According to the McKinsey Global Institute, construction productivity has fallen by half since the 1960s. While there are many factors at play, one of the biggest threats to this labor-driven industry is the growing shortage of young, qualified workers. When the recession hit in 2008, nearly 600,000 workers left construction jobs never to return.
Faced with an endemic shortage of skilled laborers—coupled with the short construction window dictated by frigid Wisconsin winters—Friede has adopted an innovative approach: panelization. This method of manufacturing wall panels in an off-site factory and delivering them to the jobsite to be assembled has shaved months off projects, while allowing us to send smaller crews into the field to get the work done.
When successfully used, panelized construction provides numerous benefits. Factory operations enable automation and mass production of wall panels that meet specific structural specifications.
Furthermore, the factory environment provides methods for more efficient utilization of materials and human resources. Panelized construction also requires less space allocated on job sites, which can be key in nearly every construction application, especially where space and time is at a premium.
Panelization In Practice
Here are just a few of the projects where we have used panelization:
Casa de Oakes Assisted Living
Casa de Oakes is a 40-unit, 33,000-square-foot assisted living and memory care community located in Reedsburg, Wisconsin. The new building includes office space for Casa de Oakes, Inc. as well as 20 units of assisted living and 20 units of dementia care housing. The wood-framed project took advantage of off-site panelization of both exterior and interior walls, allowing construction to stay on-time and on-budget. The project was completed in eight months, a full two months ahead of schedule.
HuHot Mongolian Grill
Located in Lake Delton, Wisconsin, the 5,200-square-foot restaurant was built on a very tight jobsite and required a condensed construction schedule. Prior to construction, the Village of Lake Delton had adopted some new design standards that made for a lengthy approval process. In addition, old and outdated utilities had to be removed and new ones installed. The location was formerly home to a gas station, and cleanup was required for soil contaminated by a rusted fuel line. With these challenges looming, construction needed to be completed in just six months. Without the use of panelization for the exterior walls, the project would not have been completed on-time.
Sleep Inn & Suites
The new Choice Hotels Sleep Inn & Suites in Oregon, Wisconsin is a 36,000-square-foot, 66-unit hotel featuring six suites with extended-stay kitchenettes. At the same time, the Friede team also constructed an indoor/outdoor whirlpool and an indoor pool to enhance guests’ stays. To meet an extremely aggressive schedule, the walls were constructed in panels off-sight and transferred to the location to be erected in segments. Because Choice Hotels' goal was to be open as soon as possible, the Friede team completed the project in just eight months, despite losing 23 work days due to bad weather.
White Mound County Park Community Building
The new, 3,000-square-foot conventionally-framed building in Hillpoint, Wisconsin replaces the original White Mound County Park building, a log structure built in the 1980s. Designed to be on a single accessible level, the building houses the administrative offices for the Sauk County Parks Department, provides concessions, rentals and back-up showers for the nearby campground, and has a spacious 720-square-foot community room that is available for meetings, weddings, and other events. Panelization of the exterior walls was used to minimize disruption on-site and maintain the construction schedule.
Vintage Brewing Company
This 26,000-square-foot brewery, located in Sauk City, offers panoramic views of the Wisconsin River, a seasonal outdoor beer garden, 40 tap lines in the main bar, and a beautiful 250-person wedding and banquet area. This project involved nearly every type of construction, including 16-foot, poured concrete walls in the basement and a pre-cast floor system, structural steel framing for the upper two levels, exposed wood floor trusses, panelized wall framing, masonry elevator shafts and stairwells, Exterior Insulation Finishing System (EIFS) and metal building exterior skin. In order to capture the aesthetics the owners were seeking while meeting the project’s budget and schedule, our team installed panelized wall sections that had been constructed off-site, which would then be covered by faux brickwork as part of the EIFS installation.
Benefits = More Than Time Savings
Panelization has quickly proved to be a cost- and time-saving construction technique, providing flexible and environmentally-friendly design options. Friede & Associates has developed relationships with reliable suppliers for custom building panels.
“Close to 75% of our wood work is now being done with panelization,” says Scott Truehl, co-owner and executive vice president at Friede. “We’ve got four- or six-man crews that are installing panels and getting structures dried-in within a week. That would take them a month if they had just started out with a bunch of lumber.”
When Friede & Associates first started utilizing panelization 10 years ago, many suppliers could only handle basic panels, such as the exterior walls of a building. Now, due to Friede’s demand, as well as that from other area contractors, local suppliers are providing panels that can be used in more varied and versatile ways.
“It used to be, if we were building a closet, we’d have to stick-frame that on-site,” Truehl says. “But now, we can get that two-foot interior wall section, too, and save that much more time putting it in.”
Due to increased demand and the number of contractors using panelization construction, many suppliers are also widening their service area. “Right now, my local suppliers are within an hour of our place, but they’ve indicated they will supply us with panels anywhere we want to go,” says Truehl, who says the panelization module easily lends itself to a larger geographic footprint. “Once you develop a relationship with a supplier, whether that supplier is in Canada or Mexico or frankly, overseas, it’s not hard to imagine it expanding on that scale.”
New challenges within the industry and on the jobsite necessitate innovation because one thing never changes: our clients need to occupy their new facilities on time and have their high-quality projects constructed within budget. Consider the expertise of the Friede team paired with panelization construction, or any other construction methods, for your next project.