PODCASTS

Kevin Harris Of AGS Stainless: The Benefits Of Stainless Steel Railings, And Offsite Fabrication

Kevin Harris Of AGS Stainless: The Benefits Of Stainless Steel Railings, And Offsite Fabrication

 

Kip welcomes Kevin Harris of AGS Stainless to discuss how stainless steel railings not only requires less maintenance than other materials, but how his products are created using reusable and sustainable materials to create a durable and sustainability friendly railing.

 

 


 

 

Podcast Participants:

Graham: Product Director Concora
Kip Rapp: CEO Concora
Kevin Harris: Director of Sales and Marketing at AGS Stainless

 

Graham:

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Concora Corner, a podcast dedicated to bringing you interviews with folks in the AC and BPM industry. I’m one of your hosts, Graham Waldrop, a director of product here at Concora. Today on the show, we’re talking with Kevin Harris, director of sales and marketing at AGS Stainless, a company that specializes in custom railing manufacturing. Kevin tells us all about how stainless steel not only requires less maintenance than other materials but how his products are created using reusable and sustainable materials to create not only a durable and safe railing but one that helps the environment as well. We hope you enjoy today’s interview with Kevin but before we begin, here’s a quick word from our CEO, Kip Rapp.


Kip:

I wanted to think everyone again for listening to our podcast. If you’re interested in knowing more about Concora, we help building product manufacturers get specified and by providing a great web experience that’s bolted onto your website. It makes it easy for your architects, engineers, and contractors to do business online with you. We sump it up as three things. It’s providing a good web experience, good content, and good. We have some great tools such as submittals, sustainability, project showcases, or anything else needed by your design community to specify and purchase products. We’d be more than happy to show you a quick demo and you can go to Concora.com, to learn more. We have case studies and see how other customers have grown sales with our partnership.

Kip:

Thanks, Kevin for joining our podcast. Definitely was excited about talking to you and your product, your company, and then this unique approach you have, fairly differentiated, of the fabrication process that you have to really your company and how it makes available these stainless steel railing products that you have. Definitely wanted to spend some time there and I think our listeners would be happy to hear from you. As we start, would love to introduce yourself, Kevin, and what you do and what does your company do and what makes them different?

 

Kevin Harris:

Yeah. Thanks, Kip. Happy to be here. My name is Kevin Harris. I’m the director of sales and marketing for AGS Stainless. We are a custom railing manufacturer. We’ve been fabricating custom railing for a little over 30 years. It’s all that we do. We’re super specialized. We fabricate a product that does more than just keep your family and your guests safe when you’re walking out on your deck or as you’re coming down the stairs.

We fabricate a product that adds beauty to the environment, whether it’s the exterior of your home or the interior of your home. When you choose custom stainless railing for your home, you actually add as much visual beauty to the space as a painting hanging on the wall or a sculpture sitting in a corner. We like to call custom stainless railing functional artwork and we’re very, very good at it.


Kip:

That’s great. I know when we talked last, Kevin, I’ve been certainly new to most of these type of products and as you mentioned, and I was thinking about it, it’s so true that when you think of some of these functional items, some of them definitely have an elegance to them and they can have an elegance. Especially for your house where I know if you want to make a difference and have a sense of brand and identity for what you’re doing and what the stainless steel railings … I always think about glass and transparency and cleanless, right? And just high quality. Is that what you’re talking about with the beauty of it?


Kevin Harris:

Absolutely. There are a lot of different materials that are commonly used in railing fabrication, Kip. There’s wood, there’s the composite materials, some of the products are made from recycled carpet or recycled tires. A lot of the big names, Trex, AZEK, MoistureShield, things like that. There’s vinyl.

But then there is when it comes to metals, two primary choices today. The most popular choice, which is aluminum and that’s because it’s fairly easy for the contractors to work with but the material that has the most visual impact is stainless steel. It is exactly like you say, when you’re talking about … If I have a choice between what material I want this particular component of my home to be made from, stainless steel is the choice, if you want wow factor.

