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What's Wrong With Using Off-Brand Channel?

Last month, we did a post on imitation Unistrut trolleys and how to spot fake parts that are billed as genuine product.  This month we are circling back to our "buyer beware" theme and exploring the potential downside to using off-brand channel.

The other day, one of our team members stopped to visit a locally-based  structural engineer.  The purpose of the visit was to review an upcoming job.  During the course of the conversation, the engineer mentioned that he had specified our channel for a recent project (MEP racks) and he was curious how things turned out.  When we replied that we didn't supply material for the job in question, our engineer friend had a puzzled look on his face and he adamantly stated "But I specified Unistrut!" Our engineer friend did specify Unistrut, and when he did a sitewalkthroughh, he looked up towards the ceiling and saw green strut that he assumed was ours.  Assumptions are often dangerous, in this case, the GC purchased off-brand strut imported from overseas.A few weeks after our visit, we received a call from the engineer who called to report a problem with his design.  We knew we hadn't supplied the material, but we go way back with the engineer in question and we agreed to meet him to inspect the installation.  The GC met us at the job site and immediately started coming clean.  He admitted to purchasing off-brand strut that arrived late and shared that some of the material had arrived in poor condition.  He also admitted that some of the cuts weren't to tolerance.  Then we took out some calipers to measure wall thickness and found that the channel didn't meet the Unistrut specification for wall thickness.  From a distance, the GC's strut looked like ours, but the calipers told another story (See our Tech Sheet titled Is Your 12 Gauge Really 12 Gauge?)

12 gauge channel comparisons

The performance issues related to this structure were now easily explained.  The engineer's calculations assumed the use of genuine Unistrut channel which is thicker than the off brand used on this project. The end result was additional work--both for the engineer, who had to design additional bracing to shore up the structure, and the contractor who needed to return to the site to complete the reinforcement per the engineer's revised design.  Everyone lost on this one--the owner, the GC, and the engineer.  The lesson here is simple:  off-brand strut may not perform like genuine Unistrut material.  If you are looking to save a few bucks, you may be tempted to substitute off-brand strut for the real thing, but buyer beware.  There's no telling how this decision may affect the outcome of your project.