New Materials

3D Printed Ceramics

This beautifully edited video may help you understand the potential for printed construction products and systems.  This machine is printing ceramics.  Still small in size, but imagine it scaled up to produce entire wall panels, building modules, or structures.
"Eran Gal-Or, an industrial design student from H.I.T institute in Holon, Israel built a 3d printer that prints ceramic materials - porcelain, clay & glass. This is a massive 80x80x80 cm darwin style 3D printer, and probably the largest in the world. The printer prints porcelain in a continuous way using a feeding system he developed, which includes a commercial moineau pump and a refilling plunger type extruder."

Video at, photos and quote from

Sponsoring Scholars

Many of the advances in material and building science emerge from academia. Here is how one company seeks to stay at the leading edge and attract talent while generating goodwill for the firm.  The following is from the website of Danzer, an major producer of wood products:

Final dissertation or thesis

Does your final dissertation deal with a topic of interest to Danzer? If so, we can assist you. Danzer will be happy to consider topics that you propose. You will be assigned a mentor from our company who will advise you when required.

Mentors do more than just answer questions related to your topic. They also see to it that you are fully integrated into the company. We will also support you financially while you are working on your paper. Students seeking a career in the wood processing sector should contact us before beginning work on their dissertation.

There are mutual benefits to completing your final dissertation at Danzer. It gives us an opportunity to get to learn you. At the same time, we offer you first hand insight into how our company operates. All doors will be open to you while you are working on your dissertation. And if we can offer you a job, the successful completion of your studies could also mark the beginning of a successful career at Danzer.

Sun Believable Solar Paint

Experimental paint generates electricity.
Building product manufacturers must keep an eye on emerging material science that may impact product planning. Here is an example in recent news.

A research team at University of Notre Dame is developing an inexpensive "solar paint" that uses semiconducting nanoparticles to produce energy. They have incorporated power-producing nanoparticles, called quantum dots, into a spreadable compound, to make a one-coat solar paint that can be applied to any conductive surface without special equipment.

"The best light-to-energy conversion efficiency we've reached so far is 1 percent, which is well behind the usual 10 to 15 percent efficiency of commercial silicon solar cells," explains one of the scientists. "But this paint can be made cheaply and in large quantities. If we can improve the efficiency somewhat, we may be able to make a real difference in meeting energy needs in the future. That's why we've christened the new paint, Sun-Believable."

Their work uses nano-sized particles of titanium dioxide coated with either cadmium sulfide or cadmium selenide.Nano titanium dioxide is already used in "self-cleaning" concrete, where it acts as a semi-conductor to convert sunlight into electrical charges that convert pollutants into relatively benign compounds.

If the solar paint can be successfully developed, it will potentially impact many building finish and cladding materials. One of our clients, for example, has developed an electrically-conductive concrete that, when used with the new paint, could draw the electricity into a structure's grid or act as a storage battery.

I caution, however, that nano technology has unknown environmental risks when used in large quantities in the exterior environment. For example, the nano particles in self-cleaning concrete accelerate the deterioration of the concrete and leach potentially harmful compounds into the soil. More, the release of nano photo-catalytic titanium dioxide could be detrimental to ecosystems if released into the environment through erosion or improper disposal.

Sun-Believable Solar Paint. A Transformative One-Step Approach for Designing Nanocrystalline Solar Cells`zMatthew P. Genovese, Ian V. Lightcap, and Prashant V. Kamat*
Radiation Laboratory and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana 46556, United States
ACS Nano, Article ASAP
DOI: 10.1021/nn204381g
Publication Date (Web): December 6, 2011
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society

Pace of Innovation

First Polished Precast Concrete Building.
Click here for "Greenwashing does not pay,"

Ten years ago, polished concrete became a practical finish for concrete with the development of chemical densifiers and affordable polishing machines. It is now an is increasingly common for floors.

But what about polished concrete walls?

Five years ago, I predicted the polishing of precast and tilt-up concrete. Yet it has taken until now to see it in practice. A project at Ohio State University, designed by Ross Barney Architects, is being constructed of polished precast panels that reflect light from dichromic glass fins.

New technologies rise and fall on an annual cycle in some industries. But construction product innovations gain market acceptance at a slower pace. Now that one early adopter has taken the step, others will follow; architects watch what their peers do, and are trained to copy (i.e., take inspiration from) the work of others. But will any precasters or manufacturer of concrete densifiers take the lead in promoting the concept?

And for the next five years? Here are some predictions:
  • Polished concrete floors are often stained for color and given ornamental treatment. The Ohio state university columbus ohiosame can be done with polished precast and tilt-up walls.
  • Machinery to polish precast panels in-line during production, rather than as an after process.
  • Precast and tilt-up concrete are polished while panels are horizontal; is it practical to create a polishing machine that creeps up and down the side of cast-in-place walls? (I have a sketch of such a machine if any equipment manufacturer is interested.)
  • There are a few concrete masonry unit manufacturers that already make burnished CMU. I would love to see units with a high polish. They could be set in a wall so that each was at a slightly different angle, creating a wall that would sparkle in sunlight.
For more information about concrete densifiers, see: and

Changed formulations in building products

An article in January 2011 issue of Consumers Report pointed out the unintended consequences of reformulating a product. According to tests conducted by the magazine, glass baking dishes made in the US have been reformulated. While the new products look the same as the old and generally perform as well under normal use, the reformulated products can shatter and cause injury. This got me thinking about how reformulations effect building product marketing.
Is this old or new Pyrex? New product packaging has safety warnings and handling instructions, but there is no warning on the product itself.

I have always had Pyrex brand glass baking in my kitchen, as did my parents before me. Over the decades, the brand earned a place of trust in my kitchen due to the product's ability to withstood the ordinary wear and tear of household use.