If you just think about refrigerators, when you walk into a kitchen and they got a brand-new, high end refrigerator, like a sub-zero or something, and a brand-new gas range, like a Wolf product, you think, okay, if there’s a metal on the front of those high end appliances, what’s the likelihood it would be aluminum? Most people would say zero. If there’s going to be a metal on the front of a high end kitchen appliance, it’s going to be stainless steel because when you walk into the kitchen, you can’t help yourself. You’re just like, “Wow. That’s gorgeous.”

That’s just a reflection of the visual impact of stainless. Yeah. When you’re choosing products for your home, if you’re … It’s just like trim around the baseboards or what kind of wood is used for your doors. There’s certain places on the home where it just makes sense to invest a bit more because they’re so highly visible and that’s the case with railing, whether it’s on the stairs, as soon as you walk in the doors of the home, you’re going to see the stairs and you’re going to notice the railing, or with outdoor spaces, a lot of homes are setup so you don’t even need to go into the house to see the deck.

When you’ve got custom stainless railings there, everyone who drives by is going to say, “Wow. That looks gorgeous.”


Kip:

That’s awesome. Is stainless steel … I assume there’s a level of health and with COVID, maybe aluminum has the same benefits too, but is there any difference with that from a greener and a healthier type of environment?


Kevin Harris:

Yeah, Kip. There are some real advantages to choosing stainless for your railing system. One of the big pluses of stainless is that it is highly recyclable. The stainless that is the most prevalent today contains at least 50% recycled content already. Then the material itself is 100% recyclable. If the goal is to minimize impact on the environment through reuse, reapplication of existing materials, the stainless scores very, very highly in that category.

Another big plus with stainless is that the material itself is resistant to both corrosion and also to bacterial accumulation. Stainless, you’ll find it in a lot of hospitals. You’ll find it in a lot of food processing facilities. If they’re going to have a big container or surface, nine times out of 10, it’s going to be made from stainless steel. Those are two big pluses for choosing that material.


Kip:

That’s great. I was thinking about this before, Kevin, and you talk about why certain products are chosen over others. Even outside of railing systems, there’s metal products and wood products and fiber cement and all these different type of materials and a lot of it comes down to cost and some could be education. I was talking to a gentleman with and they’re only like 5% of the market for roofing products. It could be education, cost, installation. For you, what has traditionally been the factors of the predominance of stainless steel railings versus other products?

 

Kevin Harris:

Well, a lot of it is going to come down to durability, less ongoing maintenance is required with stainless over some of the other materials. Then back to the point that I was mentioning earlier of just visual impact.

You might liken it to the studs in a wall. You got a typical home, the builder is not going to use the highest appearance wood components for the interior studs, because no one is ever going to see them. When you’re talking about materials, you want the highest impact materials in a place where they are going to be commonly seen. Again, with stainless, there’s no other commonly used material that has that visual impact so that’s one of the reasons that either the architect, the builder, or the homeowner is going to choose stainless railing.

The endurance, the lower maintenance is also a really big consideration with stainless steel. Now there are a number of different types of stainless and you want to choose the stainless that is most appropriate for the environment. If you’re making the whole of a ship and you’re going to be out at sea where a good portion of the material is submersed all the time, that’s one type of stainless. If you’re going to have a project that’s in the Midwest, like St. Louis, the Peace Arch, that’s stainless, that’s another type of stainless.

If you’re going to have railing on your deck and you live in Hawaii and you’ve got an infinity pool loaded with chlorine and you’re right by the ocean so you’ve got the saltwater, and the heat, that’s another type of stainless.

Again, it’s important to choose with your product manufacturer, the right material, the right stainless for the application but we have found that for most applications, 316, which is referred to as marine grade stainless, is the most appropriate. 304, which is what the stainless for the Peace Arch in St. Louis is made from, is fine for that location but if you’re going to be on the water, on the coast, by the swimming pool, all those things, the 316 is more resilient than the 304. That’s what we recommend.

