a smooth finish for field-applied coatings.
coarse aggregate, the cellular concrete can flow through As is the case with the steel-forming equipment,
the expanded metal. When cured, the concrete/metal the new generation of equipment needed to make a
combination gains significant shear resistance. batch of foamed concrete has also been reduced in size
The concrete and expanded metal also provides and complexity. The system is so compact it can even be
exceptional bracing to the steel studs. For example, transported into the field to allow on-site casting of very
a 33-mil thick steel unrestrained studcalculated to large panels.
withstand approximately 300 kg/m (200 lb/ft) axial load
before buckling, according to SSMAwill resist about Other benefits
1200 kg/m (800 lb/ft) when combined with expanded In addition to reducing weight, air cells enhance the
metal and concrete (a 400-percent gain). concretes thermal and fire resistance. Studcast walls
A special perimeter strip holds the panelized with 51 mm (2 in.) of cellular concrete achieve R-4,
steel frame at the proper height so the expanded metal as compared to a conventional concrete masonry unit
is at mid-depth in the concrete and about 25 mm (1 in.) (CMU) wall with a value of R-1.5. The same studcast
of the stud flange is fully embedded. As mentioned, the wall, with just 51 mm of cellular concrete, can provide
concrete foam is self-leveling and therefore requires two hours of fire resistanceeven without adding gyp-
neither vibration nor consolidation. Perimeter strips sum board over the exposed steelwhen tested under
also create edge details on the panel for reveals or to ASTM International E 119, Standard Test Methods for
simplify joint sealing. Fire Tests of Building Construction and Materials. With
www.EcoliteConcrete.com 800-755-0555 5 April 2007 The Construction Specifier
Light-gage steel studs are produced by automated roll-forming equipment that punches, notches, dimples, numbers, and cuts to length.

76 mm (3 in.) of concrete and one layer of 16-mm (5/8- build. For example, the National Training Center (Fort
in.) gypsum board, it tested to three hours of fire resis- Irwin, California) is currently erecting a 57-building
tance. complex using studcast walls with cellular concrete. The
Its acoustical insulating properties are similar- contractor for this design-build project compared stud-
ly beneficial. A wall with 51 mm of cellular concrete, cast walls to a number of other building systems and
fibrous insulation, and a layer of 5/8 gypsum board found it to be not only the least costly, but also that its
achieves a sound transmission coefficient (STC) of 55. prefabrication and simplified construction enabled the
In addition to its fire resistance, this means cellular con- schedule to be reduced by six months.
crete studcast is suitable for corridor walls, party walls,
and other locations requiring both fire safety and acous- Conclusion
tical privacy. Studcast technology is applicable for both factory pre-
Studcast walls have sufficient strength for many fabrication and site-cast (tilt-up) wall construction on
applications. Cold-formed steel framing can be used for almost all types of buildings, including multi-family
load-bearing walls up to six stories high, and the cel- housing, schools, industrial, commercial, and institu-
lular concrete facing of a studcast wall provides even tional structures.
greater capacity. Under cyclical load testing, walls with The special properties of cellular concrete stud-
cellular concrete have been tested to provide racking cast make it a viable solution for buildings in all corners
shear capacity of 4800-kg (10,500-lb) minimum top-of- of the United States. Shear-resistance makes it a candi-
wall force with 11-mm (0.44-in.) maximum top-of-wall date for earthquake-prone California, while the mois-
displacement. The walls have even passed the stringent ture resistance of its closed cell structure is welcome in
Miami/Dade County Windblown Missile Impact Test. the rainy Pacific Northwest. Studcasts added thermal
Despite their myriad benefits, studcast walls are resistance and performance under potential conden-
not for every application. Forming curved or highly fac- sation and freeze-thaw conditions makes it attractive
eted surfaces can be difficult, and the front-end logistics for design professionals in Maine, and its resistance to
of CAD/CAM programming can make the system im- mold, wind, and airborne debris can enable a wall to
practical for small projects. In extreme environments, survive the hurricanes of Florida and the Gulf Coast.
special consideration must be given to controlling con-
densation due to potential thermal bridging by the met-
al studs. Still, studcast walls can be very affordable to
www.EcoliteConcrete.com 800-755-0555 6 April 2007 The Construction Specifier
Additional Information
Brian Smith is CEO of Ecolite Concrete USA. He Michael Chusid, RA, FCSI, CCS, is principal of
began investigating cellular concrete more than a Chusid Associates, technical and marketing consul-
decade ago while operating an architectural precast tants to several companies producing pre-framed
company that used convention materials. He can be precast wall systems. He can be contacted through
reached at (800) 755-0555. www.chusid.com.

MasterFormat No. UniFormat No. Key Words

03 45 00-Precast Architectural Concrete B1020-Structural Interior Divisions 03, 05, 07
05 41 00 - Structural Metal Stud Framing Walls Supporting Floors Cellular concrete
07 42 63-Fabricated Wall Panel Assemblies B1020-Structural Interior Light-gage steel framing
Walls Supporting Roofs
Pre-framed precast
B2010-Exterior Wall Exterior Skin

Abstract known as studcast. This prefabricated hybrid product is

A relatively new building system that fuses steel studs suitable for cladding, curtain walls, shaft walls, and exte-
and precast concrete into a thin-shell, cementitious- rior and interior load-bearing walls, but specifiers must
coated, cold-formed steel stud wall panels, otherwise understand the related design considerations.

Ecolite Concrete USA, Inc.

Head office:
2091 Las Palmas Drive. Suite E Carlsbad, CA 92011-1551
Tel: (760) 804-1957 Fax: (760) 804-9038
www.EcoliteConcrete.com info@EcoliteConcrete.com

www.EcoliteConcrete.com 800-755-0555 7 April 2007 The Construction Specifier