Recently, and without public fanfare, Pyrex brand products were reformulated. Instead of being made with borosilicate glass, they are now made with a less costly soda ash glass. The new products look the same as, and usually perform like. the older models. But I have had newer pieces of Pyrex break during ordinary handling while my older Pyrex products keep on working unless I drop them on the floor.

This reminds me about a story my father-in-law, a dentist, told me about a batch of anesthesia that produced unusual side effects. While the manufacturer insisted the drug was made according to all quality assurance standards, my father-in-law discarded the rest of the batch.  Years later, he learned the manufacturer had finally identified the culprit; the company that made the gasket that sealed each vial had changed its supplier for a lubricant used in the gasket manufacturing process. While the new lubricant met the written performance standards of the previous product, it left a trace contamination that interacted with the chemicals used in the drug.

Continuous process improvement is often touted as a virtue. However, it can become a liability if your customers are not informed about changes. Failure to notify customers can lead to increased product failures when someone assumes the new formulation will work just the same as the old one. Equally insidious is damage to your brand's reputation. My father-in-law found a new vendor and stayed with it for the rest of his career. And even if Pyrex resumes manufacturing of borosilicate products, I will probably remain skeptical, preferring to buy the old stuff in second hand stores than take a risk with an unknown product.

In construction
Product reformulations occur frequently in the construction industry, and usually without the knowledge of the specifiers or builders using the product. Indeed, reformulations often result in superior and more affordable products. But not always.

New products will always lack something that older products offer: the test of time. An old-fashioned built-up asphalt roof might fail in 10 to 20 years, but we reliably knew they would fail in that time period. When a new roofing system comes along, we can look at lots of material tests and even accelerated aging tests. But nothing tests a roof like 20 years of actual exposure. Lab tests usually measure one variable at a time; everything happens at once in nature.

It is generally best to tell customers when changes have been made to trusted brands. Then, work closely with them while they get used to the feel of the new product and learn to use it correctly.

Journal of Advanced and High-Performance Materials

The first issue of Journal of Advanced and High-Performance Materials was published this winter. The new periodical introduces readers to the recently formed Advanced and High-Performance Materials Program, which the National Institute of Building Sciences manages for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology Directorate, Infrastructure & Geophysical Division.

JMAT is one of three periodicals, along with the Journal of Building Enclosure Design (JBED) and Journal of Building Information Modeling (JBIM) published by NIBS.

While it is unlikely to become a major industry publication, it reaches industry leaders in government, research, and academia. It will also reach leading engineers and technical consultants working on advanced materials. These thought leaders will be interested in advanced materials and technologies being developed by building product manufacturers and their suppliers. It accepts contributed articles and advertising.

Recycling Bone as a Building Material

LEED and other recent environmental initiatives have increased the construction industry's awareness of recycled content in building materials. However, finding alternative uses for industrial "waste" is not a new concept. This is made clear by recent archeological excavations in London that reveal how the bone core of horns were used as masonry units.

After the Romans settled in today’s London, Aldgate surroundings (eastwards from the city wall) were turned into a cemetery. But in the Post-Medieval period, Prescot Street was transformed from an essentially rural situation on the fringe of the City, into a densely populated central district. Among the on-going archaeological excavations at this site, a horn core pit has been discovered, showing the intense industrial activity in the area.
The pit itself consists of a cylindrical void with a perimeter structure built with animal horns as a cheaper alternative to bricks. These kind of industrial memories are often found in areas known for small-scale industry, such as ivory-working, tanning, bell founding and glass making.[...] These pits are sometimes used as soak-aways.” (
Underlying the basement slabs were large deposits of Post-Medieval soils that had been truncated by two large soak-aways and one small, and a horn core pit constructed from the horn cores of long horn cattle. This is significant because ‘horning’ was once an important industry in the area... ‘Horners’ were skilled craftsmen who worked horn from cattle to create a range of artifacts from drinking vessels to buttons, and from panels in lanterns (when sliced very thinly) to tool handles.
The waste from this procedure, the horn core, was not discarded, and was frequently reused as a lining for round pits with vertical sides dug deep into the ground. The horn cores were inter-woven to offer a degree stability to the structure, and the pit was then used for the disposal of domestic waste. They essentially performed the same function as the soak-aways, with waste material being dumped into them so that the waste water would drain away into the natural gravels below, while the remaining solids were broken down over time by bacterial action. (
What would it take to get an ICC-ES Evaluation Report on such a construction material today?

Photos from

10 Best New Building Products of 2010

At the end of each year, the staff at Chusid Associates nominates and votes on its list of the Ten Best New Building Products of the year.  Our intention was to blog about all ten, but we got busy and only managed to write about a few of the winners. Without delaying the project further, here is our truncated list:

The pace of innovation continues. The tough economic times are actually proving a boon to some companies, as they use the opportunity for research and launching new products that, in the continual press of sales during a good year, would normally get buried. Several of this year's entries are innovations on ages-old problems, while others represent the intersection of several cutting-edge technological developments. A few were included not because the actual products were significant, but because of the trends they represent.

1. Plasma Lighting: Solid state lighting, in the form of LEDs, have been a major trend for the past few years. Now plasma lighting is taking the spotlight, offering in some cases twice the lumens per Watt of LEDs. Right now most of the plasma lighting available is for stadium and street lamp-sized installations, but miniaturization to commercial and industrial scale seems inevitable.

Multiquip's H2LT Hydrogen Fueled Light Tower drew a lot of attention at World of Concrete for combining low-energy, high-intensity light with quiet, low-polluting hydrogen fuel cells. The plasma light bulb produces 22,000 lumens while consuming only 255 watts, with a life expectancy of up to 50,000 hours. Beyond its energy efficiency, the tower made our list for one simple reason: it is sparking imaginations. At the show, people were walking away from the Multiquip booth discussing new ways and places they could use this technology, sewing the seeds for the next generation of innovations.

