Metal fabrics are essentially woven textiles that use stainless steel threads. Decorative metal fabrics will typically utilize multifilament strands in at least one direction and solid strands in the other. These products are woven on looms. Metal fabrics can be hung and tensioned over very large areas with minimal substructure, framing, and labor.
When made with multifilament strands, metal fabric generally is flexible, permitting it to be draped or formed around structures with no forming machine required to bend the metal to shape. Perforated metal typically is fabricated in sheets that are affixed and framed in smaller sizes to maintain product integrity. Woven mesh is custom sized and ranges in sizes up to hundreds of feet long and 26 feet in width.
Projects and Applications
An application that calls for a transparent façade to provide daylighting, sunshading, or media display benefits is generally well served by metal fabrics. Also, metal fabrics are ideal for any large area, or for an area where a substructure is undesirable or doesn’t exist. Because perforated solutions are panelized, they often require more framing than metal fabrics. For office building or public structures seeking a balance between shading and transparency for light and views, metal fabric or mesh is a good solution. The mass of material found on the perforated system can limit the view of the outside compared to relatively opaque metal fabrics.
In terms of acoustics, the weave of the metal fabric material determines whether it is sound absorptive, reflective, or transparent. Depending on how a given mesh is installed, it could have any or all of these properties within one installation. Generally, however, the material is transparent to sound.
Typically, metal fabric is more costly per square foot, but less costly to install because it entails less time, fewer framing materials, and less of a substructure. Perforated metal often costs less per square foot, but can be more costly to affix to a large area. Metal fabrics can be framed or tensioned, but typically they are pulled into tension.
Some considerations that should be taken into account for metal fabric include structure capability, sun direction, and the desired effect of the installation. Building requirements typically include things like impact loads, weather, airflow, water flow, and human contact issues.
Metal fabric will conform to what it is tensioned against. It also is more of a three-dimensional product than perforated metal, which provides different properties when applied to a project. A straight-on view may not provide the same visual look as one at an angle, and it will change sunshading, cooling, and other properties.
Perforated metal panels lend themselves well to framing, while metal fabrics perform well with tensioning. Metal fabrics can be framed or tensioned, but typically they are pulled into tension.
Rich Loeffler is a quality engineer and Darren Bromwell works in estimating with GKD in Cambridge, Md.