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How Do We Design, Engineer, Fabricate, and Install Tensile Membrane Structures?

By July 28, 2021August 12th, 2021LEARN

Tension membrane structures are complex, lightweight alternatives to traditional steel, glass, brick, and mortar structures. Successfully building a tensile membrane structure is a difficult process that requires extensive expertise to design, engineer, fabricate, and construct properly. There are only a handful of companies in the world that build these structures – and few of these companies have the experience and infrastructure required to complete the whole scope from design to construction. In this article, we examine the PFEIFER Structures approach to taking tensile membrane structure projects from concept to completion.

Conceptual Design

The PFEIFER Structures design development department provides advanced design capabilities to our clients by utilizing sophisticated CAD and 3D modeling software to develop cutting-edge architectural renderings. Our comprehensive visualizations enable clients to understand better how our proposed tension membrane structure solutions meet their requirements. Our design team is composed of industrial designers and architects who understand the fundamentals of shape, form, and function; their creativity and technical ability enable the client to gain a unique insight into a 3D version of a concept suitable for construction.

The 3D visualizations illustrate the realistic final product and are the starting point for converting the concept into reality. The 3D model of the structure is sent to the sales engineering department for engineering analysis. The model allows our sales engineering department to do a preliminary engineering analysis and determine if the structure is stable, whether the membrane is shaped correctly, and if it is over-stressed or in a position to pond. The model provides our estimating department with sufficient information on the sizing and weight of the elements, leading to an accurate, cost-effective estimate in our proposal.

Engineering

The PFEIFER Structures design & engineering department begins by establishing the required centerline geometry of the structure. The department uses highly specialized software to model the structure in 3D to define a final equilibrium shape that meets the client’s requirements. The equilibrium shape is then analyzed under various loading conditions to determine the steel, cable, and membrane requirements. The computer modeling and analysis results are transformed in the graphical design stages of the project into an accurate, extruded 3D model complete with actual steel and cable sizes and connections. Design drawings are then developed from the 3D model and submitted to the client for review and approval. Engineering calculations are also included in the submittal to the client. Upon approval of the design drawings and engineering calculations, the fabric shape is then patterned. “Patterning” is the art of representing three-dimensional shapes by connecting a series of flat, two-dimensional templates into one fabric assembly.

Steel Fabrication

At PFEIFER Structures, we recognize that our products’ structural integrity and quality are critical to the long-term success of our business. Our 80,000 square foot steel fabrication plant in Dallas, Texas, is certified by the International Accreditation Services board (IAS) as meeting or exceeding the highest standards in the steel fabrication industry. The plant has been custom designed and is equipped with state-of-the-art fabrication equipment.

We are a vertically integrated company using sophisticated tools and equipment to cut raw steel and custom fabricate our structures. Our welders are all AWS certified, and we employ a full-time certified welding inspector to ensure that we always meet our internal and external quality standards. All raw materials are of the highest quality available, and we require certified mill certificates from all our suppliers.

The plant is managed by an experienced team that focuses on quality, safety, and delivery. This team of fabrication professionals consistently produces structures that exceed our customers’ quality and delivery expectations.

Membrane Fabrication

At the core of our custom tensile membrane structure designs are the membranes that we utilize to create some of the most architecturally innovative and aesthetically appealing structures in the world. We use the best materials on the market, including vinyl coated polyester (PVC), TEFLON™-coated fiberglass (PTFE), and transparent structural clear foil (ETFE).

The membranes are selected to meet the specific project requirements as well as our clients’ individual needs and desires. We offer a variety of materials with varying degrees of translucency, light reflectivity, UV and weather protection, and non-combustibility. Certain membranes offer self-cleaning surfaces, and all are easily maintained to preserve their appearance and ensure a long life.

Our tension membrane structures are fabricated utilizing the strongest seams applicable to the individual membrane. Heat sealing, radio frequency (RF) sealing, and sewn seams utilizing Gore-Tex PTFE thread are implemented on our structures. These seams provide the longest life expectancy in the industry.

Our membrane patterning, sewing, and cutting crews utilize the most advanced computer-controlled cutting technology available, providing precision load analysis and tight tolerance.

Project Management

Project Management utilizes sophisticated organizational software to ensure that we complete projects in the most cost-effective, timely, and efficient manner.

Once a project has been approved and handed over to the proposal manager, project management is then responsible for controlling all aspects of the project. Project managers create schedules, handle submittals and approvals, maintain comprehensive communication logs, and manage costs and logistics. Their primary objective is to see the project through to successful completion.

By taking ownership of the project, our project managers guide the project through all the critical phases to create a structure that our customers regard as the finest available globally. As we continue to design and build more imaginative and innovative projects, project management will continue to grow and develop great conceptual ideas into reality.

Site Construction

PFEIFER Structures employs the most experienced, well-trained, and dedicated construction professionals in our industry. We have construction crews operating around the world who have built thousands of successful projects, resulting in lasting partnerships with our customers. We have highly skilled and certified rope access workers for our larger-scale projects. Our construction crews are compliant with the Occupation Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and registered with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) programs, which attest to our high level of safety and professionalism.

As a vertically integrated company, we do very little outsourcing. Our construction teams have many years of experience in proper foundation and footing construction, steel erection, and membrane installation.