This all-glass wall is energy efficient.
2. Phase-Change Insulated Glass: Another ripe field for innovations is combining multiple successful technologies into a single high-performing system. This becomes especially important in sustainable design when building systems often need a higher level of flexibly to meet multiple design objectives simultaneously; natural daylighting is advantageous, for example, but too much interferes with the building's thermal performance and energy use.

Glass-X, from Greenlight Glass, addresses exactly this problem. The core of the system is phase-changing glass that stores or releases thermal energy in the process of converting from solid to liquid states. Glass-X controls thermal transfer, essentially creating virtual thermal mass to help warm or cool the interior as needed. A prism system takes advantage of seasonal changes in the sun's position to reflect hot summer light, while allowing more light, and heat, transfer in winter months.

Glass is one of our favorite building materials around the office; the amount of versatility and innovation in glass construction is staggering, and the trend looks set to continue for the next few decades. The next winner is another glass product.

3. Bird-Visible Glass: When I was five I once ran full-speed into a closed glass door, face first, so I have a lot of sympathy for birds flying into windows. The problem is so prevalent that it has become embedded in our culture; birds hitting windows is an instantly recognizable slapstick troupe. But the real-world side is not funny; estimates are that almost 1 billion birds are killed by window collisions in the US each year.

Ornalux glass has special ultraviolet patterns that are visible to birds, but not detectable by the human eye. This means birds see the window and identify it as an obstacle, and humans get to enjoy natural lighting and an unobstructed view.

Click here for our 2009 list. And stay tuned for our best of 2011 list.

Conference: Composite Materials & Digital Manufacturing

Take a look at new materials and technologies that may be important to building product manufacturers. Chusid Associates is attending, and looks forward to seeing you there.

Material beyond Materials:  
A Composite Tectonics Conference on Advanced Materials and Digital Manufacturing in Architecture and Construction

Friday, March 25 through Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hosted by Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc),
Los Angeles, CA

Fostering direct exchange between architects and companies invested in the field of advanced materials and fabrication technologies, SCI-Arc hosts Material beyond Materials—a composite tectonics conference on advanced materials and digital manufacturing.

Taking place on the SCI-Arc campus in downtown Los Angeles, the two-day forum is open to the public and will explore technological advances in composite materials, innovations in construction, and current design discourse—with some of the most important names in today’s building, fabrication and design industries.

Material beyond Materials combines progressive presentations in the fields of architecture, the arts, engineering and materials research. Conference participants will present and discuss their most innovative ideas, projects and positions concerning materials, technology and the impact on the architecture and construction disciplines and professions.

Introduction to SCI-Arc: Material Beyond Materials
By Eric Owen Moss

Keynote Lecture: Evan Douglis
Introduction: Composite Tectonics
By Marcelo Spina

Panel 1: Integrating Complexity
Systems integration and the inherent complexity derived from them are assessed from the viewpoint of composites. Topics include structural performance, complex analysis, lightweight properties, and integrated assembly. Aspects such as construction code and city requirements are also discussed. Panel focuses on the potential for streamlining construction and the integration of composites within a larger available material palette.

Panel 2: Synthesizing Behavior
Synthetic behavior and qualities are at the core of composites. Topics include material variability as opposed to traditional materials, anisotropic materiality, gradients, coloration, light transmission, real vs. synthetic as well as emerging effects derived from all of these aspects. Panel focuses on new possibilities for innovation enabled by designing and altering material at the level of matter.

Lunch Break

Panel 3: Performing Environments
Performance and environments are understood in a broader sense, to relate material to our physical environment or to suggest that materials themselves can constitute immersive environments. Topics include new and smart materials, green technologies, the impact on sustainability, but also issues such as fire rating, life cycles, material performance and economies. Panel focuses on the environmental potential of designing with composites.

Panel 4: Manufacturing Construction
Manufacturing construction as opposed to manufacturing buildings is at the center of the discussion. Topics include prefabrication processes, on site vs. off-site construction, digital fabrication and the role of craftsmanship, refined versus rustic, tooling and tools; automation, and the role of robotics in new design paradigms.

Concluding Remarks/Q&A Session

Closing Reception
The Material beyond Materials morning and afternoon sessions on Sat, March 26, have been registered by the American Institute of Architects (AIA)/Continuing Education System (CES) to offer Learning Units. Click HERE to read the full announcement.

Admission to the event is free and open to the public. RSVP to reserve your space—email your name, company, address, and daytime phone to

The Lighter Side of Concrete - an occasional series


Concrete is the most heavily used building material in the world.  In many applications, there seem to be no practical alternatives.  But concrete, like every other material, is being re-evaluated in terms of its environmental impact.  The concrete industry is working on ways to green its products.

In the meantime, I would like to suggest a widely available, rapidly-renewable-resource-based concrete alternative: oatmeal

The possibilities of this product were suggested to me late one night during World of Concrete, in the bar of one of the lesser-known Vegas hotels. I awoke the next morning with the question pounding in my head: Could it really be as simple as adding a heating element into the mixer of a concrete truck?

The purpose of this article, then, is to examine the feasibility of converting the North American readymix industry to construction-grade oatmeal.

The Material
Construction grade oatmeal should not be confused with the more common, wimpy "rolled oats" materials such as Quaker Oats (which are only acceptable for stucco and other non-loadbearing applications), nor Instant Oats, which are more suitable as a drywall-mud substitute.  Only steel-cut oats, frequently sold as "Irish Oatmeal," achieve sufficient structural properties to be considered a true concrete alternative.

