Gleaming Custom Metal Façades

John W. McDougall Co.
Written by Pauline Müller

An old Afrikaans saying about staying positive advises us to keep the surface side of things gleaming (Hou die blink kant bo.) While not everyone may find that general notion useful, modern design generally does. And so does the sterling team at John W. McDougall Co. (McDougall), best known these days for its beautiful custom metal façades.

From its modern facility in Nashville, Tennessee, this metal fabricator upholds high standards across all its departments. It also recently added a powder coating facility in Dickson, Tennessee. At just under an hour away from its main facility, this new endeavor saves time and costs by powder coating fabricated products in lieu of having them outsourced.

With McDougall’s equipment investments exceeding $10 million in the past 24 months, its reputation for quality and speed exceeds that of the competition. Irrespective of how high the demand, the team is equipped with state-of-the-art automation. McDougall’s equipment includes an automated Trumpf 7000 combination laser punch machine, three flat lasers, two tube lasers, three Trumpf punches, seven press brakes, two CNC routing tables, and a robotic welder, as well as a host of other finishing equipment. This allows the company to develop custom metal façade products for large-scale projects.

After eight and a half decades in metal fabrication, the company is a trusted leader in custom metal architectural façades and metal processing. This supplier of choice to the largest names in the region’s construction industry has its finger on the pulse of the local markets. From custom perforated panels to plate panel systems, insulated metal panels, aluminum composite panels (ACM), and high-pressure laminates, as well as design, fabrication, and installation of entire backup structures and with recent design intent into an offsite-assemble wall unitized modular assembly, the team provides much-sought-after solutions.

Together with its main offerings, McDougall’s architectural punched parking garage screens are custom-made to suit clients’ unique designs and are becoming increasingly popular. The team recently installed such a panel system at a national airport. Louvers, sunshades, and recently-added glazing abilities complete its portfolio of solutions.

The company has implemented supply chain processes to ensure it purchases products that are manufactured in the United States wherever possible. Although it does occasionally purchase from quality suppliers based outside of the U.S., every effort is made to minimize this. For example, for the amazing Metawell Panel from Germany, McDougall is one of three approved fabricators is the U.S. who can fabricate and install these advanced metal panels.

“We want to keep businesses like McDougall in business by prioritizing buying products that have value added in America. I understand that we cannot source everything from here but there has to be a value-add by an American company for the benefit of local spending power,” explains Chris Ball, Vice President of Operations.

Leadership at McDougall is open-minded and pragmatic about industry changes. In 2021, McDougall’s employees voted to no longer be represented by the Local 177 Sheet Metal Workers Union. This event spurred change and the loss of a few contracts. But today, McDougall is stronger than ever!

Loss of the organized work force required realignment of our priorities. As part of the realignment and our additional focus on contract manufacturing, we were able to achieve ISO 9001 certification,” says Ball of this recent defining moment in the company’s quality management strategy. While the company was always contracted to international firms who demanded the same standards be upheld within the ISO framework, officially setting it up for compliance has catapulted the business into a new era.

Alongside the upgraded quality management, the team has also turned toward honing its project management skills to ensure it handles the volumes of new work effectively. McDougall’s well-known OEM and construction clients benefit greatly from its range of capabilities which translate into a competitive edge.

McDougall has completed many high-profile projects over the years, including the KFC Yum! Center, a sports facility in Louisville, Kentucky; Marquette University’s student housing building in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; the FedExForum arena in Memphis, Tennessee; the Nashville International Airport; Hyatt House Nashville Downtown / Convention Center, and Tempo by Hilton hotel in its home city. The company has also completed a great number of data centers throughout the East and Midwest. A recent notable project is the façade work on the reconstruction of buildings destroyed in 2020 during the tragic Christmas Day bombing of the Nashville AT&T building and its surroundings on Second Avenue.

For McDougall, that particular restoration project began with the clearing of the site, followed by design assistance. The company was part of finding an answer to the challenge of replacing “what was there before” while honoring the heritage of the original buildings. Today, the façade could be described as a metal print of the original 2nd Avenue façades drawn from a watercolor painting by artist Phil Ponder. The new façade is rendered in dark grey laser work punctuated with punched holes reminiscent of pointillism. The result is a textured, durable, giant piece of art that lends a touch of modernity to the area.

The company’s Chief Executive Officer, Alec McDougall, recently welcomed his son, Wylie McDougall, to the team. Starting in 1938, this now fourth generation company originally made toolboxes to serve the army during WWII. In 1944, the Atomic Energy Commission contracted the firm to deliver thousands of tons of ductwork for the Manhattan Project, the secret program that birthed the first atomic bomb. Another famous project arrived in 1982 when the team had the great honor of manufacturing Spaceship Earth, in the Epcot Theme Park in Orlando, Florida.

As McDougall’s successes multiplied, the company expanded, and today, it is a trusted supplier known for evolving alongside market demand. “Not being afraid to invest the money and the ability to evolve… is the company’s greatest success,” Ball says.

Upholding its founding principles, the company understands the importance of establishing and maintaining relationships with the general contractors it serves. The same goes for its staff; promoting from within when possible and being open to answering questions that employees have about the company while creating a space where people can flourish are more important than ever.

In addition, the McDougall team gladly supports worthy causes. This year, it hosted its first charity golf day, the Swing to Save Tournament, on September 13 in aid of Cumberland Heights, a local rehabilitation treatment facility. The vision is for the event to become an annual institution, with all proceeds pledged to the invaluable work of the center. Furthermore, staff will also soon have a day or two of paid leave to do charitable work in their communities—an initiative brought to life by a team member’s suggestion.

With speed, precision, and problem solving, the company’s goal of 35 percent growth next year is well within reach as it aims to assist the ever-increasing numbers of architects in achieving their desired façade designs and art installations through the durable, dynamic medium of metal.

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