Visual, tactile and emotional. That’s how D.A. Distribution describes their products. If you viewed their products in person, you’d agree.

The people at D.A. Distribution have a very special talent: forming concrete into stone and brick building materials that look and feel completely natural, even when examined closely. The product line includes indoor and outdoor architectural stone veneers, thin brick veneers, hearthstones, keystones, sills, wall caps, post caps, and manufactured stone and brick accessories. These unique products are used on residential and commercial buildings, signage, entryways, patios, fireplaces, and bars to name just a few.

The Minneapolis, Minnesota-based company has been in business since 1977 and has additional distribution centers in California, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Their products are used by architects, builders, property managers, and residence owners who want natural-looking decorative veneers that last like stone or brick, but with a very affordable array of colors and styles that make it easy to meet design goals while reducing installation costs.
The company recently recognized a new market opportunity for a modular, manufactured stone siding product that could be fastened to most any type of interior and exterior wall. So they created Waypost Stone Siding.

Through experience, the product managers at Waypost knew their new siding would be far more attractive if an all-weather, easy-to­use mechanical fastening system could be offered. That way, general tradesmen or even do-it-yourselfers could perform the installation work without hiring professional masons or buying specialized equipment.

Antoniy Petkov, Director of Engineering at Boulder Creek, solved this problem by designing a special bracket that used high-strength fasteners to attach the siding to the building. The bracket would make the siding easy to install and permanent, but it was specialized and not available off-the-shelf. Panhead fasteners were best suited for this application, so the bracket’s fastening point would need to be countersunk to provide clearance for the fastener head.

“We knew there would be a few manufacturing challenges,” Antoniy said. “We needed the bracket to be perfectly flat. Any twist or warp in the bracket would cause installation problems and slow down the installer’s work.” Antoniy tried other vendors, including manufacturers in China, but none were able to meet all of Waypost’s requirements. Then Antoniy brought this manufacturing challenge to Don Wellman, VP of Sales at EJ Ajax of Minneapolis.

“We shopped around quite a bit,” Antoiny said. “But after talking to Don and inspecting the plant and some of the other metal parts they had produced, we felt confident going with EJ Ajax.”

The EJ Ajax build team went right to work to determine the appropriate material and the best workflow, production methods, and machinery for the task. “We began with selecting the right material,” Don said. “Part of this bracket is molded into the concrete siding, while the remainder is exposed to outdoor elements. The combination of the concrete mix, water and air often causes a chemical reaction that can corrode the metal surface. When metal corrodes, it swells. That expansion would weaken the surrounding concrete and ultimately create gaps in the installation. Avoiding this problem was an absolute must.”

The EJ Ajax team had only three practical choices to effectively avoid corrosion: aluminum, stainless steel, or galvanized steel. Aluminum is less expensive than stainless steel and resists corrosion, but lacks the tensile strength needed to prevent product failure over time. Stainless steel is both strong and resistant to corrosion, but is far more expensive. Regular steel is plenty strong for this application, and affordable, but would require a physical barrier between the concrete and the steel surface to prevent corrosion. Enter galvanizing.
Galvanizing is a zinc coating applied to raw steel through a process called “continuous hot-dip,” in which the steel passes through a bath of molten zinc. The zinc bonds to the iron particles in the steel, forming a protective layer on all sides. Because the zinc coating does not flake, chip or peel, it can be metalformed. Plus it’s ecomomical. The team had the material they needed.

“The next challenge was method of manufacture,” Don explained. “We needed a process that could perform the blanking, embossing, and metal forming perfectly, without tearing the hit points or warping the length. But we also needed to provide Waypost managers with a means to vary the bracket lengths to accommodate any changes in product style or size without worrying about production setup.”

The build team discussed several options and ideas, finally arriving at a single design that would satisfy all requirements. “The finished tooling was one of the most sophisticated machine tool builds that EJ Ajax has ever been involved with,” Don recalled. “When our customers ask about our tooling capabilities, this is the project I point to. Simply an amazing machine tool.”

Once the material and tooling hurdles were cleared, the build team was able to quickly finish up the production plan and get the project online. The team produced part samples that were presented to Waypost managers. After several process modifications to perfect the outcome, the team was able to get the project into final production. The results were excellent, and management at D.A. Distribution could not be happier.

“Our sales for this product are running according to projections,” Antoniy said. “We’re looking forward to a solid 2016.”