The similarities are obvious.  Both materials are mixed into a viscous slurry that can be placed with a shovel, poured, or pumped (although pumping requires very high pressure equipment in the case of Irish Oatmeal).  Both contain a combination of a cementitious material and hard aggregate (if you've ever chewed Irish Oatmeal, you know about the aggregate.)  Both harden into an artificial stone within a few hours, and keep hardening for weeks or even years.

Vive La Difference!
To the casual observer, they seem like almost identical materials.  The differences are significant, however, and should not be overlooked.

First and foremost, portland cement concrete is a setting-type material, whereas oatmeal is a drying-type material, achieving hardness as its internal moisture evaporates.  This means that, as long as a cover is placed on the ready-mix truck to prevent evaporation, the oatmeal mix never gets too old to be used, no matter how bad traffic delays get.  In fact, due to the normal cooking time of oatmeal, any mix younger than 45 minutes is probably not ready for placement.  In some of our more congested cities, oatmeal may soon be the only viable readymix product.

Water can be added freely at the jobsite to keep the oatmeal workable without compromising ultimate strength.  This is in stark contrast to concrete jobs, where adding water is sometimes the stuff that lawsuits are made of.  In hot, dry regions, where concrete is often negatively affected by high placement temperatures and premature drying, oatmeal just becomes a rapid-hardening material at a bargain price.
Admixtures are sometimes used with concrete to accelerate or retard set-times, or to make the mix more workable; none of these are necessary (or useful) with oatmeal.  A common oatmeal admixture is CSH (cinnamon, sugar and homogenized milk), which actually functions both as integral pigmenting and additional cementitious material.  All three constituents are rapidly renewable resources, so that while the admixture is making the product more brown, it's also making it more green.
Fiber is sometimes added to concrete to enhance tensile strength and control cracking. Fiber is already naturally present in oatmeal, not only improving strength but, according to some studies, possibly lowering cholesterol.

Another important difference is mix design.  The strength of concrete is determined by controlling the ratio of water, cementitious materials, fine and coarse aggregate.  A high cement ratio yields stronger concrete, but cement is also the most expensive ingredient.  This gives both contractor and producer an economic incentive to use the lowest-strength mix acceptable, to save on cement costs.  Oatmeal includes both cementitious material and aggregate premixed, and all excess water evaporates, so the only strength-determining factor is how long it's cooked.  Any strength-related economic incentive, therefore, revolves around cooking-energy consumption.  Undercooked oatmeal releases an inadequate amount of cementitious material, so the mix lacks strength.  However, overcooked oatmeal breaks down the aggregate, also compromising strength.  As The Three Bears told you long ago, medium cooking is optimal.  It could be standardized throughout the industry, allowing equally high strength for every batch, with no financial disadvantage.

It is worth noting another difference.  Cement hydration in concrete releases heat, which increases after placement, sometimes creating cracking problems.  With oatmeal, the heat is put into the material during mixing, and gradually drops from then on. 

Oatmeal does undergo considerable drying shrinkage.  However, it is less of a problem than with concrete, since additional wet oatmeal can be added subsequently, and it will bond fully with previous pours.

Supply is an issue.  North America has vast amounts of land suitable for oatmeal agriculture.  However, in many regions, suitable aggregate for concrete is becoming more scarce, and price is on the rise.

It can be readily seen that oatmeal offers numerous advantages over conventional portland cement concrete.  Probably, the slowness of adoption is only due to the industry's notorious suspicion of new technologies, and the general tendency towards caution among the institutions that promulgate building codes.

The one possible downside to oatmeal is that it can be vulnerable to moisture.  Large quantities of water will tend to soften it (although, if you've ever left the pot to dry overnight and then tried to clean it, you may doubt this claim).  This means that oatmeal may be unsuitable for some extremely moist environments such as the Pacific Northwest, the ocean floor, or along the Gulf Coast.  In some of those places, however, it may offer an unexpected plus: a homeowner wiped out by flooding won't starve, since his family can always eat the foundation.

For the previous installment of this column, click here.

Product Inspiration from Neocon

I salute the spirit of innovation that moves the building product industry forward. Here are just a few of the things I saw at Neocon that suggest new opportunities and may inspire innovations in your product line.

Chairs from TMC Furniture with digitally printed graphics remind us that new options are available for decorated surfaces.

White LED light continues to be improved, more affordable, and more practical. Look at how even and brilliant these cove lights from Tempo Industries are. Watch for LEDs to be inserted into all sorts of building products.

The design of this table lamp is not what interests me, it is the design process. This was stereolithically printed by the designer, Kevin Willmorth, as part of his campaign to design and produce a lamp a week for 52 weeks.

In addition to LEDs, there are other new ways to play with lighting. I think you have to see these Sensitile panels in person to appreciate how they play with light and create the illusion of motion.

New installation methods abound. For example, ceramic tile with an interlocking, floating installation to keep tiles aligned, reduce installation time, and protect against cracks in a concrete slab from telegraphing through the tile.

I have written before about the trendy use of tessellations, and they were very evident at the show. This product, Clouds from Kradrat, is composed of stiffened fabric tessellations of triangles joined together by elastic bands. It can be used as an acoustical wall or ceiling covering, or just for fun.

Also see my earlier post about the growing variety of dry erase marker boards.

Marker Board Mania

Marker boards, also known as white boards, were ubiquitous at Neocon this year, the annual contract furniture expo at the Chicago Merchandise Mart. The shift is not only quantitative but qualitative – “markerability” has been incorporated into a surprising variety of architectural surfaces and building furnishings. This suggests the trend may offer opportunities for other building product manufacturers.

I started noticing dry erase marker-compatible boards in the 1980s. At the time, I was skeptical about the value of the products as the markers were more expensive than chalk and had an objectionable odor. The odor problem was solved, and marker boards gained market share, however, due to:
• Brighter, more vivid colors compared to chalk.
• Elimination of erasure dust and simplification of washing a board.
• Elimination of the clicking that occurs when writing with chalk.
• Preference of white surfaces over dark chalk board surfaces.