Again, lowering the amount of ongoing maintenance is a big plus for stainless steel. The metal itself forms a passive barrier between itself and the environment and that passive barrier helps to protect the metal from the surrounding environment. That’s why it has the name stainless. Now it’s not stain-free steel. If it’s going to be outdoors, and it’s manmade, everything is going to require some maintenance from time to time but the amount of maintenance required with stainless is far less than the other materials.

Just think about your own kitchen, Kip, I mean, if I asked you, “Kip, what’s the most common metal in your kitchen?” What would you say?

 

Kip:

I think it’s a mix between the marble, the wood, and then the stainless.

 

Kevin Harris:

Yeah. Exactly. When it comes to forks and knives and the heavily used things of metal in the kitchen, it’s stainless steel because it takes a beating, right? But it always looks great. A little soap and water, it’s good to go. The same thing is true with railing. If you’re trying to minimize ongoing maintenance, stainless is really the best choice.

 

Kip:

That’s good. Yeah. When we talked earlier, and this is my kind of newbie question, stainless has all these benefits for railings, but in today’s market, we talked about wood being the most predominant material out there. Why is that? Versus stainless. What can we do … I know we talked about your unique way of fabricating, which was an inhibitor, but if we can put that on hold and just talk about with the listeners why is wood the most popular? Is there a top reasons and how can we move stainless above that?

 

Kevin Harris:

That’s a great question. Especially right now, because the cost of lumber has skyrocketed. If you look at the average cost of a home in the last year, $24,000 of increased price has been added. Why? Because the cost of lumber has just skyrocketed.

Throughout the decades leading up to now, wood has been and is still, the primary material used for railing construction. One of the reasons is because it looks great in almost any environment. It’s just naturally beautiful in appearance. If we’re talking about an outdoor application, without a doubt, wood requires the most ongoing maintenance. Today, many homeowners and project developers are looking to decrease the amount of ongoing maintenance that’s required on their projects. That’s one reason to make the shift away from wood is because it requires so much ongoing maintenance to continue to look great.

Another issue, though, is definitely cost. Over time, as I’ve mentioned, the cost of wood has risen dramatically. Now, builders, project owners, are being able to have less gap between the cost of using wood and using one of the more durable materials.

When it comes to pricing, though, stainless has typically been out of the range of the average homeowner. Stainless steel requires TIG welding. Most contractors, deck builders, custom builders, remodelers, they’re not set up for TIG welding so they’re going to opt for the material that’s easy for their teams to work with, which is aluminum.

Now through, as you mentioned, off-site fabrication, almost anyone can now afford stainless for their decks or their interior stairs. It’s really a game-changer because now stainless is actually an affordable choice, and as we covered earlier, it is, by far, the visual choice.

 

Kip:

That’s great. Yeah. When we were talking last time, Kevin, you were saying not only the materials, I think certainly if you’re the majority leader with wood products then that, obviously, probably makes it easier for a homeowner to use what they’re going to be doing with railings. Then you mentioned from the outdoors side, it has more maintenance cost, which the developers want to improve and then this more differentiated approach with the offsite fabrication, because as you were educating me earlier, it’s kind of tough to have people onsite putting your railing together in the traditional model, like welders or whoever they are at your site, and you don’t want to have any accidents.

Now with this technology or process that you mentioned, that’s fascinating because I do hear that as an application across other building material products where they’re assembling more offsite, so it could be a building envelope, it could be a plumbing system, it could be stainless steel railings. Could you walk us through how you made that investment and why you did it that way? It didn’t sound common or traditional.

 

Kevin Harris:

Yeah, absolutely, Kip. As I mentioned, when it comes to stainless railing, you get a typically, and I would say historically, you’re going to find that on very significant projects. If you’re going to go to City Hall in your community and there’s stairs, there’s a good chance that they’re not going to be composite material railing. There’s a really good chance they’re going to be stainless steel because they’re sending a message, a message of quality, permanence.

It’s going to be the same at the university in your community. If you’re going to go onto their new facility, a good chance it’s not going to have wood railing as you’re walking up the stairs. It’s going to be stainless steel.

