Lightweight Structure Solutions

FabriTec Structures
Written by Robert Hoshowsky

In many ways, FabriTec creates the seemingly impossible: durable, custom, tensile membrane structures using practically transparent materials a mere 1/100t the weight of glass. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas and with satellite offices in Buffalo, New York, Tustin, California, and Guadalajara, Mexico, award-winning PFEIFER-FabriTec is respected worldwide for its stadiums, tensioned roof structures, cable suspended bridges, and cable supported structures.
As the world’s only vertically integrated lightweight structure specialist, FabriTec is ISO 9001:2015 certified for its quality management systems, and takes on design, project and construction management, engineering, manufacturing of steel, membrane and cable, and installation.

A history of innovation
Starting in Southern California, original founding member Claude Centner saw the opportunity to do more with membrane structures, especially on the custom side. Growing into larger membrane projects and through a merger, the company became one of the five brands of USA Shade, which was primarily in the shade structure business. When the opportunity presented itself in 2014, the owners sold their interests in the Shade business. Since FabriTec was in the custom business, majority shareholder of USA Shade Basil Haymann held onto FabriTec Structures as a standalone business. With PFEIFER introduced to FabriTec in late 2014, both companies soon realized not only what FabriTec had become, but they also shared the vision of what it could be.

Merging with Memmingen, Germany-based parent company PFEIFER Group in 2016 resulted in the biggest, most experienced lightweight structures (LWS) contractor on earth. “With the merger quickly came the recognition that FabriTec was much more than a Specialty Fabric Contractor,” when asked about the effects of the merger and speaking of the construction of the LA Rams new stadium roof by way of example, says company President Garry Becker. “Our management team on site consists of both FabriTec and PFEIFER personnel. Who better to build the world’s largest double cable net with but the company who is both your parent company and the most experienced cable net erector in the world?”

Steadily growing, FabriTec has seen an unprecedented increase in the number of tensile membrane structure opportunities. A resurgence of larger cable structure and retractable roofing opportunities, paired with the company’s PFEIFER merger and a great willingness and ability to expand into other markets is all happening “at the time when our competition has been struggling,” says Becker. “Keeping in mind that, at the end of the day, you still have to perform!”

New Los Angeles stadium
Citing a recently-awarded L.A. Stadium in Inglewood as a perfect example of what FabriTec has quickly become, the project – for a new L.A. football team – was initially the pursuit of the L.A. Rams Stadium Roof back in early 2015, before it was decided the Rams were approved to move their franchise to Los Angeles. With a project of this magnitude, FabriTec is being presented with challenges, including the stadium roof, which is almost twice the size of previous stadium roofs.

“The architecture called for a very low profile, a challenge in itself, given the desire to construct an orthogonal cable net,” describes Becker. Involved in two separate design assists, FabriTec worked with consultants HKS and Walter P. Moore, focusing its efforts on feasibility, constructability and project budget, and offering a variety of VE (Value Engineering) solutions to overcome a variety of challenges. The second design assist was focused more on project budget control and schedule coordination working for The Herrick Corporation, contracted directly with Turner-Hunt JV, the Construction Managers for the project.

“For us, this project represents both the largest Cable Net Structure of its kind in the world and the largest single skin ETFE (Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, a fluorine-based plastic) cladding in the world, and we are proud to be a part of it all,” shares Becker.

International clients
Tackling projects of all shapes and sizes, PFEIFER-FabriTec’s innovative works can be found across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, China, South Africa, Poland, France, and other nations around the globe. This past year, the company worked on projects less than $200,000 in value and in fact, regularly deals with even smaller contracts. But at the other end of the spectrum, FabriTec is working on a project valued at over $150 million, which makes the company unique in the industry. What also sets FabriTec apart is its ability to provide payment and performance bonds – even for the largest projects – an ability not so prevalent in the industry, but highly welcomed by customers, and an assurance that the company has the ability to perform and stand behind what its sells.

Increasingly, clients find tensile membrane structures are ideal for their projects, and can be used for many applications, such as stadiums, airports, bus stations, pavilions, amphitheaters, lightweight building envelopes, and more. From commercial to government, industrial to institutional clients, lightweight structures made from engineered membrane materials such as ETFE foil, PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene), and Polyvinyl chloride, better known as PVC, can produce the ideal result.

Recently, the company has expanded into a wide range of design applications, for both interior and exterior artwork like the SLCA Canyon project and the Indian Tipis being completed in Mystic Lake, Minnesota. Taking on works from façades to dehumidification chambers, FabriTec is also working on mechanized roofing solutions – including large movable roof vents at LA Rams Stadium, a retractable roof for the Hotel Intercontinental SF, and a high-end custom greenhouse for a customer in the emerging cannabis industry.

The strength of dedicated staff
With a well-trained team of about 70 full-time employees and another 50 temporary workers on construction sites, FabriTec employees include engineers, designers, project managers, proposal management, construction management, sales, marketing, accounting, human resources, safety, QA/QC, and site labor of all types. As part of the PFEIFER Group, with over 1,500 employees worldwide, the company continues to grow, expanding with its merge into the PFEIFER Structures division of the Pfeifer Group in 2016.

