For the last year, the components manufacturing industry has been in “heads-up” mode because the way we do business is rapidly changing. There is an important trend taking place revolving around integrating our industry's truss design work into the building design process and what that means to all involved in the construction of buildings. You probably have heard all the terms that are typically used: “whole-house design,” “whole-house software,” “whole-building design,” “parametric design,” “integrated design software,” and “model the complete structural frame.” But beyond the buzzwords, the real issue is how the whole-building design concept will eventually interrelate with component design, component manufacturing, and framing.
Ultimately, it is going to be up to component manufacturers to determine what path they will choose to take with their business models as changes in the design, manufacturing, and installation methods of components affect their unique circumstances. These industry models include those in use today, which can be a highly fragmented combination of independent component manufacturers, lumber dealers, truss designers, building designers, framers and installers, and builder-developers; or they may evolve to be more streamlined to have direct coordination among component manufacturers, truss designers, building designers, and framers to meet the specific needs of the building owner/developer. Still another possibility—which may represent the best structural framing solution—would be for component manufacturers/suppliers, truss designers, building designers, and framing crews to create joint ventures or single companies to work collectively as “one-stop shops” for builder owner/developers.
Unfortunately, predicting where whole-building design will take the industry in the future is not a simple process. Component manufacturers have vastly different ways of adding value to their products. Some deliver a product with virtually no engineering behind it but instead have mastered production and made processes as efficient and cost-effective as possible. Others provide added value through design and engineering. The best predictor usually comes down to economics, and while local markets will dictate both the speed and direction of change, it is probably likely that a good percentage of houses will eventually have component design integrated with building design as the best structural framing solution.
In the market today, there is a continual push to eliminate steps in the distribution process or to consolidate to improve profitability. Few would argue that the choices are difficult and the stakes are high, but the future of the industry is in the hands of component manufacturers everywhere. The key question to address is: Which marketplace structure will provide the best structural framing economic solution for specific builders/owners?
Component manufacturers that are already offering heavily engineered products are likely to be the ones that will eventually have a head start in selling whole-building design, and are going to be more likely to prosper long-term than those that turn their focus only to manufacturing or distribution. Moving toward a vertically integrated supply chain can only streamline and improve the components manufacturing industry because, in this case, holding more of the cards improves the odds of winning more business in their favor.
Editor's note: For more information on the evolution of the component manufacturing industry, including a graphical representation of the business models described above, visit www.woodtruss.com and www.sbcmag.info (August 2004 and Sept./Oct. 2004 articles titled “The Next Generation of Structural Building Components Design” parts 1 and 2, respectively), or attend the Building Component Manufacturers Conference (www.bcmcshow.com), Oct. 12–14, 2005, in Milwaukee.
Kirk Grundahl Executive Director WTCA, Madison, Wis.