When it comes to residential, stainless has, traditionally, been the domain for high end expensive custom homes. That’s, again, because the builders, if it’s going to be a metal, they’re going to choose aluminum because it’s just easier for them to work with. Stainless, they have to get a local metal fabricator involved in the project. That’s someone who is an artisan craftsman, who has been fabricating things out of metal for five, 10, 20 or more years. They’re building tables out of metal. They’re fabricating hood systems to go over ranges. They’re making door hardware. They’re building trellises. A metal fabricator can build anything out of metal.

You’re bringing someone that’s highly skilled into the project to create the stainless railing. Well, as a builder, that’s not necessarily in the best interest of my project. Bringing in a highly skilled craftsman means I have to assign that piece of the project to them, to their expertise. I don’t have expertise in metal fabrication. They’re not going to be cheap. This is a highly skilled artisan craftsman. The builder is going to choose aluminum when they can.

With residential, it’s usually because there was an architect involved because on a higher end custom home, the architect is laying out this vision based on what the clients are expressing to him for the environment that they want to call home and adding that tremendous visual impact on the stairs and the decks, fits into that vision.

It’s when the architect says, “I want custom stainless rails on this home” that then the builder is trapped. The builder has to say, “All right. All right. I won’t go with aluminum. I’ll go with stainless.”

We have found that one of the big deterrents to having a person have stainless on their home is the builders don’t talk about it so they have to have an architect involved and then once they have the architect involved, the builder has to select a local metal fabricator and that just really kicks the cost way, way up.

Then it comes down to the builder saying, “Mrs. Jones, it’s going to be X if I go with aluminum or a composite. It’s going to be four to five X if we go with custom stainless.” Then that person is like, “Do we really need it?”

With offsite fabrication, what we’ve done is taken all of the steps of creating a beautiful custom railing for a home and we’ve eliminated the need for a local metal fabricator to be involved in that process. What that means is that we’re able to standardize the fabrication process, those pieces of what needs to happen to fabricate custom railing. We’ve standardized them and we conduct them all in a quality control environment.

Then the typical way that a metal fabricator works is they will fabricate what they can of the railing in their office, in their shop I should say, but then they go onsite to dial everything in. That’s called field modifications. Here you are, onsite, trying to weld a couple of components together and then you have to polish the weld down. You’re doing all this work onsite, but you’re having to factor in the environmental conditions of working onsite. You know it’s like working on a remodel versus a new home. The plumbers love new homes because they don’t have any of the issues of remodels, right? They don’t have to deal with the vermin underneath the house, they don’t have to deal with the spider webs, the rust, nothing. It’s all brand new.

It’s the same thing with fabricating offsite, the metal fabricators have all the tools that they need right there comfortably around them. They’re not having to crawl underneath something, make an adjustment but there’s something in the way. Product quality goes way up with offsite fabrication.

Another thing that happens is you minimize waste because, again, the metal fabricator working that quality control environment isn’t working onsite cutting and welding and so you’re not dealing with a lot of job site waste, which is better for the environment.

Another big plus is we’re able to drastically reduce the cost of the product. Where a local fabricator is going to have 10, 15, 20 years or more experience, and they’re going to have to charge for five times the cost to produce something as a person who doesn’t have to know every single aspect of metal fabrication to create your railing. Instead of having one or two rows to fabricate the railing, at offsite fabrication, we break the process of fabrication up.

We have a team of people that will handle each aspect of the process. We only have to train them to be an expert in their one piece of the process. We have a team that handles design. We have a team that handle our fiber laser tube cutting machine. We have a team that handles the welding. We have a team that handles grinding and polishing the weld. Another team that handles packaging and shipping.

Rather than having this person with 30 years’ experience who charges a ton, by the time the railing gets through our process, it looks just as good, if not better than if the master metal worker fabricated the system but it’s about half the cost. What that means is now that cost falls in line with the other materials. You get all the visual impact but you get it at a price that almost anyone can afford. That’s the beauty of offsite fabrication.

