Carbon Steel
Wednesday | 28 January, 2015 | 2:02 pm

The go-to for gratings

Written by By Corinna Petry

Above: Grating installed along the main path through Columbia University will hold a truck, provide easy access for people with disabilities and won’t let a high heel slip through.

Safety, security and aesthetics blend seamlessly when Ohio Gratings lands a project

January 2015 - Lots of U.S. companies make or sell metal bar grating products with a variety of applications, from offshore oil platforms to water treatment plants, stair treads to decoration.

Ohio Gratings Inc. (OGI) doesn’t claim to be the largest manufacturer or supplier of these products, but offers the most diverse product lines in the marketplace. Its product offerings fill a 116-page industrial catalog and a 32-page architectural catalog.

Much of what Ohio Gratings supplies is made to order for construction contractors that are building or replacing features such as trenches and area walkways. The primary objective of these orders is to create a product that offers security and safety to the customer and often, the community at large. Case in point: Ohio Gratings was contracted to replace virtually all the gratings across the campus of Columbia University in New York City. More than 29,000 students are enrolled at the university and medical school, with more than 3,750 faculty members. Plus, the campus is smack dab in middle of the high-traffic neighborhood of Morningside Heights. The company had to build a history of getting it right before being able to tackle a project like this.


Humble beginnings

Since its founding in 1970 with the motto “make it right and ship when promised,” Ohio Gratings has made just one product: bar grating. That singular focus allowed the manufacturer to leverage its expertise and earn respect as a market leader in the aluminum and steel bar grating market. 

OGI began with fabricating light-duty steel bar grating and later expanded into producing heavy-duty welded steel and stainless steel grating. Still later, the company added aluminum swaged, dovetail bar grating, aluminum plank flooring and architectural metal products to its production capabilities. With this full line, OGI is able to offer design, engineering, custom fabrication and distribution services to every facet of the grating industry. 

“We have grown substantially over the years,” says Kenny Apperson, director of engineering and product development. “We started out in 8,000 square feet and now operate in over 400,000 square feet, with 400 employees across four locations.” 

In addition to its main shop in Canton, Ohio, OGI has plants in Houston; Ridgeland, South Carolina; and Lindon, Utah. Employees are spread across production, product design, detailing, sales and project management, including at satellite offices located in Alabama and Missouri. Many distributors and manufacturers’ representatives across the U.S. promote OGI’s products. “We are highly integrated from the raw material (steel or aluminum extrusion) to fabrication, powder coating, sandblasting and passivation,” Apperson says.

The Big Apple

The job at Columbia University came about because the owner of Ashok Parasharami Structural Engineering LLC, Ashok Parasharami, “found Ohio Gratings on the Internet,” says Apperson. “He contacted us in January 2012, through our representative in New York City, and began by asking, ‘Here’s what I’m trying to do, what have you got and what test data do you have?’ He wanted the product to meet an 18-wheeler standard, a 5-ton forklift standard, and New York City and International Building Code standards for sidewalks and driveways.”

The university had to replace old and rusty coverings for window wells and access ways for pipe and ventilation along the edges of its buildings.

The old gratings did not meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, says Apperson. “It’s a hot issue to make public ways accessible for people with mobility assistance devices. Columbia University is a progressive institution, sensitive to the issue of making their campus accessible.” 

The school initially put expanded metal over many of the gratings, but “the strength rating of the old grating was light-duty. It wasn’t designed for heavy equipment,” Apperson says. If a piece of machinery, ambulance or utility truck rolled over the old grating, it might fail.


In addition, the ADA standards indicate “openings can be no more than 1⁄2-inch wide in the direction of travel so a wheel or a cane doesn’t go in between the openings.” Some of the old grating with expanded metal still didn’t meet the standard.

“The university also wanted better security. You don’t want people to get into the buildings. They wanted a system that is user-friendly and secure, and then also decided to make the grating high heel-friendly. It’s closer spacing than ADA law requires. So they went the full measure from high heels to driving over it with heavy equipment,” Apperson says. The installed project is also bicycle friendly and slip resistant.