Where chalkboards were primarily confined to educational settings, white boards have been accepted into the workplace.

While marker boards are still available as framed panels, a legacy of the heavy weight of slate chalk boards, the marker-compatible products I saw at Neocon include:
Tabrasa, (shown above) a field-applied paint that can transform almost any wall into a marker surface.
• Office Furniture: Haworth, for example, was offering conference tables with markable table tops to promote brainstorming and collaboration.
Sta-Kleen by The Mitchell Group faux leather bonded with a urethane that resists markings of all sorts, including "permanent" markers such as a Sharpie marking pen. They are promoting it for stain-resistant upholstery, but there is no reason it couldn't be used as a markable wall finish. (I suspect their urethane will find its way onto other materials, too.)
Evonik was promoting its acrylic sheets for use with markers.
• While markers can be used on most glass surfaces, several firms were showing glass products that could serve as floor-to-ceiling marker surfaces. For example, one company had a glass with a white backing plus a subtle dot pattern that could be used as a guide for drawing grids and graphs or to encourage more uniform writing. The wall also had a steel backing, so magnets could also be used.
Skyline Design (below) had a set of glass panels specifically for children. Variations included teaching aids like lines for teaching letter heights, but others were designed to stimulate creative play – something that might be used on a wall in a pediatricians waiting room, for example. Some of the products had a white backing like traditional marker boards, but others were clear glass to encourage two-sided play.
• Hospital furnishings companies had marker surfaces incorporated into all sorts of nursing station and patient room furnishings.
• Several companies have marker boards that capture whatever is drawn or written so it can be integrated with a computer. Others have linked white boards to cameras that capture the motion of infrared-transmitting pens and then transmit a projected image onto the board.

Where else can this trend go?
     Marker board doors could be a big hit for college dorms.

     Toilet partitions that encourage graffiti?

     Mechanical equipment could have markable surfaces for notes about maintenance concerns like when a filter should be replaced.

     Flooring products so one could mark on the floor to help envision room layout, turn the floor into a game land where children (and adults who remember what it's like to be children) can layout imaginary cities or puzzles, to attract attention to promotions at retail establishments, or a myriad of other creative activities.

     More, it raises questions about the marker compatibility of a variety of existing surfacing materials. For example, how well does Corian work as a marker surface? (Remember to test cleanability with both dry-erase and wet-erase markers).

I would love to hear your ideas about how a marker board option might complement your product line.

Engineering Design and Its Relationship to Product Liability

Guest post from Mark Pasamaneck, PE 
In this article, I will explore the relationship between the engineeringdesign process and the failure of a plumbing component as it
relates to product liability.
     In the litigious society in which we live, everyone connected to
the life-cycle of a plumbing component should be concerned with
its long-term suitability as it exists in any plumbing system. As an
engineer or designer of a plumbing component, you should have
a desire to go beyond just limiting liability. As described in the
codes and most engineering ethics documents, a designer must be
concerned with protecting the people and property exposed to his
design from seen or unseen damage and hazards.

While the political, social, and legal reasons are beyond the
scope of this article, the decade of the 1970s was largely considered
the decade of safety awareness. While a few federal
acts were aimed at safety in the 1950s, the majority of the
safety acts in use today were developed in the late 1960s and
first published in the 1970s, including the Consumer Product
Safety Act of 1972. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975
gave broad powers to the Federal Trade Commission regarding
product warranties.
     Of particular interest to the plumbing community is that
the majority of the plumbing components in use today were
conceived of and designed well before the 1970s. Many manufacturers
have never evaluated their components or designs in
light of the safety acts and standards implemented in the 1970s
and after. While the building codes commonly grandfather in
outdated technologies, there is no such provision for an old
product design that was produced in the modern era. It is also
obvious that courts have held that the “product” for which a
designer or producer is responsible includes such items as the
warranty, instructions, packaging, labels, and warnings (note:
not an all-inclusive list).

While the topic of engineering design in general would take many
articles, this discussion on product liability requires an overview of
the engineering design process. The design process commonly is
called iterative since it is very rare that an idea can go through the
steps of concept to finished product without changes. The design
process outlined below is considered the standard in all types of
industry. While many more steps may be encountered in a complex
part or system, the following serves to define the general steps
useful in the design iteration. This process also incorporates the
cradle-to-grave responsibility of the designer and manufacturer.

1. Define the function of the product within a system or as a
stand alone.
• If the product is itself a system, define each subsystem and
initiate an independent design iteration until each component
is uniquely defined.
• If the product is within a system, define system parameters
and environments in which the product will operate.
2. Identify prior designs that may assist or preclude (patents)
the design process.
3. Identify all laws, codes, or standards that apply to
the product or system.
4. Brainstorm possible design concepts.
5. Remove concepts that are not viable due to manufacturability,
regulations, cost, hazards, complexity, integration,
functionality, or aesthetics.
6. Choose a design concept.
7. Create the design using accepted design practices applicable
to the field of interest. These will necessarily include
factors of safety, dynamic loads, static loads, wear, compatibility,
environment of use, durability, cost issues, and
materials (suitability, durability, strength, degradation,
fabrication, identification of failure modes, and predictable
failure locations).
8. Evaluate functionality: geometry, motion, size, complexity,
and ergonomics.
9. Evaluate safety: operational, human, environmental, and
failure analysis.
10. Evaluate energy: requirements, created, kinematic, thermodynamic,
and chemical.
11. Evaluate quality: marketability, longevity, aesthetics, and
12. Evaluate manufacturability: available processes and new
13. Evaluate environmental aspects: materials, fluids,
wastes, interactions, phase changes, flammability,
and toxicology.
14. Iterate the design. (Redo steps 7 through 13 based on
the analysis.)
15. Lay out the design.
16. Obtain manufacturing criteria.
17. Create a prototype and test (optional).
18. Create the product.
19. Test the product.
20. Reiterate through the entire design process based on
testing and analysis.
21. Produce the product. Some changes may occur, but they
should not impact the actual design.
22. Perform quality control, which is used to evaluate the
compliance of the produced product with the design.
23. Deliver the product. Packaging, labeling, instructions,
and warnings are included in this step, but they also
must be considered throughout the process.
24. Consumers use the product. The producer must consider
the environment of intended use as well as anticipated or
probable misuse of the product. These must be addressed
appropriately throughout the design process.
25. Dispose of product. The end of use must be considered
by the designers. Fail-safe designs should be incorporated,
and any hazards associated with disposal and/or failure
must be addressed appropriately as well.