 

Kip:

No. That’s great. Yeah. I mean, this definitely makes a lot of sense when you’re thinking of offsite fabrication versus a traditional model, as you mentioned, that’s installed or assembled and maybe installed in the field. You mentioned a few great things like, one, from a skill and the labor, it’s less skilled because you can compartmentalize the different activities to the different teams, minimize ways, it’s safer … I know we talked last time, it’s healthier because now you can coordinate how teams work together and they don’t have to be all in the same place. That overall versus traditionally of how stainless steel railings have been made, it reduces the cost and I assume time, right?

 

Kevin Harris:

Absolutely. Yeah. One of the nice things about offsite fabrication is that all that cutting and welding, that stuff is all done. Normally, when a metal fabricator is going to create the railing for a home, they fabricate what they can in the shop and then they go onsite to dial it in. To knock the project out, they’re going to have four or five people working together very closely. That’s a challenge right now in our environment with COVID-19 because contractors are trying to maintain proper distancing between their contractors on the job site just to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Maintaining job site distancing is a big deal right now. Well, offsite fabrication is the perfect way to help to ensure proper job site distancing because all that heavy lifting is being done. For example, with our railing system, one person can install them, two at the absolute most are necessary, not four or five skilled technicians working together. One or two people can install the railing, maintaining proper social distancing the whole time, and that really is protective of the contractors’ personnel, keeping them from receiving or transmitting COVID019, and it’s respectful also of the greater community where we’re all working to really limit the spread of the disease.

 

Kip:

Sure. Yeah. Is it fair to assume, also, you can do more because you have more of a scheduled process that you can do more jobs at a time?

 

Kevin Harris:

Yeah. It is fair to assume that. When a product is fabricated, 100% offsite, number one, you need less skilled workers to install it. If I were going to fabricate … Just think of walls, as an example. Wall construction onsite, I need a number of people to help me do the wall framing, right? When you’re talking about wall assembly’s that are already fabricated, just a couple people are necessary to guide the wall assembly in place as it’s being lowered. Same thing with railing system. Less skilled workers are required when offsite fabrication is utilized. With our railing system, all the components are numbered. All a person needs to be able to do is look at the picture instructions where they say all the posts numbered like this, go here. All the posts numbered like this, go here.

Let’s say it’s a cable rail installation, so stainless posts, stainless top rail, and stainless steel cable as the in-fill, which looks absolutely beautiful. It minimizes the structure of the surrounding area, it adds beauty to the space. With a cable installation, we’ve cut all the cable runs to length, they’re all wrapped up in separate bags, so when the contractor’s team is laying out the project, they’re looking at the installation instructions, which have pictures. It shows where the numbered components go. They’re dealing out the cable runs like cards in a deck.

They’re on and off that project, usually in a third of the time it would take to install a similar railing system that was not fabricated 100% offsite. Again, there’s no cutting, there’s no welding, there’s no brimming, there’s no polishing. All that work is done when there’s 100% offsite fabrication. Installation is a fraction of the time of installing an onsite project. The cost is reduced because less skilled labor is required to do the installation.

 

Kip:

Sure. Yeah. This is where I don’t have a lot of knowledge, Kevin, but let’s say you have all these different building material type of products that could be fabricated offsite. My general assumption is that more is happening offsite based on the people that I talk to across not only stainless steel railing but as we talked about, so many of the other systems like plumbing.

Is that because of just … I know it’s scary to do the things if you’re an owner of a company and you’re like, “I’ve never done offsite fabrication. There’s maybe too much to learn.” There’s probably, as you mentioned, some equipment investment. What is causing or what can help improve that? Is it because of technology? Is it because it’s a best practice that’s happening now versus it wasn’t as predominant or needed before? Is it the upfront equipment cost? Is it you need the right talent to be able to manage this process? Thoughts on that?

 

Kevin Harris:

Yeah. Definitely, Kip. The industry is definitely growing. There’s a couple things that are driving that. Number one, it costs money. If you’re a builder or a developer, the sooner the contractor hands you the project back, hands it over to the owner, the better. The owner can put the project into operation and start receiving income.