This project was an ideal application for a trademarked product line Ohio Gratings makes called Wheels n’ Heels Metro Gratings. “We provided reference projects, and drawings, answered all the questions and the engineer included the gratings in the broader project. When Columbia put out a request for proposals, the contractor came to us and we quoted the grating based on the engineer’s drawings, received the order and made the approval drawings.”

The Columbia project required 180,000 pounds of steel, according to Apperson. “We have done the main college walk. The other half of the project has not shipped yet. We are waiting on the university to release the rest of the job.” The installers and contractor did “a really good job. They reworked and leveled the stone around the installation and made it look nice.”

How it’s made

For this project, OGI bought 3⁄16-inch-thick steel in coils 48 inches wide from an area distributor. The raw material is ASTM A1011 structural grade 50, and commercial steel type B.

The coil enters a slitter to produce strips, which are then cut into flat bars typically 1-inch by 3⁄16-inch and 4-inch by 3⁄16-inch. “The 1-inch bars give you close spacing and the 4-inch bars give you the strength,” says Apperson.

The flat bars are leveled to remove coil set and edge conditioned to produce bars that are “more like a rectangle.  Then we put the slip resistant surface on the 1-inch bars. It’s a little powdered metal dot applied with a laser or by welding. We will do it different ways depending on what the customer orders,” Apperson says. Some want a sandpaper-like finish.

The next step is fabrication. OGI punches holes through the bars so that a cross bar can be inserted in order to “construct the grid.” In this product, OGI uses a round 5⁄16-inch-diameter seamless tube with 0.065-inch-thick wall. OGI punches round holes in the bars, slides the tube through the holes, then runs the assembly through a swage machine to deform the cross bars tubes and lock all bars into place. 

The cross bars are spaced 4 inches on center. The swage squeezes the tube. It looks like multi-finger pliers, going in upside down. The pliers go between the top bars (grating surface) and bearing bars (weight-bearing structure) to squeeze the tube. “This locks the spacing for the top surface bars relative to each other, holds them vertical and keeps them spaced properly,” says Apperson. These top surface bars are spaced 7⁄16 inch on center. The 3⁄16-inch thickness of bars results in the 1⁄4-inch spacing. “Under the first set of cross bars are a series of 1-inch by 1⁄8-inch heavy cross bars that are welded in to provide extra strength,” he says.

Most of OGI’s products are more than 50 percent open for ventilation, Apperson says. Expanded metal offers close spacing but may not offer the strength, or open area for light, air and water drainage required for many applications.


Diverse projects

Meanwhile, the Wheels n’ Heels grating has been used elsewhere in New York City (bus bulbs on Broadway, electric utility vaults, Hudson River Piers, and the High Line Park), and in other cities including Chicago; St. Louis; Tacoma, Washington; and Fort Worth, Texas.

In Chicago, for example, “We are working with Commonwealth Edison and the Chicago Transit Authority on their gratings. We are also working on the new Chicago Riverwalk, and on the Navy Pier renovation,” Apperson notes. 

The need for security has pushed OGI to innovate not just gratings, but also hinges, latches and locking mechanisms. 

“We created a hatch system to open the grating just like a door. It can open 180 degrees and features a lock system. We offer different kinds of locks including those for electric utilities that have vaults which are accessed by employees to work on transformers.”

Similarly, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority needs to access utilities and ventilation. 

“Each customer has different ways they want to lock up. We developed a special locking device for Com Ed, which is being installed in Chicago’s Loop district. This is a nice hatch with a lock plate, meant to protect from unauthorized access.” 

OGI continues to win projects ranging from parks and recreation, transit, electric utility, commercial, architectural, bridges, marine, oil and gas, coal, railroad and wastewater treatment.

OGI offers not only the industry standard light-duty bar grating, but also very specialized and project-specific products. As a result of the company’s integration, its engineering expertise, solutions, customization and practical results in the field, “we have been pretty busy. We are doing well.” MM


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