Case Studies

Metal Design Systems Inc.

Innovative design concepts in metal fabrication

As a national specialty metals fabricator, Metal Design Systems Inc. (MDSI) provides innovative engineered systems, as well as design and development resources to support the creative concepts of its clients. Located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, MDSI offers many unique and sustainable claddings to select from, such as aluminum composite material (ACM), plate, colored stainless, copper, zinc, phenolic material, fiber cement and others.

Working out of his garage, founder Kreg Tjelmeland started MDSI in 1999. Throughout the years, Tjelmeland continued to add and innovate systems and become involved in the ACM industry. Today the company operates out of a 175,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and completes projects all over the United States and Canada. MDSI also has licensing arrangements with fabricators throughout Central America. “We’re involved in large and small scale projects, from hospitals, stadiums and courthouses, to small entry portals,” shares Tjelmeland. “In terms of architectural projects, we’re focused on the central United States and the West Coast.”

Metal Design Systems Inc.

The character of MDSI and its drive toward innovation has helped the company to stand out in the industry. MDSI is continuously incorporating new methodology into its systems to add innovative features and installation improvements in the field. “Our systems perform to the highest industry standards, as well as adding aesthetics to structures,” Tjelmeland explains. “We are environmentally responsible and our facility takes a forward, conscientious approach throughout the manufacturing process.”

Utilizing new technologies

One of the biggest challenges in the metal fabrication industry is the translation of field conditions into a fabricated product that fits those conditions. With a shift in the industry toward more complex design, MDSI has been able to adapt to the demand for efficiency and accuracy. To ensure accurate measurements, MDSI utilizes their Exact+Site technology, which is a surveying method that measures distance utilizing a laser scanner.

With the ability to record 1,000,000 points of measurements per second, the team can then convert them into a full 3-D model of the field conditions. MDSI has designed software to take that technology and fabricate the materials from the model. “We are able to guarantee the accuracy of the product,” Tjelmeland explains. “This technology has brought us to the point now where we can actually evaluate all the conditions and create a topographical map of the surface we are going to apply it to and then communicate that information to the installer.”

MDSI has also developed a new hook-and-pin system which has become integrated into a large portion of the company’s work in the last three years. “It utilizes a large amount of product, so it’s not limited to just ACM,” Tjelmeland elaborates. “You can take the same building and introduce a multitude of materials.” MDS recently completed a project that included cement fiberboard, ACM and LED lights, all of which were incorporated with the same attachment system.

Other challenges that MDSI faces consist of regulatory and building code development issues. “What we have now in the industry are multifaceted thermal, fire, water and structural testing requirements that all need to be reconciled to meet one another and they are all assembly specific,” says Tjelmeland. “Some of these assemblies cost approximately $30,000 to test. Any modification to these assemblies requires the testing to be done again. So what we have now is a code system developing, but not necessarily recognizing, the conflict that it is going to create.”

Metal Construction Association

By utilizing the education programs and benefits of the Metal Construction Association (MCA), MDSI is collaborating with other members to identify solutions and help bring to the industry an understanding of conflict and issues, and how MDSI can perform to those standards. “We want to bring the rest of the industry, in regard to fabricators, up to that level,” says Tjelmeland. “The MCA gives us strength in numbers. The ability to band together is great because none of us are dealing with these issues on our own.”

In addition to the industry networking and relationship-building that MDSI has gained through the MCA, Tjelmeland has found joy in his work in many aspects, such as helping others with creativity. “Essentially architecture is fashion for buildings,” he says. “There are all these artists out there who want to see their creation come to life. It’s really great to be involved in that process.”

Tjelmeland is also passionate about his employees who he says have been the primary reason for the success of the company. “I can’t say enough about the team here at MDSI,” he says. “They are extraordinary. We have a lot of folks who have really worked hard on the Exact+Site technology aspect of the company and have brought it to such a high level of performance.”

Guided by its cultural values of servant leadership, integrity, innovation and quality, Metal Design Systems Inc. remains committed to the success of its customers through imaginative products, adaptable service to enhance value, and mechanical solutions for innovative design concepts.

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