Flexible fabric curtain walls are popular for plant operations because they’re omni-functional and offer flexibility in managing physical space; improving productivity; saving energy; recapturing needed floor space; controlling temperature, odor, dust and sound; and ultimately improving or protecting the bottom line.
Yet another major reason why more plants in a wide range of industries use reconfigurable flexible walls is because they can be installed relatively quickly and easily, making them an affordable alternative to permanent walls and insulated metal panel (IMP) systems. And, they can be reconfigured if needed in the future.
Flex walls defined
Flexible fabric walls are engineered industrial fabric curtains. They can be insulated or non-insulated, and sliding or stationary, depending on the application. They can be installed to temporarily zone or partition space, or used indefinitely to address long-term needs. Flexible fabric walls shouldn’t be confused with traditional-built walls (studs and drywall), IMP systems or welding curtains.
Figure 1. Flexible fabric walls are an ideal choice for controlling temperature, humidity, heat, noise, odor, dust or other elements in industrial plants and warehouses.
The flexible walls can’t be used as load-bearing walls. Beyond that, their applications are limitless (Figure 1). If there’s a need to put physical space to better use or to improve operational efficiencies or to save energy, there’s a way to address it with flexible walls. Each application depends on building and floor plans and requires knowledge about the type of materials and systems that achieve the desired goals. The rest is relatively straightforward.
Keeping it simple
Flexible walls are built around the concept of simplicity. And even though each situation is different, the components of a basic stationary wall system are essentially the same on most projects. They include industrial-grade fabric; steel mounting angles; poly-nailing flaps; and standard fasteners and hardware.
A basic wall can stretch from floor to ceiling and from one end of a permanent wall to another. If full height to the roof deck isn’t mandatory, threaded rod and angle or cable can place the top of the wall at the desired elevation. Typically, the top of the flexible wall is attached to ceiling joists. The weight of the curtains, while minimal for the roof structure, holds the bottom in place in almost every application.
A typical wall is made of five-foot wide fabric panels interconnected with Velcro to span the width of a given space. Curtain height extends to the desired dimension. The walls can be manufactured to reach virtually any height. The panels are secured tightly with Velcro to form a continuous wall from floor to ceiling unless the wall has a doorway. In that case, the fabric is fitted around a framework. The fabric also is designed to fit snugly around pipes, conduit and other penetrations because the goal often is to control temperature, dust and manage any number of other environmental conditions.
Simplicity extends to installation
A plant maintenance crew, or anyone who is mechanically inclined, can install a basic wall system with relative ease, even if it involves doorways and obstructions, such as pipes. The attachments between the fabric wall and ceiling joists vary based on the wall’s orientation relative to the joists. If the joists run perpendicular to the fabric wall:
Tack-weld or clamp a mounting angle to the ceiling joist bottom flanges along where the flexible wall is to be installed. Attach the top of the wall curtain to the mounting angle using self-drilling screws and fender washers spaced approximately 15 inches apart (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Off-the-shelf hardware, such as self-drilling screws and fender washers, are commonly used with a steel mounting angle to secure the top portion of some stationary walls to a facility’s ceiling joists.
- Clamp or tack weld a second mounting angle to the joist top flanges (at the roof deck) along the flexible curtain wall’s path. Screw a smaller valance curtain (using washers) to this mounting angle so that it overlaps the top of the larger bottom curtain. The result is an uninterrupted wall from floor to ceiling.
If the joists run parallel to the fabric wall, tack weld a mounting angle along the joist’s top flange at the roof deck along the linear run of the curtain wall. Fasten the full curtain using self-drilling screws and fender washers at 15-inch intervals.