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Getting the right fit with Illinois solar project

S-5! Attachment Solutions recently took on a complex solar project at the McElroy Metal plant in Illinois, which required a multi-faceted approach since the facility has two different roof types, and S-5! worked closely with the company to determine the m

By Diane Mettler

There is an expression: a company is only as good as its employees. Well, there may be a new saying catching on—your rooftop solar array is only as good as the clamps that attach it to the roof. Okay, maybe it won't become a household phrase, but it's the truth.

Last September, Colorado Springs-based company S-5! Attachment Solutions took part in a large-scale, multi-faceted 390.6 kW solar conversion project in Clinton, Illinois, for McElroy Metal, a leading producer of metal roofing and siding.

The solar array comprised of Hanwha Q-Plus L-G42 350W solar panels supplied by Inovateus was mounted using S-5!'s PVKIT 2.0 and comprised of MidGrabs and EdgeGrabs. Once the kits (with appropriate clamps or brackets) were added to the roof system, SECCO Electric was able to mount the solar panels directly onto the roof with S-5! clamps and brackets. Chint Power Systems SCA60KTL-DO/US-480 inverters were used on the project.

The S-5! RibBrackets II are specifically designed to attach to the type of roof profile on McElroy Metal's plant, providing the best fit and tested holding-capacity for the dimensions of the rib.

"One of the unique features of our products is that we test them for holding strength in independent laboratories," says S-5! founder and CEO Rob Haddock. "In total, we've done well over 3,000 individual load tests to determine the holding strength to the roof of our brackets and clamps.

"Through testing, math, and engineering, we prove that whatever loads those modules are exposed to in-service are resisted successfully by the mounting hardware of the module and its attachment to the roof."

S-5! and McElroy Metal go back decades. This solar conversion is the third for McElroy Metal—and all three projects involved S-5! attachments.

"When it comes time for the solar side of things, we believe in S-5! as the best solution for a metal roof," says Ken Gieseke of McElroy Metal. "We just go to S-5! with information on the existing roof system, or what we're converting it to, and get their opinion on the best clamps to use, and away we go.

"The S-5! attachments are designed by Rob Haddock, a guy who really knows roofing," adds Gieseke. "Rob's background is in metal roofing and the metal building business. So he's been around metal his whole adult life and understands how systems go together. The fact you can attach things like solar panels to metal roofs without penetrating the roof and just attaching clamps and brackets to the seam is really quite a brilliant idea and a concept that just makes a lot of sense."

The multi-faceted 390.6 kW solar conversion project for McElroy Metal, a leading producer of metal roofing and siding, included Hanwha 350W solar panels mounted using S-5! Attachment Solutions' PVKIT 2.0. 

The S-5! brand is well known within the solar PV community. Many solar EPC companies elect to mount their equipment with S-5! products based on its reputation and its benefits.

"We had a PVKIT within the solar space prior to the 2.0 version," explains Haddock. "We just reinvented it, calling it PVKIT 2.0. These kits are our method of attaching modules directly to metal roofs without using intermediary structures, specifically rails or racks, which is a significant cost, weight, and logistics savings."

The PVKIT's pre-assembled components reduce installation time and costs for PV mounting, eliminating the need for an elaborate rail system.

"Customers tell us different things about labor savings," says Haddock, "but those numbers vary from 30 to 50 percent in labor savings. The figures on freight savings are generally 60 percent or more, and the savings in the hard costs of the mounting hardware also varies from about 30 to 50 percent."

Another advantage of the product is that loads are distributed into the roof and building structure much more uniformly than other methods of attachment. And the product is only 15 to 20 percent of the weight of rail-mounted systems.

"Another advantage is that logistically, because our product is so compact and weighs a fraction of what other mounting system hardware weighs, it has an implication to jobsite logistics and freight logistics," adds Haddock. "For instance, 250 kilowatts of rails would fill a semi-trailer. But 250 kilowatts of S-5! PVKIT and clamps will fit easily in the trunk of your car."

Innovation has been a constant for S-5! The company continually develops various ways to mount modules directly to a metal roof without rails or racking, always looking for the most efficient and time-saving application without compromising the integrity of the roof or modules.

