• Field Notes 23.12.2009 3 Comments

    It started with mechanical drafting in 7th grade. As Collingdale High School was a combined Jr-Sr high school, seeing the seniors working on house plans suckered me in. My parents bought me a drafting set that Christmas. I wanted nothing else. That’s what I thought architecture was. I learned differently in college, and fell into curtainwall by accident. 

    What was important was the foundation I received about what good drafting is. Mr. Hummel and Mr. Ershaw were great teachers. They taught me the fundamentals:  Correctly laying out the objects, dimensioning them and annotating them for whoever would be using them later –builder, estimator or owner. Creating closed object lines – no openings. Learning to letter cleanly, and being succinct with notes to drawings. All by hand, none of this “click the fillet button, then the dimension icon, then indicate/click the mouse where it needed to be located.”   

    And the drafting foundation carried through after I got out of college and landed my first professional job as a draftsman with a curtainwall subcontractor that did their own design, fabrication and installation. Please don’t tell my wife, but for the first two years in the business, I had personal, intimate relationships (always professional, none of this Tiger Woods business for me) with drafting tools: a parallel bar, triangles (30/60, 45 and adjustable), 2H and 4H lead, drafting powder and brush, a scale, lead holders and pointers, an electric eraser and drafting tape.  And, a calculator to determine what the dimensions really ought to be. Those penciled lines never did have any smart data attached to them, and you couldn’t click on them to put a dimension on a drawing. 

    I developed calluses on my fingers using a lead holder for so long. Not to mention sepias and bluelines. You cannot call yourself a draftsperson until you’ve stood in front of an ammonia powered blueline machine or had to erase the back of a sepia drawing without tearing through the paper, and then go home smelling like that and try to kiss your significant other. And I don’t ever want to go back there ever again. 

    One of the most important lessons I learned was from my first boss, Charlie Morgan. He taught me something I have not forgotten to this day:  That I needed to learn what someone else was trying to teach about how to draw. I had been in the business for all of three months, while he had been doing it for 25 years by that point. I still had some things to learn, and he was interested in teaching me, if I was willing to listen. His question came through loud and clear, although he didn’t put it directly to me. Was I willing to learn? I hope Charlie would say I answered that bell.     

    By definition, shop drawings are used to communicate how the manufacturer will fabricate the material. And, there’s a whole different side to the drawings than just that:  Many other parties will rely on them. Architects will use them to check for compliance with their design intent. Their consultant, when there is one, will check for technical suitability. Purchasing will use them for quantity takeoffs and buying the material. The fabrication department will use them to draw the actual production tickets for the parts for use on the shop floor. Production/manufacturing will review them for reference to assist in figuring out just what exactly it is they are supposed to be machining. General contractors will use them for coordinating the work between the adjacent trades. And, last but not least, the installer will use them to correctly install the work. 

    And we’ve missed some of that coming out of the dark ages, drawing on a board and moving to the electronics of computer-aided drafting. Saying someone is a draftsperson because they know AutoCAD (or equal) is like saying someone is an accountant because they know Excel. Knowledge of the software alone does not make one proficient in the application.

    We’ve forgotten we need to teach drafting. I hope there are drafting courses still out there. The layout, the placements of notes and dimensions and the ability to communicate to all of those parties are what the drawing is all about. My former boss Charlie probably still prefers to this day to draft on a board. He’s an artist when it comes to communicating through paper and pencil. And you can do it in AutoCAD or any other computer drafting system if you have first learned how to communicate what you know through the medium, be it pencil and paper on a board, or a mouse, tablet and computer screen. After all is said and done, they’re just tools. 

    And now the revolution of moving from board to computer screen is taking the next leap – BIM or whatever that may morph into. Having lived through the first revolution, hold on, this is going to be fun! The BIM world will take us to a completely new level. There will be old guys who won’t want to move away from what they have done in the past, and there will always be some young upstart who thinks he can do it better.

    To the old guys:  Pass on what you know. Just remember those guys who taught it to you will haunt you unless you pass it on. To the younger set, find an old guy and see what he can teach you. You might be surprised. Just keep an open mind. 

    When I was in 7th grade, drafting on a computer wasn’t even close to being a reality. I never knew I’d be using a computer to draw, and I would NOT go back to a board for all the money in the world. See, us old folks can still learn some things … I learned that when I was still young, so we will listen when the next wave comes, be it BIM, or whatever takes its place. Some things we don’t forget too easily. And say thanks to all the Charlie Morgans of the world. They are the foundation on which all of us have built.

    One final thought:  Merry Christmas! Hopefully your holidays will be filled with family, friends, great memories, peace and joy. And remember the people out there making sure we can enjoy it – those who are sacrificing their time away from their loved ones. In our home this year, for the first time in two generations, it’s Go Navy!!! Remember the reason for the season!

