What Framers Think of Your Wall Panels


What Framers Think of Your Wall Panels

BCMC: Wall Panel Roundtable

NFC members weigh in during wall panel roundtable

Construction workers putting up wall panels

Successful wall panel applications today are more than simply mimicking, in an environmentally-controlled factory setting, what would otherwise be stick-framed in the field. Replicating walls built in the field in a panel format is the traditional approach most CMs have utilized over the last couple decades. This approach is predicated on the assumption that installation times should significantly drop and overcome additional expenses of delivery and design. Yet, successful panelizers today are building the process around the framer, understanding the drivers that truly make them more efficient with panel products. 

Framers suggest CMs need to turn an eye to designing wood fiber out of the panels they produce, driving down material costs to help overcome added expenses from panel fabrication. This means looking at every stud, header, trimmer, and plate to reduce raw materials going into the panel where appropriate. Similarly, framers say CMs need to look to their design software with a critical eye to ensure standard processes and settings grandfathered into the software aren’t unwittingly increasing material costs. Imagine where the roof truss industry would be if trusses were built as similarly in a factory as stick framing is conducted in the field. For example, roof trusses would typically have a 2x10 top chord and a 2x6 bottom chord, resulting in a significantly less competitive product. 

Additionally, wall panel success is becoming increasingly dependent on a CM’s logistical capacity. Builders and framers are faced with tighter jobsites that don’t allow an entire project’s worth of wall panels to show up at one time. Beyond that, framers need to be able to pick the panel they need easily without having to sort through multiple stacks, spreading numerous panels across their jobsite. Installation efficiencies associated with panels are quickly eroded if framers are required to play “52 pickup” with a CM’s panels on the jobsite. 

Essentially, success with wall panels in a modern component systems approach to offsite construction comes down to communicating and collaborating closely with the framing installation labor. CMs need to understand framer’s pain points and work with them to find solutions to those issues. Know how they want to layout wall panels on a job and the order in which they want to stand the panels. The more a CM strives to increase a framers efficiency through incremental improvements to their products and logistics, the more framers they will have requesting to use panels on their next project.