Most large scale projects have bonuses associated with early delivery and penalties associated with late delivery. As I mentioned, with offsite construction techniques, components are delivered to the job site ready to be installed. The contractor is able to shave days off of the delivery schedule, which reduces their cost of the money that they’re using through construction. It reduces or potentially rewards them through early delivery. Reduces the chance that they’ll have penalties from delivering late. All of these things are very, very positive for the industry.

Another big plus, another big driver, is homeowners, project owners, are becoming more aware of the importance of factoring in not just the cost of delivering the project, the home, the building, whatever it is, but the ongoing cost of ownership when they’re evaluating total cost of ownership for their project.

What I mean by that is … We’ll use residential construction as an example. Homeowners are saying, “If you give me a house that costs $400,000, Mr. Builder, but it costs me $1000 a month to heat it or I could buy a house from Builder B, that costs the same $400,000 but it costs me $100 a month to heat it, all things being equal, I got to go with Builder B.”

Offsite fabrication allows builders to construction high performance homes. It allows them to more easily put together commercial properties that minimize the waste of energy, because it’s just easier to put those components together. It’s easier to panelize the walls when you’re working remotely. It’s easier to do all the cutting and welding and grinding and polishing and railing systems when you’re working remotely.

A big driver is energy efficiency, reducing the cost of maintaining that project over time, offsite fabrication, offsite construction really lends itself to that dynamic and we’re finding more and more project owners, more and more homeowners are saying, “It’s not just about the cost of delivering the project to me, let me look at the numbers. I want to see how efficient this home is because that’s real dollars I’m going to be spending as we move through time” and, again, offsite fabrication lends well towards high performance projects.

 

Kip:

Is it also fair to say if you change to an offsite fabrication where possible then you are also saving money upfront too? Because as we mentioned, you can reduce waste, reduce delivery, maybe reduce the time, not maybe speaking of stainless steel, which is maybe traditionally a little more expensive, but might be … I was talking to a plumbing contractor down the road and they do offsite assembly and fabrication and they deliver that to the project site. It’s certainly a substantial change in their business process but, ultimately, it looks like it saves them money for their clients.

 

Kevin Harris:

Yeah. It really depends, Kip, on the product itself. There would be some companies that specialize in offsite construction techniques that are going to tell you, no, it’s not less expensive. With some products, it is less expensive. For example, with our custom railing system, we are, at least, half the cost of what a local metal fabricator would charge to fabricate to the same standard of quality that we fabricate to.

Again, to put into perspective, anyone can say if you ask them, anyone who is working with metal, “Can you make a railing system for me?” Anybody can say, “Yeah, I can do it.” Right? That’s not the determinant. When you’re talking about something that’s custom-made, the determinant is to what standard of quality will you fabricate it? Then you can compare apples to apples because you can say, “Okay, if you’re going to fabricate to the industry’s highest standard of quality, I’m going to ask that of your competitor.” Then I can measure value.

With our railing system, we fabricate to the industry’s highest standard of quality for a local fabricator to match that standard of quality, they would charge at least twice what we charge. Again, I explained it’s because they have these super skilled craftsmen who do all the work whereas we don’t. We’re like Henry Ford, right? We have the factory line where you do your thing, you do your thing, you do your thing. Nobody here is making a fortune. That’s the difference.

In terms of can it cost less for the offsite fabricated component? Very possibly but it depends on the component and it depends on the manufacturer. There are some things that are absolutely a certain. Number one, you are going to get a product that is superior in quality and performance by having that component fabricated or built offsite. There is no way that a local metal fabricator can match the quality that we’re able to deliver through offsite fabrication project after project after project because they have to deal with environmental conditions onsite. We don’t.

With TIG welding, which is required for a stainless fabrication, just the wind blowing will affect the quality of the weld, Kip. If you see a great metal fabricator working in the field, often times they’ll have a big tarp which they’ll pull up over themselves so that they can control the environment around them. Offsite fabrication, we’ve done all that work. When we ship to the site, the components are numbered, ready to be installed, and no special tools, no special skills, no special know-how.