“What truly sets us apart from our competition is our people,” says Becker. “We value experience; the best lesson in life you can learn is a lesson your competition paid for. I believe that experience has given us the ability to ‘say what we do and do what we say.’ Unfortunately, those are not things which our competition seems to embrace, and as a result, our industry has been held back and stymied for far too long, from a failure to perform.”

Often taking on large-scale projects requiring years to complete, FabriTec Structures is especially proud of its work, including the home of Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders and Southern California’s Laguna Festival of Arts (re-designing fabric structures). Initially pursuing the latter project in 2015 – and winning a design-build competition working directly for the owner, Festival of Arts, to execute the project later that year – the work required FabriTec to build a series of custom tensile membrane structures to cover art. The challenges on this project were that all but one design element were unique, a relatively fast-track schedule, working on a tight project site, and coordinating with numerous other subcontractors during one of the rainiest Southern California winter/springs in memory. Despite these challenges, the project was successfully completed in time for the annual exhibition in the summer of 2017.

In late 2016, the company completed 136,000 square feet of PTFE canopies for the Mosaic Stadium Roof, home of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. After several rounds of bidding, the company was awarded the project by PCL. As the team at FabriTec began their final design work, they noticed certain areas of the roof had too little slope, which could adversely affect the roofs ability to drain properly, negatively affecting its performance. The company worked with design consultants HKS and Walter P. Moore to make the necessary improvements, and the project has now successfully seen its third winter with no issues.

Committed to clients
Since 2015, FabriTec has been working on The Canyon project at Salt Lake City Airport, where the esthetics imitate canyon rocks. Assisting the artist, Gordon Huether Studios, to realize their inspiration, this work will see a piece of wall art from a series of unique fabric envelopes stretched over custom aluminum rolled frames. Considering the unique nature of this application, FabriTec formed a consortium, including specialty interior fabric designer Charles Duvall and membrane and aluminum fabricator Rainier Industries, all responsible for the design, fabrication and installation of this artwork project. With Phase I due to be installed in early 2020, this has led to an additional, smaller Canyon project at the airport, now in fabrication and scheduled for installation in 2024.

Another of the company’s ongoing projects – and a favorite – is the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport project. With over 350,000 square feet of two-layer ETFE Cushions, it represents the largest ETFE cushion project in North America. “When we were first approached by the Construction Manager, NSMS (New South-McCarthy-Synergy JV), they were looking for specialty steel companies to bid on the structural steel scope for these massive drop-off canopies at the North and South Main Terminals,” explains Becker. “As soon as we learned that the cladding was designed as ETFE cushions, we began to inquire about that scope of work. Initially, we were informed that that scope of work was sole-sourced; however, through persistence and education, we were able to convince the CM and Airport that they could save themselves considerable money by opening this scope of work up to competition and they eventually agreed to do so.”

In the end, the airport saved a large sum of money as FabriTec was millions of dollars below the competitor’s bid, which was originally sole-sourced. “Late last year we completed installation on the North Canopy, and we have currently re-mobilized and are working on the South Canopy installation,” says Becker.

Continually taking on new and dynamic projects, FabriTec is presently working on the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, a vertical cable net supported by concrete columns. Once erected, the cable net will be used to hang a series of metal mesh panels made in such a way that, when assembled, they form a mural. In this case, the mural is the ‘Beaches of Normandy,’ designed by Frank Gehry along with the artist, TODD, Inc.

“Our scope of work is the final design and supply of the cable net, and then installation of the cable net and the artist’s metal mesh panels,” states Becker. “We are subcontracted to Crystal Steel, who will supply and install the steel components and they are subcontracted to the CM, Clark Construction.”

Welcoming new projects
Turning 20 this year, FabriTec is less focused on its past than on its future. With a wealth of challenging projects in its pipeline, the company believes it is imperative to successfully execute what it has in front of it.

Confident of the quality and success of its past work, President Becker believes this is not necessarily a guarantee of future success. Growth will be the result of FabriTec’s people, their problem-solving abilities, and finding creative, positive ways to continue moving forward. “If we can maintain those people and that approach than I believe we’ve put ourselves in the best position possible for a bright future,” he says.

Believing that potential clients should not be afraid to ask questions, Becker says some confuse the lowest price with being the best price, and forget the old saying, ‘If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.’ As a result, the team encourages customers when evaluating competing offers to ask as many questions as necessary, and not to be afraid to ask questions that might lead to a higher price. Becker states, “We all too often hear from clients who end up making a selection simply on the basis of low price only to find those clients are later unhappy with the choices they’ve made, the quality of the end product or the real final cost to get what they originally intended,” he states.

“This is a long way of saying, at FabriTec Structures, we realize that we will not always be the low price, but it doesn’t mean we are not the best price. And all things considered – I believe you’ll prefer the journey with us!”



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