Comparing Metal Panel Attributes | Metal Construction News

Avoid Schedule Creep and Exceed Your Budget with Metal Panels

Easy to install, cost efficient, low maintenance and design flexibility are four things metal panels are known for. In recent years, many more options have entered the marketplace making the ideal metal panel selection even more challenging.

So which are the most accessible types of metal panels and when and where should you select each type? Due to the flexibility and variety in today’s market, there’s no standard answer or best product. The criteria for what to use when depends on the performance desired from the metal wall panel, product lead times, system cost and design intent.

metal panels on exterior of building

Single-Skin Metal Panels

Cost combined with time-proven performance help rank preformed metal wall panels as a viable choice for most exterior wall applications. Preformed, or rollformed, single-skin metal panels have been around for decades and serve a wide range of purposes.

Gone are the days of boring product selections. Manufacturing capabilities have evolved to greatly increase the amount of profiles available in the market. Manufacturers have begun manufacturing a panel series: multiple profiles with a common panel engagement. This provides the designer almost unlimited creativity by interchanging profiles within a single building elevation. Traditionally used as the exterior skin element on rainscreen wall assemblies, single-skin metal panels are the most cost efficient of the metal panel systems and have the shortest lead time.

Metal Composite Materials

Metal composite materials (MCMs) have brought about significant transformation in the creation of modern buildings. Originally in aluminum composite, these panels are now available in all types of metals and skins. MCM has allowed for a wide range of design work that was never previously possible, at an affordable price point.

What makes MCM panels special is the process of bonding thin metal skins to a fire-retardant core and crafting a light, flexible solution. Because of this, MCM can be bent, curved and joined in a variety of shapes with long-lasting durability. Finishes available for MCM systems are abundant.

Different than single-skin panels, MCM panels have a larger format and provide a flat modern look. When originally introduced, MCM systems were expensive and required large project budgets. As new technologies in fabrication have advanced, the costs of these systems have been greatly reduced. MCM systems are found on a wide variety of buildings. As with singleskin, an MCM system is the exterior cladding in a rainscreen wall assembly. Since MCM’s panels are custom fabricated, lead times are generally longer than single-skin panels. It’s important to engage your MCM installer early, preferably during preconstruction, to ensure the coordination and timing.

With the advances in coil coating technology, MCM systems are not only available in a variety of colors, but in print patterns. Coil coating manufacturers have developed realistic prints that mimic natural material like wood, stone, zinc, copper and rusted steel. As a value-engineer option, MCM are a great alternative to some of the natural materials.

insulated metal panels on exterior of building

Insulated Metal Panels

Insulated metal panels (IMPs) are lightweight and combine multiple metal skins. Unlike MCMs, IMPs have an insulated core. The face sheet is the finished exterior and the backer sheet is the interior liner. IMPs are engineered to be a complete envelope solution in a single panel. Panel joints are engineered to control air, water and vapor drive, while the insulation controls thermal. IMPs are extremely thermally efficient: typically 1-inch foam yields an R-value of 7. That means a 3-inch-thick insulated metal panel will have a R-value of 21 or greater, exceeding all current energy codes in the United States today.

IMPs have capabilities to span large distances, replacing the traditional components that might be found in a wall assembly, while providing superior design flexibility. Costs of these systems are highly economical when considering the components of the wall assembly they replace. Similar to MCMs, IMPS are custom fabricated to each project. Manufacturing lead times are six to eight weeks, but IMPs cannot be ordered until field measuring occurs. Again, it’s important to engage the IMP installer early in the project to properly plan the construction schedule when incorporating IMPs. As we have seen in single-skin and MCM panels, IMPs are altering the facades of contemporary structures with their diverse colors, materials and finishes to form the complete wall system.

– By James Hatch is the vice president of preconstruction at Kovach, Chandler, Ariz. To learn more, visit

June 1, 2020 | Metal Construction News

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