PVKIT 2.0 is a method of attaching modules directly to metal roofs without using intermediary structures, specifically rails or racks, which results in significant cost, weight, and logistics savings. 

"We had been using the PVKIT for a couple of years and decided to rethink the design," says Haddock. "We actually listened to what our customers liked and did not like about the PVKIT." Based on that feedback, the company produced the PVKIT 2.0. "We reinvented it," says Haddock. "And the reception in the marketplace to that reinvention has been overwhelming."

The PVKIT works on every metal roof and every commercial module. The only variable is the clamp or bracket that fits on the roof. All clamps and brackets integrate with the PVKIT. "But the solar market came later—almost a decade after we had created prudent, innovative ways to mount almost anything to metal roofs. Solar was just a natural application for an already proven solution.

"We make attachments for all kinds of things, not just solar," adds Haddock. "We didn't jump into the attachment field because of the solar revolution. Our inventions are basically prudent and pre-manufactured ways to attach things to metal roofs in a way that, in most cases, is non-invasive to the roof. But in all cases, is designed to last the life of the roof and require zero maintenance."

Haddock has 48 years of industry experience and steadfastly believes that metal roofing is superior to all other roofing types. At 19, he owned a metal roofing business. When he "retired" in his mid-50s, he transitioned to consulting. "As a consultant, I was often asked to determine why a roof had failed and realized the need for a roof attachment solution," recalls Haddock.

Seeing what needed to be done in 1991, he founded S-5! His goal was to make metal the most user-friendly roof type in the market. Since then, they developed enough new products to hold 50 U.S. and foreign patents and have installed a staggering amount of solar.

Both Rob Haddock of S-5! Attachment Solutions and Ken Gieseke of McElroy Metal see continued growth for metal roofs and the solar panels that attach to them. "Metal roofs make the most sense because they actually outlive the solar, and it's one of the only roof types you can say that about," says Haddock. 

"We do lots of projects smaller than the McElroy Metal conversion, and lots of projects larger than that," says Haddock. "We did Apple's world headquarters which, I believe, was 7.4 megawatts. We also did a project at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport that was four or five megawatts."

In fact, every Costco store roof in the world has incorporated S-5! products. Haddock estimates the company has installed more than two gigawatts of solar onto metal roofs over the years.

Both Haddock and Gieseke see a continued growth for both metal roofs and the solar panels that attach to them.

"The metal roof market is growing year over year in residential applications," says Haddock. "It's grown from less than 2 percent to over 13 percent market penetration in residential use over the last two decades. So you're seeing more metal roofs used in residential construction and as a result, more of our products on those roofs. Metal roofs make the most sense because they actually outlive the solar, and it's one of the only roof types you can say that about."

Gieseke agrees. "With solar installations, there's not a better host substrate than standing seam metal roofing, because you have a long-term roof that's going to last for decades.

"You greatly reduce the risk of having to take the solar panels off and put on a new roof that's worn out. With the S-5! products and standing seam metal roofing, you're not penetrating the roof. Anytime you can avoid putting a hole in a roof, no matter what kind of roof system it is, you're better off because a hole is a potential for a leak, and with standing seam metal roofing and S-5! solutions, you don't have any penetrations at all."

Today S-5! has its headquarters in Colorado Springs and a 58,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in North Texas serving international markets in Canada, Australia, Central America, South America, Europe, and Asia with their attachments utilized on two million metal roofs worldwide, including enormous structures like the world headquarters of IBM, Google, and NATO.

The company has approximately 20 employees in sales, administration, and marketing and another 60 employees in manufacturing.

"We don't outsource any manufacturing," says Haddock. "All of our products are exclusively made in our own state-of-the-art plant in the U.S.A., built specifically to make our products." Because both the plant and the manufacturing equipment were specifically designed to manufacture only S-5! products, Haddock says it allows for strict quality control of all S-5! parts and components.

As solar panels continue to evolve and change, there is no doubt that S-5! will continue to modify and innovate new systems for metal roof direct-attachments. "We're in the business of innovating new and better solutions for all kinds of roof attachments, and we're in a continuous product improvement mode so that we're constantly reinventing," says Haddock. "We will continue to invent and improve our products."