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Fabric engineering

June 29th, 2016 / By: / Feature, Perspective

Photos by Sara Rubinstein
Photos by Sara Rubinstein

Ben Fox expands design capabilities for fabric structures, focusing on innovation and education to solve customer problems.

“Our company’s roots are unique in that we started out as a construction service and kind of worked our way backward into manufacturing,” says Ben Fox, owner, president and CEO of Legacy Building Solutions, South Haven, Minn. “That’s important because before we ever started manufacturing custom fabric structures we had the advantage of seeing first-hand the deficiencies and challenges other companies had—and we learned from them.”

Fox grew up on a farm outside of St. Cloud, Minn., and was home from college helping out on the family farm in 1997 when he installed his first fabric structure. “I couldn’t believe how easy the structure was to install,” he says. “I liked the concept and became intrigued with the fabric building industry. Before long I was selling and constructing fabric structures, and the business grew from there.”

The business Fox started in the mid-1990s was called Midwest Building and Fencing, which constructed fabric structures and fences throughout the region. By 2010 when he launched Legacy Fabric Solutions, he had years of experience in what worked and what didn’t for industrial fabric structures, and he was ready to apply that knowledge to designing, engineering and manufacturing structures in addition to installing them. “We witnessed a lot of different weaknesses in design and engineering over the years,” Fox says. “We wanted to make sure our engineering was right and we decided to go with the proven rigid frame structures that are used throughout the world.”

Attachment theory

The design challenge Fox faced was how to attach the fabric to the rigid frames in a way that enhanced both strength and safety. After hours in front of a white board with his construction team and several failed attempts at drawing concepts to scale by the detailing team, Fox and his crew succeeded in developing a heavy kedered track that is bolted directly to steel frames using ½-inch diameter bolts. The track is allowed to travel horizontally on the upper flange of the rigid frame so no secondary bracing or secondary members need to be disconnected in order to install fabric.

_S1Y4871_F“The biggest advantage of the design is safety,” Fox says. “Because the rail can move horizontally, the building is never structurally vulnerable during construction.” The design allows installers to achieve proper tension on the structures in both directions, which is “a real improvement in strength,” Fox says.

The attachment system also expanded design capabilities, making the structures easily customizable in a timely and cost-effective manner, Fox says—which means the buildings can be used to store fertilizer or host entertainment, and just about everything in between. “Our fabric structures particularly do very well with corrosive products, such as storing salt, fertilizers, etc., in part because of the rigid steel frame structures,” he says. “And we do a lot of very highly specialized projects where we’re hanging substantial loads from our frames or doing very strange-shaped buildings where we have a peak that is offset from the center of the building, or has varying column heights.”

Refining innovation

Fox had a solid customer base, built on trust and providing good service, before he launched Legacy Building Solutions, which meant repeat customers were already waiting for his new design when he rolled it out—and rapid growth for the company was soon to follow. “We have a unique product within the industry,” he says. “That, and the service that we provide along with it, are the two things that have allowed for substantial growth.”

Although the fabric attachment system design is a success, Fox and his team continue to focus on innovation and moving the design forward. “We talk about what we can do better pretty much weekly,” he says. “We get feedback from the installation crews and the design crews—as well as from customers.”

The buildings come with standard overhangs, but among the recent improvements are refined eave extensions, gutters and downspouts, and snow and ice breakers to provide safety around the perimeter. “We’ve added several improvements like that,” Fox says. “Those ideas typically come from listening to our customers. When the customer has a problem, we try to offer a solution.”

_S1Y5002_FThe more you know

Fox and the Legacy team have a passion for educating their customers and creating marketing tools that inform potential customers about the industry. “We believe in being bold and saying what we do best, and what we may not do best,” Fox says. “That’s how the website is driven. We write white papers in that regard. They may be a little blunt, but we’ve found it to be effective.”

The Legacy Building Solutions website is a comprehensive education in what fabric structures can be used for and what customers may need to know as they’re making decisions on what type of structure will best suit their needs. The site includes customer reviews, fabric building structure videos and rendering videos, and a drop-down that steps clients through what they need to know before they buy. It explains structural factors and lays out design criteria and steps in the buying process.

Among other things, the site also specifies instructions based on a variety of roles, whether the customer is an architect, building owner, municipality, researcher, insurance adjuster, general contractor or works in procurement. “We take our focus on quality—which is proven by our ISO 9001:2008 certification, the highest quality-management certification standard available in industrial manufacturing—and educate potential customers,” Fox says. “We believe in educating them in what we offer, as well as in what others offer.”

For architects, structural engineers, contractors and building owners who need to delve deeper into things like how the buildings are structured, different applications and design advancements, Fox and his team write white papers and provide webinars, which are available on the website.

Providing webinars and partnering with companies to provide continuing education are an integral part of Legacy Building Solutions’ marketing strategy. “We look at what the avenues are to reach potential customers,” he says. “These have been some great opportunities that have worked for us to inform the audience we want to connect with on the benefits of our structures.

“We believe that your route forward is through marketing,” he says. “If you’re not marketing well, you’re not going to grow.”

Strong Medicine

The Venue at River Cree Resort & Casino in Enoch, Alberta, Canada, demonstrates what Legacy Building Solutions does best—design, manufacture and install custom structures with strength and safety at the forefront of the project.

The Legacy Building Solutions team designed and constructed the custom 29,680-square-foot tension fabric event center to be a casino and multipurpose venue, which opened in 2015. The 140 x 200-foot structure features 12 x 60-foot and 12 x 80-foot lean-tos for bar service and storage, a primed gray steel frame with 15-ounce FR PE fabric, and R-30 insulation and a heating and cooling system to meet the demands of the region’s extreme temperatures. The crew designed steel frames for additional point loads to support stage lighting and effects, and finished the stage roof and walls with white interior liner with black fabric.

“The project encompasses the things we do well—it’s very customized, able to hang heavy loads within the structure, and we did all the installation in-house,” Fox says.

How do you address safety concerns for crews doing installations in remote areas of the world?

We like to see site pictures before we leave so we know what we’re going to arrive to. We ask about the equipment, the living conditions and what it’s like where our installers will be working. We’re very serious about the safety of our employees, which in remote parts of the world is an increased concern.

What are the environmental benefits of using fabric structures in remote areas?

Off-grid buildings use renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and geothermal, to power the systems inside the building, with generators for back-up if needed. They also have lower ongoing costs utilizing sun, wind power and advanced battery storage systems. And especially in remote areas, the convenience of having a consistent onsite power source greatly reduces the need to transport traditional fuels.

5 top tips for effective marketing

  1. Make sure your product is the best it can be. First, focus on quality.
  2. Educate customers on what the industry has to offer.
  3. Be direct. Let people know what your company does and doesn’t do.
  4. Design a website that specifies information for a variety of potential buyers.
  5. Take advantage of different media to communicate information, such as videos, webinars and white papers.

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