Again, you can’t guarantee lower cost for all offsite construction components but you can guarantee a higher quality product.

 

Kip:

That’s great. I’m imagining this so if you’re doing offsite fabrication, you mentioned assembly line, coordinated, orchestrated, scheduled, so does it require a virtual model or a digital model upfront to do that? I don’t know if that applies on the residential versus commercial side. I know with some of the other fabricators, it does require technology and a different way to design.

 

Kevin Harris:

Yes. The most common way that stainless rails are fabricated by a local metal craftsman is they’re typically using C&C equipment. Making the move to offsite fabrication, it really requires a step up in technology. For example, at AGS Stainless rather than using C&C equipment, we use fiber laser tube equipment. The level of precision is just so much greater. Offsite construction, offsite fabrication, that level of precision is very, very important.

When you’re relying on onsite adjustments, the fabricator can just get close in the office and the shop and then they go on the site and they can make adjustments. That’s kind of the way construction in the US has been for a long time where, give or take, adjust to the site, adjust as needed.

With offsite fabrication, offsite construction, a much more precise level of measurement is required. For example, our fiber laser tube cutting machine is accurate. It’s a four one-thousandths of an inch. That means when we make a hole in the post for the cable, it would be almost impossible for a fabricator to be that precise using C&C equipment. All that makes a difference because for us, we need to make sure that the product precisely fits that home when we ship it out because we’re shipping all over the world and we’re not going to be able to go to the Virgin Islands and help them dial up the railing system in it.

When we ship it, it needs to be so precise that the homeowner could install the railing system if they choose to. Again, that’s a level of planning in terms of laying out your system, how you will actually go through the process of design, fabrication, quality control, quality. You have to lay all of that out, a lot of that comes from experience. We’ve been fabricating custom railing systems for well over 30 years now. We build more railing systems in a week than any local fabricators will build in several years.

That knowledge allowed us to develop a system that was scalable so we’re able to create a product that without ever visiting the site, whether it’s the new university dorm or a tiny home in the mountains, without ever visiting a site, we can design the system, we can fabricate it, we can ship it out, all the components will fit precisely and if the homeowner chooses to, they just install the system themselves.

 

Kip:

Yeah. Are you using … What’s the technology? Is it 2D cut to digital or is it your normal sheets and shop drawings or CAD drawings or is it some kind of 3D model? Can you speak a little more to that?

 

Kevin Harris:

Yeah. Everything. All of the above. Our goal is to help the client with whatever technical skills they’re bring to us. We got your back. Don’t worry. We’re working with customers who just take a piece of paper and draw out their rough length of their railing and write in rough measurements and take a picture on their phone and send that to us and we got you. We have clients who are utilizing our CAD drawings. We have clients who are utilizing our bin files.

We want to make sure that we can help our clients however they come to us as respects technology. We provide the engineering calculations so that they can get the railing project approved through their local community. We provide all the technical drawings.

When we get the drawings in, again, it was a drawing on a napkin with some rough measurements, we take that and then we will create the CAD drawing from that. We send it back to the client and on that first drawing we send them, there will be the representation of the railing system but also some balloons and those balloons are where the client will write in the measurement for that section of the railing system. They’ll just fill those bubbles in, send that back to us. We take that drawing and then we’ll create the final CAD drawing. We send that back to the client. The client will then double-check. If they’re happy, they’ll sign off on it, send it back to us.

We take that drawing then and we create a final drawing that’s going to go to our shop, our shop drawing, and then with the shop drawing, we’re going to upload all of that into a 3D rendering, which is then fed into our fiber laser tube cutting machine. Then that machine will cut the components to length, drill the holes, all those things, drop out those components and then our team will fabricate them.

It doesn’t matter how technically savvy the customer is, come to us with whatever you have and we’ll take good care of you.

 

Kip:

That’s awesome. I forgot, are you … I know you’re a mix of commercial and residential. Is it half and half? Are you more residential?