Steps 7, 8, 9, and 19 are where a defect or hazard (such as that
shown in Figure 1) should be detected in most cases. When
detected, the question must be answered as to whether the
defect or hazard was foreseeable or unreasonably dangerous.
If it was, the commonly held approach in the engineering community
to solve the problem is known as the safety hierarchy.
This process is based on sound engineering principles coupled
with economic considerations and human factors. The first
reasonable item in the hierarchy must be utilized, and skipping
steps is not appropriate.
The steps are as follows:
1. Design it out.
2. Guard it out.
3. Train it out.
4. Warn it out.
5. Don’t make it.
    The hierarchy is intended to evaluate if the problem can be
corrected by engineering measures. However, those measures
also can be evaluated in and of themselves. For example, were the
warnings understandable, sufficiently broad, or used as a substitute
for design or guarding?
    The design process and the safety hierarchy outlined above
almost always include other sub-processes and evaluation techniques.
Severity indices, fault trees, failure mode and effect analysis
(FMEA), root cause analysis, and design checklists all are tools
that if sufficiently designed and used within the design process
will aid the designer in his goal to make a safer product.

When product liability theories are evaluated, three general areas
are considered.
1. Design defect:
• Was the product designed to do the job based on the reasonable
expectation of a consumer, without undue risk?
• Was it designed for the environment of intended use?
• Was the design properly engineered and tested?
2. Manufacturing defect: Despite a sufficient design, was there a
flaw in the:
• Processing?
• Assembly?
• Raw materials?
3. Warning defect: Did the manufacturer fail to properly advise
• Assembly?
• Use and maintenance?
• Hazards?

Hopefully, if you have made it this far, you now are asking yourself
how you can improve your products to both reduce liability and
improve safety. Much of the general information on design is
contained herein, but a more in-depth understanding obviously
would be beneficial for the designer.
    Let’s look at design defects first. It is important to document
what sources of information were used or considered in the design
process of a component. The specific issues for the plumbing component
designer that account for a large number of design-related
defects are related to stress concentrations and material selection.
ASPE publishes the Plumbing Engineering Design Handbook,
and Volume 4 covers plumbing components and equipment. I
have utilized this reference for years to illustrate what a designer
“should” have included in a design. While a lot of good information
is available online, if you use it in a design, be sure to properly
record and document the source. Materials, machinery, and
design handbooks are prevalent and should be sourced for relevant
design information. One of the various texts on design and
product liability (see Figure 2) also should be included. One of the
best for a general understanding is Managing Engineering Design
by Hales and Gooch.
    Manufacturing defects come in two main areas: assembly
and cast/mold defects. This is an area that the designer typically
cannot control, but can influence. Some issues of quality control
and tolerances have to be determined within the design, and
others will be left to the assembly workers, a quality control (QC)
department, or line design. When it comes to casting and mold
defects, those processes should be considered and properly speci-
fied in the design. Then a QC program to ensure compliance must
be implemented (see Figure 3).
    The third area is related to warnings. Step 3 of the safety hierarchy
would be evaluated in this step as instructions for installation
and maintenance (training). It is the responsibility of the
design engineer and producing company to ensure that a product
brought to market is reasonably safe and suitable for the environment
of its intended use. A product subject to degradation,
corrosion, catastrophic failure, or other risk of damage to people
or property should adequately warn of the risk or danger if there
was no other reasonable way to eliminate the risk or failure mode.
The product instructions might address, but not be limited to,
warnings, providing maintenance instructions, and warning of the
consequences of failing to heed the instructions.
    The design of warnings should follow American National Standards
Institute (ANSI) standards regarding the identification and
warning against potential safety hazards. In 1979, the ANSI Z53
Committee of Safety Colors was combined with the Z35 Committee
on Safety Signs to form the Z535 Committee, which develops
the standards that must be used to design warnings, labels, and
instructions intended to identify and warn against hazards and
prevent accidents. The relevant standards for products are:
• ANSI Z535.4: Product Safety Signs and Labels
• ANSI Z535.6: Product Safety Information in Product Manuals,
Instructions, and Other Collateral Materials

    For a warning to be effective, there must be a reasonable degree
of certainty that the end user will receive and understand the
warning (see Figure 4). The use of warnings also must follow the
safety hierarchy. Since warnings are the fourth step, available
design alternatives must be considered in the design process.
Guarding out of a hazard and subsequent training must be undertaken
before warnings can reasonably be considered or designed.
    Our society, as stated in the various plumbing codes, relies on
the engineer, designer, and manufacturer to produce products that
are safe and durable. Society also recognizes and accepts some
level of risk, provided that they know about it beforehand and that
companies must be economically viable to survive. Don’t shirk your
responsibility to the public, your profession, yourself, or your company
by producing a product based on an insufficient design.

This article was reprinted with permission and all copyright remains with the American Society of Plumbing Engineers.

