A. Zahner Co.

Advances in cloud computing and digital fabrication have enabled any of us to realize our one-off designs in a relatively affordable and fast manner. We can customize our wardrobe with Café Press and adorn our desk with knickknacks from Shapeways. But custom architectural and interior projects demand the use of robust materials at the building scale. Enter the growing number of manufacturers in everything from tile to windows that are integrating web-based product design tools for their customers.

In January, I covered the launch of A. Zahner Co.’s ShopFloor, a virtual portal into the workspace of the architectural metal engineering and fabricator in Kansas City, Mo. Zahner was launching the first app available on the ShopFloor platform, CloudWall. The real-time design and ordering tool gives users real-time feedback on the look and pricing of their custom metal-fin creations for building walls and façades.

Zahner has recently added its second app on ShopFloor, ImageWall. This tool gives designers the ability to virtually design, prototype, price, and order perforated metal wall panels using Zahner’s Zira Visualizer, a technology that translates any image onto a metal surface through embossing, cutting, or perforating.

Kauffman Stadium, in Kansas City, Mo.
Mike Sinclair / Courtesy A. Zahner Co. Kauffman Stadium, in Kansas City, Mo.

Nearly everything about the projects created with ImageWall is customizable. Users can upload their own image or start from a few supplied patterns, which they can further manipulate with the app’s control point tool. They can specify wall panel dimensions, the range of aperture sizes employed, and the perforation shape—circle, square, diamond, triangles, or hexagon. They can also introduce randomization, or noise, in the image. Finally, users can choose among several material options, including aluminum, copper, or stainless steel, and finishes for the panels as well as the finish for the aluminum support mullions that anchor the installation into the wall.

ImageWall, like CloudWall, also addresses what is often near the top of a client’s list of questions: cost. The app provides real-time pricing for the creation, excluding taxes and shipping. Most of the cost derives from the raw material and machine time, according to Zahner. Reducing the number of perforations in the panels, by adjusting the size of the perforated grid and resolution and experimenting with aperture sizes, can reduce the price. After designers are satisfied with their ImageWall's look and price, they can save their project and send it to their client or contractor for purchasing as a fully fabricated system.

Using ARCHITECT’s favicon, I experimented with ImageWall's dropdown menus and sliding scales. The app was intuitive to use and its instant visual feedback was a perfectionist’s dream—or nightmare.