July 2015

Welcome to ‘Stainless Solutions’ from IMOA. Each month, we will cover a different stainless steel issue with tips on design and specification, and links to technical resources. This month we are discussing specification decisions that affect apparent and actual stainless steel panel flatness.
Specifying Flat Panels

There are many reasons why an installed panel may not appear flat. Achieving flatness starts with appropriate specification and fabrication. The internationally recognized materials standards (i.e. ASTM, EN and others) include flatness requirements. They can vary with the specification, thickness and product form.

For example, if you are specifying wide cold-rolled coil for panels using ASTM, A480/A480M determines the dimensional tolerance requirements and has two flatness options – standard and “Stretcher-Leveled Standard of Flatness”. Table 1 shows the flatness requirement differences.  For architectural and aesthetic applications, the project specification and the fabricator’s order should require, “ASTM A480/A480M stretcher-leveled standard of flatness”. If this wording is not included, then standard flatness can be provided. Some stainless steel producers obtain stretcher-leveled quality of flatness by tension leveling coils, which is acceptable.

Table 1: ASTM A480/A480M-14b, Table A2.8 Permitted Variations in Flatness of Cold-Rolled, Wide, Coil-Processed Product as Cut Lengths

Optical Illusions

Optical illusions can make a panel appear wavy when it is actually flat. Mirror like finishes reflect the surrounding environment and can make the panel appear inconsistent. Duller finishes or those with a texture that diffuses light will always look flatter.

The fine No. 4 polish is consistent but reflections create a banded appearance.

Credit C. Houska, TMR Consulting

One Canada Square at Canary Wharf combines coined Cambric wall and column panels with reflective trim.

Credit: Outokumpu

Coined finishes, such as Linen and Cambric, are particularly popular for building exteriors because their surface texture diffuses light. With coining, a coil or sheet is passed between two rolls where one is flat and the other is patterned. The shallow repetitive pattern appears flatter than more reflective finishes. Learn more about Finishes on IMOA’s website.

If the material is not flat before a polished finish is applied, then the polishing belt contact with the surface may not be uniform, producing an uneven finish with scratch length and depth variations. Even if the panel is subsequently flattened, finish variation can make the panel appear wavy.

Residual Stresses

All metal coils or panels can have residual stresses, which vary across their widths and thicknesses. Often the outer edges and surfaces are under tension while the center is under compression so material must be removed evenly, otherwise flatness problems can be created  during finishing and fabrication. While some fabricators have presses to flatten panels as the final processing step, this may not be 100% effective.

When possible the design should use a standard width and the full panel cross section. If a wider panel is purchased and excess metal is slit from one side, residual stress differences (i.e. removing tension from one edge) can cause panel movement. If the panel is too wide, it is better to slit an equal amount of metal from both sides.  Finishing only one side of a light gauge panel can cause panels to curve. Both sides should be finished, but the back of the panel can simply be ground to equalize the stresses and retain a flat panel.  Any metal finishing or fabrication operation should consider residual stress balance.

One common method for avoiding edge wrinkling and buckling during brake forming is to cut a notch or groove along the back of the bend before forming.  That eliminates the excess metal at the bend, which can wrinkle, and concentrate the stress along the bend.

For more information, see IMOA’s guidance on fabrication of Austenitic and Duplex stainless steel.

Looking for Clues

As you try to determine the cause of flatness problems, consider these questions:

  • Place a straight edge across the surface (vertically, horizontally and at 45 degree angles).  Is there physical variation in flatness and what pattern does it follow?
  • Review the specification, project document, metal purchaser’s requirements, and the mill certifications. Were the correct specifications used and was the material certified to them?
  • Is the finish consistent in appearance?  Use a magnifying glass if necessary.
  • Was there a manufacturing operation that might have changed the residual stress balance?
  • If there are bends, are they consistent in appearance?
  • How do the purchased and design widths compare?
  • Was bending or some other operation that might have changed the stress balance concentrated on one side or area?

Stainless Steel Specifications & Guidelines Resource

Guidelines & Industry Associations

International list of widely used stainless steel product, material and welding standard specifications, structural design resources, basic rules and resource sites.  Stainless steel industry association contacts are provided to assist with country specific specifications.

Download PDF (394 K, English)

Stainless Steel Library

Download a free Stainless Steel Library (zip file, 390 MB) with over 280 pdfs covering building and construction applications, selection, specification, fabrication, sustainability and other common questions.

Stainless Solutions e-newsletter archive

For previous issues or to subscibe to the e-newsletter, please visit the archive page.

Continuing Education – American Institute of Architects (AIA)

IMOA is an AIA continuing education system approved provider with eight 1-hour programs that are registered for both live face-to-face and distance learning credit.

1. Stainless Steel Sustainable Design
2. Bioclimatic Design With Stainless Steel Weather Screens
3. Stainless Steel Structural Design
4. Stainless Steel Specification For Corrosive Applications
5. Deicing Salt: Stainless Steel Selection to Avoid Corrosion
6. Stainless Steel Finish Specification
7. Advanced Stainless Steel Specification and Problem Avoidance
8. Specification of Stainless Steel Finishes and Grades For Corrosive Applications

For more information or to schedule a workshop contact Catherine Houska, 412-369-0377 or email chouska@tmr-inc.com.

What is IMOA?

IMOA (International Molybdenum Association) is a non-profit industry association, which provides technical information to assist with successful specification of molybdenum-containing materials. Molybdenum is an element. When it is added to stainless steel, molybdenum increases its resistance to corrosion caused by deicing salts, coastal atmosphere and pollution.

If you have a topic suggestion for a future issue of Stainless Solutions or need additional technical advice on stainless steel specification and selection, please get in touch here.

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In providing consultation or other assistance with respect to technical issues, any consultation, assistance or material is provided for the general information of the recipient and should not be used or relied upon for any specific application without first securing competent advice. IMOA and their respective employees, consultants and members (i) make no representation or warranty, express or implied, of any kind with regard to such consultation, assistance or material including no representation or warranty of  suitability for any general or specific use; (ii) assume no liability or responsibility of any kind in connection  therewith; and (iii) disclaim any and all liability for any claim that arises therefrom. 

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