10 Best New Building Products - 2009

Electricity from urine, bridges made of recycled plastic, and salvation for the engagement ring that went down the sink… The building products industry is exploding with ideas.

The “tried and true” is being challenged relentlessly by new products and technologies. Age-old problems are being solved by insightful re-envisioning of familiar materials. New challenges are driving accelerating leaps of imagination. Sustainability has become a source of inspiration rather than an afterthought for marketing.

With so much being invented and re-invented, how does Chusid Associates have the temerity to suggest a list of only 10 new products worthy of attention?

We don’t.

These are the best new things that we’ve heard about, and we want to share them. We encourage you to share your own ten (or four, or one), to spread any good news you know. Cross-fertilization inspires the next round of invention.

We believe these products are each, in their way, game-changers. More important, they bring into focus significant trends and developments in the thinking of the industry.

Not surprisingly, sustainability is a big factor in a lot of the current innovation. It is one of the industry’s biggest challenges, the issue is very high-profile, and solutions have become a lot more saleable. Under such conditions, innovation is incentivized.

One of the most important conceptual re-alignments of the Age of Sustainability has been the realization that the materials once considered “waste” may in fact be raw materials for other products. It is Recycling 2.0, if you will. The entry level of the recycling concept is to make used paper into new paper, or old aluminum cans into new ones. This next level uses the leftovers of one industry to form the raw source for another.

Electricity From Urine: A team at the University of Ohio has found a way of using one of our most abundant waste resources to produce an in-demand commodity. Urea, one of the chief components of urine, contains four hydrogen molecules bonded to two nitrogen molecules. The Ohio team found an efficient way to split off the hydrogen using an electrode made of nickel. (You have to invest some electric current to get the reaction, but only about 3% of the voltage required to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.) The hydrogen can then be used to generate electrical power very cleanly – its only combustion product is water – and the nitrogen is collected for industrial uses.

It’s so cool, it’s hard to resist suggesting an ad slogan for this concept:

“Power Begins With Pee.”

While this isn’t a building product per se, it could have profound implications on sustainable building design. It could create a market for urine, encouraging the inclusion of waste collection systems, instead of disposal systems, in building design. It should encourage design professionals to take a second look at everything being vented or disposed-of from building operations.

CalStar Fly Ash Bricks and Pavers: Another waste product, which poses a more difficult disposal problem than urine, is fly ash, the coal combustion byproduct that gets scrubbed from the chimneys of power-plants. It can be used in a variety of ways, including mixing into concrete, but nonetheless, millions of tons of fly ash still get dumped into retention ponds or landfills every year. Less than 45% of the fly ash created is currently put to beneficial use.

Calstar Products of California’s Silicon Valley has paired that resource with another significant environmental problem, and created an elegant solution. Making bricks from clay requires high-heat firing that consumes huge amounts of energy and releases about 1.5 lbs of CO2 per clay brick. CalStar has begun making them from fly ash, using the cementitious properties of the ash to bind the bricks together, encouraged by a low-heat steam curing process. (CalStar’s American-made product should not be confused with a type of “fly ash brick” made in Asia, which is essentially concrete brick with fly ash as a filler.)

CalStar Fly Ash Brick production uses only 15% of the energy, and is associated with only15% of the CO2 emissions, of clay brick. Building on technology first explored by Dr. Henry Liu, they have developed bricks that meet the commonly accepted performance standards for clay brick and are available in a spectrum of colors. Their first plant just opened in Caledonia, WI, less than 75 miles from Chicago, and more are planned.

Their innovation points at a pattern we believe will crop up in many aspects of construction. Brick is used as a structural material much these days, but it remains an important tradition of our architectural vocabulary. Fly ash brick make it possible to continue to enjoy the beauty of masonry architecture without the threat to the planet, a tradition rescued by a sustainable solution.

Electro-Conductive Concrete: The industries that burn coal for energy – chiefly power plants – actually figured out that “waste might not be waste” about a decade ago. They started to referring the ash and associated leftovers from power plant boilers as Coal Combustion Products (CCP’s) – not byproducts – and sought to turn their liability into a modest revenue stream. That initiative has led to many new uses.

One power plant executive, Bruce Ramme of We Energies in Wisconsin, has made an especially impressive imaginative leap (and patented it). He realized that fly ash and other CCP’s could be mixed with concrete not only for their chemical properties, but also – due to their carbon content – for their electrical properties: Get enough carbon into the concrete and it will conduct electricity.

What good is that? For beginners, a power-plant foundation that is self-grounding. How about a road with traffic sensors poured right into it as part of the slab? Or a road that can charge your car while you drive? Or a building whose concrete foundation, frame, walls and floors all function as computer memory?

This is a concept yet to be made into a product, but it shouldn’t take long. It’s the kind of material that makes designers dream.

Axion Recycled Plastic Structural Members: Before leaving the area of recycling brainstorms, tribute should be paid to Axion International, the company that’s making railroad bridges (among other things) out of recycled plastic. It seems counter-intuitive: the very word “plastic” suggests behaviors that are quite the opposite of what you want from structural, load-bearing materials.

Nonetheless, using technology developed at Rutgers University, Axion makes beams and piles from combinations of different plastics. They are “immiscible polymers” that have different physical properties, and retain their individual strengths even when blended together. This makes it possible to combine their properties synergistically.

Axion is currently supplying engineered solutions, which they can deliver more affordably than wood or steel structures. (Standardized lumber from their process is not yet economically practical, but that could change if the price of wood rises.) Two bridges designed to carry tanks have already been built at Fort Bragg. Two more bridges, rated at 130 tons and designed for railroads, are being constructed at Fort Eustis, Virginia this winter, with almost everything but the rails being supplied by Axion. The company is researching code certifications to bring these materials into building construction as well.