  • Just a quick word to our friends at Arch: none of us like to have our laundry hung in public. But we’ve all been there. Hang in there, the cream rises to the top. At least from this limited perspective, the old adage of “When the going gets tough…” applies. Hopefully we’ll soon see a tougher Arch, then watch out!

    Thus, on to more mundane matters. When an earthquake occurs at sea, one of the things scientists are getting better at predicting is the resultant tsunami that may occur. Until the tsunami reaches the shore, it is virtually invisible. But when it arrives, there’s no doubt that it’s real, and it becomes devastating. Same with an earthquake on land – we don’t know it’s coming until it hits, and when it does, hold on for dear life.

    One tsunami that’s coming is the NFRC certification program that’s about to roll out and be required in a limited number of states come 1 January 2010. It’s out there, it’s virtually invisible to most of us in the industry, but when it hits shore on New Year’s Day, the implications are really scary.

    One, as an employee of a frame manufacturer, we have products we want to include in the NFRC database so our customers can get NFRC certifications on their projects. So making the people at NFRC mad at me has some implications.

    Second, as I said when I wrote a letter to the editors of the glass mags back in July, I think a rating system to verify/certify the actual thermal performance of site-built curtainwalls is a good thing. With energy concerns becoming a larger issue, why not provide products to assure that?

    So what’s the dilemma with NFRC? There are too many open issues, and the wave is about to come ashore. For example:

    1. Curtainwall U-values are based on an 80” x 80” test window, which is somewhat arbitrary. And, currently, there are no provisions for testing the actual window sizes of any given project. The resulting U-values from the test window may or may not be higher or lower than that of an actual wall when installed onsite. For example, the ratio of glass to frame, when the glass is significantly larger, improves the U-value. If a window doesn’t test out at the 80” x 80” requirement, the certification cannot be obtained, but an actual window as built onsite could model out to be better than the tested window.

    2. Ambiguities exist as to who the role players are: 

        a. Who is the “Responsible Party” for obtaining the certifications? The Architect? The GC? Or the glazing sub? This has to be defined probably in the contract documentation of a given project. If the glazing sub is designated in the specs as the responsible party, better know what that means. As the certification is going to be required by code, the “responsible party” is not going to be able to duck this by qualifying the bid.

        b. “Specifying Authority:” This as yet undefined entity would be responsible for taking on the task of making sure the NFRC procedures have been followed and hiring independent validating entities, either test labs or 3rd parties, to verify the work of the “responsible party.”

    3. It’s my understanding that none of the glass spacer people have agreed to be part of this process, and have not to date gotten their products “certified” within the NFRC database. This begs the question as to whether or not they are purposely holding back, and I don’t care to speculate if they are. But if the Computer Modeling Approach (referred to as CMA by NFRC) requires the spacer as one of three components (glass and frame are the other two) to be included in the process to obtain certification, yet isn’t in the equation, how does the “responsible party” obtain certification if the manufacturers aren’t going to participate? That’s like trying to buy a car without an engine. 

    4. Spandrel issues have yet to be addressed in the curtainwall. Currently, there is no way to include:

        a. Insulation in the rating/certification program. Does anyone not believe insulation in the curtainwall application positively impacts the thermal performance of the wall?

        b. Spandrel materials other than glass, such as metal panels or stone. So how do you separate out a frame that holds glass and spandrel materials and just model only the glass portion, and how does that verify the thermal performance of the actual wall system being built onsite?

    5. NFRC just announced their election results. And, to date, no one from the curtainwall industry has been able to make inroads to serve on the board. Traco and Guardian don’t count in my book. NFRC was established in response to the residential window market, and they’ve done a great job of bringing a standard set of rules for thermal performance to that industry. But applying that model to the commercial window industry doesn’t work for the real world. We don’t build the same thing over and over again; each project is new, unique and not likely to be repeated ever again. 

    Questions to NFRC come back with answers like, “that’s a known problem and our best people are working on it.” I went to the fall GANA Conference in KC to specifically ask the NFRC representative, who was a guest speaker, and have gotten no additional clarification. When asked about item 1 above, I basically got the answer of, “yes, we know that.” That was the extent of the answer. I gave up asking any more questions after that.

    I don’t know what shape or context this wave will take after January 1. The problem is, it’s not clear where the high ground is to run to. Excluding the certification from the bid appears to be the only recourse, but if that doesn’t get back through the General Contractor to the owner and architect, there’s going to be some subcontractors that are going to have a bad experience bringing this system on line.

    I hope to high heaven I’m wrong. Totally, unequivocally, absolutely proven to be dead wrong on this. Only time will tell. There’s been enough discussion within the industry about this coming, so there are no excuses for any of us. Hang on, the next few months as this comes on line are going to be, in the words of Artie Johnson, “vedy intresting.”

USGlass Magazine

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