LAS VEGAS — Concerns about the economy and traveling in the wake of the Sept. 11 U.S. terrorist attacks may have accounted for the decrease in attendance at this year’s METALCON International, the metal construction industry’s annual conference and exhibition. Booth traffic appeared to be down, especially on Oct. 24 and 25.

“It seems to be a little smaller crowd this year,” said Richard Purdy, a McElroy Metals employee working the company’s booth. Show organizers later confirmed Purdy’s observations.

While the number of early registrations for the three-day event were 15% higher than last year, the actual number of attendees dropped from about 8,000 in 2000 to 6,500 this year. Still, organizers said they were happy with the turnout. “Given everything that’s going on, (6,500) is pretty good,” said METALCON spokeswoman Marge O’Connor.

While many conventions were postponed or cancelled in the wake of the attacks, show manager Claire Kilcoyne said there was never a thought of canceling METALCON. “The events of September 11 set everyone back,” Kilcoyne said. “But the determination of this industry and our country not to let that stop us were evident at this show. The American spirit … (was) evident wherever you went at METALCON. Those who came were serious about doing business.”

Despite the current economic uncertainty, show sponsors said almost all exhibitors honored their commitment to the show, and indeed, only a few small booths were empty. The sprawling Las Vegas Convention Center was filled with displays of metal roofing products, tools, curbs, rollformers and other fabricating equipment.

“It’s a good show,” Michael Enkemann, a roofing contractor from Wooster, Ohio said as he wandered the aisles.

Rob Haddock, director of the Metal Roof Advisory Group, gave presentations on understanding metal roofing and the growing metal roof retrofit market.

A buying mood

Many attendees were in a buying mood. “We had conversations to the point of purchase, which is unusual for us at a trade show, since our machines are custom-made to the customer’s needs,” said Michael McGuire, a marketing manager with Hill Engineering Inc., a division of Formtek. The company was exhibiting the Dahlstrom B&K Supermill, a new rollforming machine.

Among the other new products on display:

  • RAS Systems of Germany was showing the company’s new XXL-Center, a bending machine that folds long parts. Instead of requiring two or three operators, with the XXL-Center, one operator can load the piece onto a sheet support system and then unloads the complete, folded, finished part. Company vice president Rick Wester boasted that “No one else has anything like it!” Wester said booth visitors’ response to the XXL were very positive.

  • Metalforming Inc. was showing several product lines at its large display booth, including the Schechtl UKV 150 hem brake. It features a quick-clamping system that allows the operator to add and remove tooling by hand, without the need to purchase or use additional tools. “METALCON is always a selling show for us,” said Frank Callis, vice president and marketing manager with Metalforming. “This year the traffic was a little less, but the quality was very high. The people who were here were serious shoppers who have their eyes on the future.”

  • Tennessee-based Custom Curb was showing off its new self-supporting curb. It eliminates the need for sub-framing. Alan Harris, director of national accounts for Custom Curb, said that since the product is self-squaring, it installs in a quarter of the time needed for conventional curbs.

    While the economy is showing signs of a recession, Harris remains bullish about the market for roof curb products and his company. “We’re (up) 20% over last year,” Harris said. Since less than a quarter of potential roof curb customers currently use the products, he said, there is a large untapped contractor market out there.

Distributor COMEQ Inc. was showing the Geka Hydracrop 110 SD w/semi-paxy CNC positioning table with an ALRS CNC-controlled plate feed and shearing system. COMEQ sales rep. Robert Clark said the Hydracrop saves layout work, since it shears everything to length according to input. “You can pretty much throw away your tape measure and soap stone,” he added.

For the eighth consecutive year, a light gauge, steel framed house was constructed in the middle of the exhibit hall floor. The house was built using labor, materials and resources donated by the industry associations and exhibitors. This year’s steel frame house was a mixed use structure designed to demonstrate how residential applications and commercial uses are converging. According to the MCA, the majority of light gauge steel framing is being used for multistory, multifamily structures such as small hotels, assisted living facilities and mixed use buildings where tenants live above first floor commercial developments.

In addition to metal roofing demonstrations on the trade show floor, METALCON offered 28 educational sessions this year, with topics such as “Architectural Sheet Metal: New Developments and Applications,” “Paying Attention to Details Up Front (And Not Paying for Roof Leaks Later)” and “Ventilation: Profit$ or Problem$?” Almost three quarters of the topics were new, according to show organizers. Perhaps because the so-called dotcom revolution appears to have stalled, there were no e-commerce or Internet-oriented seminars at this year’s event. Instead, the focus was on practical designs, applications and problem solving.

One well-attended seminar was a presentation on retrofit roofing by Rob Haddock, director of the Colorado-based Metal Roof Advisory Group. Haddock said the metal retrofit market, currently less than 6% of the multimillion-dollar roofing industry, has “enormous” growth potential. Contrary to popular belief, he said, in many cases, metal roofing is the cheapest long-term roofing solution.

However, he added, key to tapping that potential is determining which customers are right for a metal replacement roof. “I don’t necessarily think a metal roof is right for every application,” he said. Haddock presented contractors with a list of circumstances and criteria where metal should be suggested:

1. The customer wants a long-term solution. Museums, libraries and government buildings are often ideal for metal roofs, because in most cases, the occupants plan to be in the building for decades. When discussing the durability of metal roofs, Haddock gave another suggestion: “Don’t talk about roof life in terms of (a manufacturer’s) warranty. These warranties are generally very conservative.” You can safely talk about metal roofs lasting 30, 40 or more years, he said.

2. The customer wants to convert a flat roof to a sloped roof. Flat roofs, found on many school and municipal buildings of the 1960s and early 1970s, have problems with leaks, runoff and unlike metal, must be replaced every few years. Conversion to a sloped metal roof is fairly easy.

3. The existing roof has long dimensions between drains.

4. The condition of the current roof’s deck is questionable or known to be in poor condition. A metal roof can go right over the existing deck, saving the owner the high cost of repairing the deck.

5. The customer wants to avoid tearing off the existing roof. Most metal roofs can be applied directly over existing roofs. This can be presented to the customer as a cost savings and means less inconvenience for occupants, since they won’t have to deal the noise caused by workers removing the old roof before installing the new one. It may also be a health issue, since some older roof flashing contains asbestos.

“That one factor alone is often enough to drive the job to metal, (making) it the lest expensive option,” Haddock said.

6. The owner wants to change the roof’s geometry, either to help facilitate or change the direction of water runoff.

7. Energy efficiency is important to the owners. Metal enhances thermal insulation.

8. Aesthetics — a new metal building can give an older building fresh “curb appeal.” Haddock showed before and after pictures of a 1960s-era strip mall whose owners replaced the original asphalt flat roof with a sloped metal covering. The difference was dramatic. And architects love the design options metal roofing opens to them, he added.

Haddock also dispelled a few myths about metal roofs common in the construction industry, for example the belief that if a building has a lot of rooftop mechanical equipment, a metal roof is not a good choice. That’s not necessarily true, he said, although he did say it does substantially increase the job’s cost.

METALCON 2002 is scheduled for Oct. 1-3 next year at the Rosemont Convention Center in Chicago. Show manager Paula DiFoggio said more than 480 booths have already been reserved for next year.