SDI Wireless-Friendly Buildings: Wireless communication continues to mushroom as a way to transmit many different kinds of information: voice, text, computer data, video and audio signals, wireless monitoring including implanted medical devices, and the list is growing. But buildings sometimes impede wireless signals. One solution is to put a large antenna in the building, but this means producing a high concentration of radio-frequency (RF) emissions near the antenna in order to have acceptable signal at the points furthest from it.

SDI-2, Inc. is rolling out a series of products they call the Wireless Farm to make buildings friendly to wireless by using more evenly distributed signals. The first product in the line, Max, is a non-powered wireless signal booster. A box about the size of a deck of playing cards, it can be placed in a variety of locations in the building interior – even concealed locations - to help distribute signal. This makes wireless devices safer to use. Where signal is weak, devices such as cellphones automatically boost their internal power to compensate, putting out a lot of RF right next to your head, your groin, or wherever your cellphone happens to be. Better signal distribution means the devices use less of their own power, not only extending battery life but also minimizing any possible health hazards from radio-frequency concentrations.

Fingersafe Door Hinge Guards: Some problems are so familiar that most people never stop to think of a solution. Consider the hinged edge of a door and the hazard it poses to fingers, especially young fingers. It’s easy to get a finger squeezed – even amputated – by the leveraged force of the door closing. It’s estimated there are 300,000 finger injuries from doors worldwide annually.

Fingersafe USA has solved the problem, raising the standard of care. Their hinge-guard is a folded, flexible strip that attaches to the door and frame. As the door is closed and the gap between door and frame gets smaller, the hinge guard pushes fingers out of the way. It’s easily fitted to wood or metal doors and can be removed for maintenance.

Lythic Colloidal Silica Densifier: Densifiers have been used on concrete slabs for decades to harden the surface and minimize dusting. With the ascendance of exposed concrete (colored, polished, etc.) as floor finish, the brands and flavors of available densifiers have mushroomed. What they all had in common was:

a) silicate-based chemistry that delivered silica into the concrete surface

b) high pH, making them unpleasant to handle and hazardous to dispose of.

The more affordable silicates required a lengthy removal and disposal process to avoid a discoloring residue called whiting.

A concrete polishing professional in the Pacific Northwest, David Loe, found a better densifier that uses nano-technology. His Lythic Densifier is a colloidal silica solution that delivers pure amorphous silica to the concrete, eliminating residue removal and disposal. It’s lower in pH, and costs less (material + application) than the most affordable class of silicates. While the company doesn’t claim that it improves performance, anecdotal evidence from applicators suggests beneficial properties not found in silicates, too. One applicator who polished a hundred-year-old slab using Lythic stated outright that he did not believe any other type of densifier could have delivered the result.

This product represents the application of highly advanced science with very basic materials. The ability to produce a colloid of highly pure, extremely consistently sized silica nano-particles is pretty esoteric. That it can benefit something as old, established and unchanging as portland cement concrete is cause to stop marvel.

Perma-Flow Self-Cleaning Drain Trap: That P-shaped pipe under the sink has caused much hassle and heartache, and it’s been doing it ever since the invention of indoor plumbing. It gets clogged, and it’s difficult and disgusting to clean out. It also has a reputed hunger for diamond engagement rings. Despirte being utterly unlovable, it persists in bedeviling us from one generation to the next.

PF Waterworks is ending the tyranny. The transparent plastic Perma-Flow drain system has a little paddle-wheel in the drain bend, and uses water turbulence to propel debris through and away. It prevents the build-up of yuck (and you can see that it’s working) which minimizes the need for chemical drain cleaners, a definite environmental plus. An external handle allow you to swipe the drain clean if things start to accumulate, but also helps retrieve lost items – like that proverbial engagement ring – that might slip into the pipe.

This idea represents one of the primary sources of innovation throughout human history: the initiative to solve a problem so familiar that most people have ceased to think about it.

Brady Pro-X Pre-Formed Door Header: Since the rise of cold-formed steel stud construction, there has been a standard way to make a door header: framers build it up in the field out of studs and rails. Need we point out how time consuming and therefore expensive that is? It also predictably produces a lot of cutting waste.

The Brady Pro-X Header is a pre-formed unit that attaches to mated hanger clips. The clips get screwed to the studs, and the header snaps into place literally in seconds. There’s also a snap-in insert for applications that need greater strength. The metal-forming design of the interlocking pieces yields a sum of 28 bends in the header-plus-insert, adding considerable strength to the unit. (The traditional built-up header has only eight bends.)

This product points at an important change that’s rippling through the construction industry. The industry is notoriously slow to change, partly because our established business and legal practices make change discouragingly risky. This reluctance promotes a tendency to live with problems instead of solving them. Then along comes an independent thinker who knows the way things are always done but has the courage to say, “Just because we’ve done it this way for 20 years doesn’t make it the best way.” Construction people are looking at their allegiance to the tried-and-true and wondering if convention itself has become a risk, the risk of becoming irrelevant, impractical, and unsustainable.

Lifemaster Painter’s Wash System: At the intersection of the re-thinkers of old problems and the champions of sustainability comes a classic Why-didn’t-I-think-of-that? product. Actually, I and many others did think of it, but we didn’t follow through and develop it. Back in the bad old days when solvent-based paints dominated the scene, I had a coffee-can of paint thinner that I used for cleaning brushes. I kept the can covered after I’d finished washing, and let the solids settle to the bottom for a few days. Then I poured off the almost-clear paint thinner into a sealed container for re-use, and threw away the solid yuck at the bottom of the can.

The Lifemaster Wash System by Azko Nobel Paints is a special washtub for cleaning water-based paint off brushes and tools. The paint-laden water is collected, and additives are introduced to separate water from solids. The water can safely go down the drain, and the non-toxic solids can be easily and safely disposed of. It’s clean, green, and very smart in a simple way.