Today, perhaps one of the most talked about subjects in the world of construction is “panelization.” Pick up any trade magazine and there is bound to be an article on the subject. The concept has been around for decades. In fact, Precision Walls first started fabricating panels 40 years ago. Much has evolved since those first panels; Technology, speed of construction, cladding choices, safety, quality, etc. can be among the current drivers pushing panelization.
Prefab, another term used with this concept, can lead to yet additional possibilities. A few examples would be prefabricated bathroom pods, prefab wiring raceways and prefab hospital head walls. As more projects incorporate technologies like Building Information Modeling (BIM) and other digital imagining technologies, prefab offers huge opportunities.
We all know that rarely is a project built to the exact dimensions that are shown on a set of plans; however, if the project can be designed in a 3-D world with enough data input, an exact replica of the model can be built in the field. In doing so, constructing segments of that building off-site and months ahead now becomes an opportunity with little possibility for things to go wrong. This is where BIM collaboration is a vital component to the modeling process. The different trades come together in building the model so there are no surprises out on the jobsite. This collaboration is becoming more prominent with the higher profile projects and will make prefabrication more lucrative on projects to come.
3 Ways to Utilize Prefabrication in Precision Walls’ Typical Scope
Let us look at three concepts in Precision Walls’ typical scope (and not so typical) where prefabrication can be utilized.
Kitting is a broad term used for prefabricating any of the components used in the work we perform on a jobsite. Examples can be something as simple as pre-cutting wallboard and framing members. If conditions are repetitive enough on a project, then pre-rip and pre-cutting of wallboard off-site can lend itself to increased productivity.
Wallboard that is pre-cut can be stocked at the project without any pre-work on site, and no waste to dispose of after that installation. Even feeding wallboard to a Panel-Max or Groove-90 can benefit if there is enough pre-ripped wallboard to cut and complete offsite. The concept of Kitting becomes even more lucrative when considering CFS framing. The cutting of headers, jambs, sills, cripples, etc. off-site where equipment can be utilized that is not practical or allowed on the jobsite becomes possible. As more projects are moving away from corded tools (like a chop saw) and away from cutting operations that generate sparks, offsite fabrication offers many opportunities.
Given the right offsite set-up, other efficiencies can be achieved as well. Controlling accuracy has a greater opportunity offsite and lends itself to less re-work on the project. Concise labeling of these components is an important piece of the process to get right. Kitting is perhaps the simplest and cheapest form of prefabrication.
Of late, load-bearing panels have offered the most opportunity for Precision Walls. Currently, Precision Walls is panelizing a project in Greensboro that is four separate 3-story buildings. Over 1.2 million pounds of steel is going into this project. Our Greensboro Branch has completed two other load-bearing projects in the past year, and we are busy budgeting several projects at other Branches. Speed of installation is perhaps the strongest selling feature of panelizing these sorts of structures. Onsite installation can be as much as 4-5 times faster than conventional stick framing.
Quality control is also an important factor driving these projects to be panelized. It goes without saying that it is of utmost importance that we get the detailing and fabrication right on these sorts of panels. Our framing is what is supporting the structure, and it must be right. There are many components of the facility that Precision Walls operates out of that lends to both increased productivity and quality. Air assisted fabrication tables help keep panels square, accessible on all sides, top and bottom, and rollers to aid in removing the panels. Our modified forklift can accommodate moving around panels up to 12’ x 32’ and longer if necessary. 12’ is really the longest width dimension that we have to deal with, as anything over that requires special permits to move the panels on the highway.
Precision Walls has a tractor and 48’ trailers that can be used to shuttle panels to the jobsite. As discussed earlier, BIM plays a big role in the fabrication of load-bearing panels. To build the panels accurately, panel drawings must be generated. These panel drawings take all the guess work out of the process of building these panels. Once produced they can even generate a “cut-list” that can be extremely helpful in ordering materials. Many of these panels can be complicated with up to 20 different components of that one panel. Panel drawings that are color coded and detail each of the members and components is extremely helpful. Many factors are driving mid-rise construction to look to cold-formed steel (CFS) load-bearing framing as the concept of design. As technology gets more enhanced, fire codes more stringent, and lumber prices skyrocketing, CFS load-bearing projects have a great future.
Architectural panels are the ones most talked about in the design and architectural communities. New cladding and finish systems of unique and diverse substrates go well beyond the EIFS panel systems of the past. Sto Panels, a group of affiliates that Precision Walls is part of, has been an industry leader in promoting how these systems can come together. Sto has partnered with different cladding manufactures, and more recently with window manufacturers to test and guarantee different assemblies of products. With these types of panels, the installed cost is lower than if all the claddings and glaze openings were installed in place. With the low cost coupled with the other inherent features of panels, it’s not a shock that Owners and Architects have clamored to know more.
One of the most important lessons to learn about these panels is getting into the design process of the structure early. Attachment points for these panels are typically different than it would be for in-place construction. Panels can be attached to just about any type of building design (steel, poured in place, etc.), but design considerations must be incorporated. As can be imagined, BIM modeling of the panels is a must. Dimensions are critical and must be strictly followed both in the field and in the Panel Plant. Precision Walls currently has limited capacity to manufacture finish panels, however through our affiliate network, our partners can manufacture these types of panels for Precision to install.
As old as the concept is of Prefab, there is still many facets yet to be embraced. As technology advances, panelization will become evermore the staple of commercial (and residential) construction. Precision Walls’ goal is to stay at the forefront of this capability and add value to our business partners.