 

Kevin Harris:

We are about 50/50. About 50% of our projects are residential and about 50% fall into commercial of some type from Lexus dealership to a small office building to a brand new corporate headquarters to a university’s new dorm. The full spectrum.

 

Kip:

This offsite fabrication, did this start … When did it start? Was it many years ago? A few years ago?

 

Kevin Harris:

Well, we have been I would say doing railing systems for over 30 years but the process that we’ve created at AGS where we do all the design and fabrication work offsite and ship the railings out, component ties numbered and ready to be installed, that’s been about … Let’s see, I’ve been here eight years, so about 20 years where we have had that as our go-to market strategy.

 

Kip:

That’s awesome. A fairly long time.

 

Kevin Harris:

Correct. Yeah.

 

Kip:

Pretty much not too far off from when the company was founded.

Kevin Harris:

Yeah. That’s correct. That was one of the big steps, big leaps that the owners made as with most local fabricators, they’re doing one-off jobs here, there. They’re going onsite and figuring out a way that they could reduce the cost of stainless but if you looked at the other materials and the cost is X, the cost of stainless traditionally is four to five X. How to get that down? They figured out by offsite fabrication, they could do that because they could reduce a lot of the things that are required when you’re relying on field adjustments to dial the project in.

 

Kip:

Well, that’s great, Kevin. It’s been a pleasure talking to you [crosstalk 00:46:52].

 

Kevin Harris:

Thanks, Kip.

 

Kip:

Yeah. Your company, the educating us and me on stainless steel railings. I get so many different building materials and trades out there and you always learn something fascinating and new. Your products and your company and how stainless steel is better versus maybe wood and others and the evolution of this material and its impact to COVID and health and safety.

Then I’m definitely interested in the offsite model and approach on how that just can make it easier for not only the building owner but your employees, the workers, the cost, the schedule, so that’s just definitely fascinating. If there’s a listener in the audience today, Kevin, and they were saying, “Hey, it might not be stainless steel railing but just this fabrication type of process is interesting to me”, what would you recommend? Is there a … I know this was 20 years ago so maybe we’re not sure but is there something you can recommend to them to do research or figure out if this is something for their business?

 

Kevin Harris:

Yeah. If you are connected to the construction industry, you have some kind of a product that either residential or commercial builders are utilizing and you are relying primarily now on onsite construction, then I would definitely recommend taking a look at whether or not offsite construction can benefit you.

As Kip mentioned, it will take some rethinking of your process but the potential is great. Number one, it was very difficult for a local fabricator to never visit the Saudi Arabia, we’ll say for an example, and create railing for a project there. It would be very difficult for them to do that. We do that at AGS all the time. We ship railing systems all over the world for which we have never visited the site because we developed a process that allows us to do all that work from our office in the Seattle area.

I would say, yes, take a look at it. There’s some great resources. I would start to look at some of the big trade associations like the National Association of Home Builders. That’s a really great place to start because there are a number of companies that are utilizing that technology that are members of the NAHB. That is where I would send you first. NAHB.org and just start looking under pre-fabrication. There’s some committees, there’s some groups with a lot of other product manufacturers that are able to help you.

 

Kip:

Great. Thanks, Kevin. If people are interested in contacting you or your company, how can they do that?

 

Kevin Harris:

Our company is AGS Stainless, like apple, good, Sam and the word stainless all together. AGS Stainless.com. We got lots of videos and lots of education on our website. We’d love to work with you.

 

Kip:

Awesome.

 

Graham:

All right, folks. That wraps us up for today’s show. You can find our podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify and Soundcloud by searching for the Concora Corner. If you’d like to, we’d love a rating or a short review if you listen on Apple. Any feedback is appreciated about any of our shows that are coming out or just a show in general or if you just want to say hello. You can find out more about Concora and their services at www.Concora.com. We are on Facebook at Facebook.com/ConcoraLLC. We’re on Twitter at Concora. You can find us on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/Company/Concora. Thank you for listening and have a great day.

 

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