Architect’s Corner: Industry Shift

The Acceleration of West Coast Panelization

by Tim Salerno, director of StoPanel, & Jason Anderson, VP of Preconstruction at MKB

(Editor’s Note:  Tim Salerno has been in the construction industry for 30 years, all of which have been with Sto® Corp.  He is currently director of StoPanel to help grow Sto’s prefabrication business throughout North America, also known as StoPanel Technology.  Jason Anderson leads MKB’s prefabrication business, Kapture Prefab, which specializes in exterior non-load bearing wall panels and interior multi-trade prefabrication, with hopes of helping further the offsite construction movement and change the way we build.)

From extreme heat to extended rain, Mother Nature can certainly put the brakes on a construction site.  Add in the effects of a global pandemic, and activity on a project can slow down dramatically or come to a complete halt.  With the rise of panelization, the rules of engagement are changing rapidly.  Construction crews can now more effectively manage weather sensitivity and manpower requirements, thereby keeping projects on schedule. 

         From the perspective of StoPanel® Affiliate Kapture Prefab, prefabrication is a methodology of construction and requires a different mindset from all involved parties.  It can provide up to an 80% reduction in building envelope installation time, a substantial decrease in manpower needs, and assurance that temperature-sensitive materials are installed indoors. 

         When owners, architects, general contractors, and prefabricated panel manufacturers come together, it becomes much clearer that prefabricated exterior wall panels can make substantial contributions to solving complex challenges.  Panelization and prefabrication deliver multiple benefits and savings, including:

•       Schedule Certainty – Prefabricated walls are manufactured and prepared for delivery once a project is ready for installation. 

•       Shortened Schedule – Installation is typically completed in weeks rather than months.

•       Climate-Controlled – Extreme temperatures, rain, snow, and humidity are kept away and do not slow down the panel fabrication process. 

•       Higher Quality – Prefabricated panels are quality-controlled and adhere to manufacturer’s quality control guidelines. 

•       Smaller Crews – Prefabricated wall systems can be installed with smaller crew sizes, typically six to eight people. 

•       Lightweight Panels – Energy-efficient, lightweight panels reduce structural and foundation requirements. 

•       Reduced Carbon Footprint – A reduction in crew, combined with a decrease in material waste, creates a lower carbon footprint.

•       Improved Safety – When scaffolding is removed and on-site personnel is reduced, safety is improved.

•       Diverse Aesthetic Options – Prefabrication allows for unlimited color, texture, and cladding material options, providing architects with freedom. 

•       Code Compliance- Prefabricated wall manufacturers typically provide evidence of building code compliance, such as ICC Evaluation Reports.

         Adoption of panelization is progressing as owners, general contractors, and architects discover substantial benefits.  Projects designed for site fabrication are often redesigned to achieve their objectives more effectively.  At architectural and construction firms across the nation, early adopters of prefabrication serve as ambassadors within their organizations.  It is the focus on collaboration that brings the benefits of prefabricated exterior walls to the attention of design teams.  Collaboration is also expanding the scope of solutions that prefabrication can provide.  Architects bring aesthetic inspiration, general contractors have real-world challenges, and prefabricated panel manufacturers provide flexible exterior envelope solutions.

         Five years ago, prefabrication was in the early stages of growth.  Today, building owners often expect general contractors to conduct an evaluation that includes options for prefabrication.  For many building owners, it has become part of their standard set of considerations.  The West Coast saw even slower growth until recently, but has followed a similar trajectory as other regions with exponential growth as the mindset of leaders in the industry shifts.   

         Though all projects feature elements that need to be constructed on site, the pendulum is rapidly shifting toward prefabrication.  Rather than products manufactured for on-site construction being converted for factory assembly, the industry is moving into developing more factory-specific products that are engineered for prefabrication.  From office and retail buildings to hospitality, healthcare, student housing, and multifamily residences, sourcing and installing the optimal building envelope solution requires an innovative and integrated approach. 

         The West Coast continues to see a rise in prefabrication applications that are likely to expand through innovative partnerships.  The rise of prefabricated exterior walls represents a value proposition to everyone involved in the construction of a building.  Panelization saves time and money, drives innovation, and can ultimately accelerate the completion of a building while delivering the realization of an architect’s vision.

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