Prefab Wall Panels: The Advantages of a Highly Engineered System
Prefabricated light gauge panels are being used in construction in an effort to gain the advantage of a highly engineered system. I’ve had limited experience with this type of system, so understanding the benefits and pitfalls of coordination has been educational.
Light Gauge Metal Panel History
Cold formed steel entered the construction industry in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until the mid-1950s that building codes allowed these products to gain a broad acceptance in construction. The 1950’s saw the prefabrication of steel member systems, as well as the introduction of metal truss plates.
By the early 1990s, use of cold-formed steel within residential construction expanded as lumber prices increased. At the same time, the steel industry began to offer additional products and standards that were adapted in this burgeoning market.
In addition to the benefits of steel studs, such as manufacturing tolerances and greater strength and stiffness, panelization also adds several other advantages.
- The panel framing is performed in a controlled environment where weather delays are mitigated and the labor cost is somewhat reduced
- Due to the nature of the prefabrication process, the building structure can proceed before the floor itself is ready, effectively compressing the construction schedule over a traditional ‘stick-built’ structure
- The panels can also receive sheathing, drywall, and other surfaces and accessories that might expedite the project further
Implementation of BIM
A number of programs have been developed to supplement the BIM tools used to coordinate designs and assist in the process of fabrication and coordination. These tools can be used to develop panelized framing simply with a click of a button using your traditional model geometry. This is a huge benefit in the design stages when coordinating with mechanical trades and architectural features.
Panel Coordination Items
As with any prefabricated system, the decision to use light gauge framed systems requires consideration for the other trades on the building, as well as effective communication and coordination to ensure that the building goes together without issues. Below is a list of some of the coordination items that one needs to be aware of when working with a prefabricated system:
- Surveying – Layout of prefabricated elements should be maintained for both structural stability and to ensure interior design elements aren’t impacted
- Erection – Understanding of the both the sequence and method of installation is needed to ensure that building loads factor in the sequence and weight of panels
- Electrical – Location of outlets and accessories, especially in kitchen and bathroom areas, should be scrutinized to coordinate locations with studs and shear wall strapping to eliminate field work
- Rough Openings – Tolerance for shimming, alignment and installation should be provided to allow for successful installation and alignment of windows, doors, mechanical elements and accessories that will be installed after panel installation
- Mechanical – Stud spacing for larger duct openings, especially in corridors or pressurization systems, should be factored in prior to fabrication
- Deformation – Based on loading of the building, shear wall strapping can experience deformation, which can require adjustment after the fact so as not to affect wall finishes
Working with prefabricated panels forces collaboration and preparation just by the very nature that you must have pre-built pieces exactly right to fit specifications.
As an industry, we are committed to delivering quality buildings to our clients. As a company, we believe the path to delivering quality is through collaboration and preparation. We’re finding that the more coordination that we all do ahead of time, the more successful all stakeholders are.