Friday | 20 February, 2009 | 9:09 am

The Ecospan plan

By Andy Barks

February 2009 - Recycling is more effective and widely practiced when simplified. Give consumers a clear directive, stating where their recycled products are going and what they need to do, and they'll likely participate in greater numbers.

Simplicity and economy are the basic concepts behind the Ecospan composite floor system from the Vulcraft Group, Florence, S.C. The system uses re-fabricated steel from a range of sources, a method that's environmentally efficient, and a streamlined installation process minimizes logistical requirements and time commitments.

Rampant recycling
For Vulcraft, a division of Nucor Corp., Charlotte, N.C., the use of recycled material is more than just lip service. Not only does it use steel from junked cars, washers and refrigerators to manufacture its flooring, but secondhand material actually constitutes much of the working environment, as well.

"The Ecospan system uses 99 percent recycled material in the joists and 70 percent recycled material in the decking," says Rick Bullen, marketing manager for Vulcraft. "Because Vulcraft has plants strategically based across the country, we're also able to significantly decrease the amount of fuel used in getting our product to the job site."

Still, as a recently developed system in a niche market, Ecospan needs to be practical, as well as eco-conscious. Creating something that was business-savvy while adhering to its green ethos was a challenge for the company. As a result, cost-efficiency and a smooth installation process became priorities, along with the use of environmentally sensitive materials. Identifying a specific corner of the market helped further distinguish the product.

"A part of the construction market we hadn't yet tapped was the multi-family residential, hotel and retirement community sectors," says Bullens. "We set out to develop an extremely simple composite floor system that would be compatible with all wall systems for these customers. The result was Ecospan."

Creating an identity
One of the earliest customers was Wind Crest, a Denver-area retirement campus under the Erickson Retirement Communities umbrella. Seeking an environmentally efficient floor system for its facilities that could accommodate the mechanical, electrical and plumbing needs of its buildings, Wind Crest enlisted Vulcraft to install Ecospan.

Vulcraft's use of the Shearflex connector, a fastener that eliminates welding applications, accelerated the process and helped save Erickson 10 percent on labor costs. What began as a two-building trial evolved into a full-fledged partnership, as the simplicity and speed of the installations compelled Erickson to use Ecospan at other locations.

The company's looking to expand the flooring into other industries. By combining recycled products with lean manufacturing principles, Vulcraft is appealing to ecological sensitivities without losing its business sense. MM

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