The Story Behind the Story


The Story Behind the Story

Engineering innovation is going to happen. If our industry isn’t a part of it, we will end up producing a commodity.

Since starting Qualtim in 1989 and contracting to manage SBCA in 1992, I’ve witnessed the twists and turns of new ideas bumping into tradition. I also see a future that holds great promise for component manufacturers, as we continue to evolve our collective engineering acumen and utilize our ability to drive building construction innovation. However, at pivotal moments like now, it’s important to reflect on the challenges we have faced in the past so we can seriously consider lessons learned and avoid history repeating itself and past mistakes.

Let’s begin by looking at the immediate past. Unfortunately, over the past few years, we have witnessed many companies, run by very smart people, go out of business. These years have also forced a lot of changes for SBCA, BCMC, SBC Magazine and the SBC Research Institute (SBCRI). Very challenging decisions had to be made at our industry association level to create a successful side of the ledger as opposed to going out of business, as was the case for far too many association members. Change is always hard, and forced change can cause great discomfort because it is easy to assume that new and different actions in the market are not good. 

Fortunately, the housing industry is making its way toward recovery. The components industry is finally getting off “life support,” so we are beginning to see success at the association level through the changes that were forced upon us. The forced change, which has caused new thinking and new approaches to succeed, all occurring during a time of stress and need, has likewise created some discomfort.  This discomfort in turn has led to anonymous rumors circulating about companies, suppliers, SBCA, SBCRI, Qualtim, DrJ (an affiliate to Qualtim) and individuals. This became clear in this online blog entry written by Greg Brooks.

As with any information from anonymous sources, accuracy can be questionable at best. Fortunately, this article led to some good opportunities for people to talk through all the issues and get facts on the record at SBCA/SBCRI meetings, SBCA CM Roundtable discussions, and direct conversations with those who have first-hand knowledge of the actual facts. This also allowed us to share the great work taking place at SBCRI, our concerns about the accuracy of raw material design properties; and, the devaluation of engineered design when compared to stick framing’s built-in economic advantage through the IRC.

Greg, being the honorable person that he is, was open to discussing various points brought up in his blog. His willingness to hear both sides of the story showed that he was committed to ensuring that he had all the facts he could gather. Greg processed all of this information, and while he obviously had to select key points to focus on, he reported his vantage point in this follow-up blog entry.

By the way, if Greg’s blog entries pique your interest, please give him a call and order a subscription. He provides great opinions and perspectives that help generate thought-provoking alternative points of view.

As noted above, SBCA also took on these high-profile issues through a series of letters and SBC Industry News articles to component manufacturers. This gave SBCA an opportunity to lay out the facts and explain the subsequent challenges we faced given SBCRI was built in 2007, at precisely the start of the housing crisis. The goal of SBCRI was to prepare our industry for 3-D structural component design, through testing, to ensure that we had the best possible  understanding of the load paths and engineering resistance undergirding our industry. 

In the end, this entire journey illustrated  the commitment of so many in our industry to, as SBCA Past President Rip Rogers would say, “leave the wood pile a little higher and better than when we came to this campsite.”

While many positives came out of this issue, as anyone who spoke with me during this time can attest to, it is frustrating to know the truth, yet hear of speculation circulating about agendas or motivations that simply weren’t true. This is part of human nature, however, and will continue to occur, but it is important for everyone to have the opportunity to hear the facts. As always, if anyone wants to understand the motivation or the reasoning behind any decision that is attached to my name, I am always available and willing to talk—whether it’s by phone, in person, or through an online video conference. That’s one of the reasons behind the “Industry Conversations with Kirk.” The goal is to give me, staff and SBCA members a chance to talk about a wide variety of current topics.

I believe our industry is at a pivotal moment in its history with regard to the value of the engineering that goes into producing structural building components. In order for our industry to grow, we must have accurate raw material design values, accurate buildings codes and skilled engineers who can fully utilize the 3D software available on the market. Our industry can and should consider itself the center of the universe when it comes to Framing the American Dream, and we should be the suppliers of the engineered structural framework for all “conventional light-frame construction” in North America and beyond. To do this, we clearly need to embrace engineering, building design, intellectual property development and engineering innovation.  Otherwise in my opinion, component manufacturers will merely become commodity producers.

I recognize that innovation, building design and 3D engineering may seem overwhelming to our industry’s smaller CMs. However, when you think about it, your highly capitalized suppliers should be willing to provide you with significant help in this regard, given you provide them with a consistent source of profit through the purchases you make. Your future success and growth is important to their future success and growth.

To that end, SBCA, SBCRI and our SBCA members are getting re-engaged in fundamental testing and engineering analysis to facilitate our industry’s transformation through updating industry knowledge, creating industry market needs based code compliance Technical Evaluation Reports and revising ANSI/TPI 1. Association work, however, will always be supportive of, yet lag behind, the entrepreneurial nature of innovation.  Given all of the foregoing, we are always interested in helping anyone take their creative juices and transform markets in highly innovative ways. This is precisely why we enjoy the work we do with SBCA, SBCRI and Qualtim. There is never a dull day.