Working around an Obstruction with Modular Wall Panels

Modular building with existing building column in the way

Looking to expand your modular office, but that I-beam is in the way of the wall panels?

One of the greatest advantages of using modular wall panels for your in-plant offices is their ability to easily change and grow as your needs change.  Back in 2010, we provided a customer with a 20’x12’ modular in-plant office with an internal wall, splitting the space into two separate offices.  A few years later they decided to rearrange the wall panels, taking out the dividing wall and creating one large office space.  Earlier this year, the customer contacted us again looking to further expand upon the room, adding an additional 16’ to the system.  This is an easy modification to make.  Typically you would just disassemble the end 12’ wall, add four new 4’ modular wall panels to each of the 20’ long walls, and then close it back off with the existing 12’ end.   But this extension offered a little twist that I thought we could talk about today.  There was an I-beam right where the wall panels would go through.

Using angle and an internal steel stud to tie a modular wall panel to  an I-beam

Conceptual sketch showing how the wall panels would be secured to the I-beam

If the wall panels fall between the flanges, the most cost effective method would be to terminate the wall on both sides of the webbing and secure it to the I-beam using some 1”x6” angle and an internal stud.  This is not the cleanest method though, as the I-beam appears to cut through the wall and typically leaves a gap in the grid ceiling inside the I-beam.

conceptual model of using modular wall panels to box around an obstruction

Conceptual sketch showing how the wall panels can could be used to box out the I-beam

In this particular case the flange of the I-beam lined up with the outer sheet of gyp-board, creating an obstruction.   Because of this we simply boxed around the I-beam with wall panels, closing it off.  While this method requires a bit more in the way of materials, it allows for a very clean and uniform appearance.

modular wall panels boxing out an obstruction

The view from inside the finished modular office extension.

Two Wall and Three Wall In-Plant Offices

two wall modular building system

Two wall in-plant office system utilizing the customer’s existing block walls

Many of the in-plant offices we provide customers are located around the perimeter of their building, and we are often asked about the possibility of utilizing the existing wall.  Depending on the site conditions, a two or three wall system could offer a significant cost savings versus a typical four wall in-plant office.  Today, I’d like to talk a little about how an in-plant office can utilize your existing building walls and some of the factors to consider if a two or three wall modular building system is a good fit for your space.

Panelized building system connecting to existing block wall

By utilizing the customer’s existing block wall, they were able to design a row of offices along the back wall of their facility without needing to reroute their existing lines

One thing to consider when thinking about designing a two or three wall in-plant office is what kind of walls are in place.  If we are going to utilize your existing walls, we are going to need to tie into them in a couple different places.  We will need to attach a piece of channel called a wall start from the floor to the top of the panel, wherever the panel would connect to the building wall.  As we typically use a corrugated roof deck to form the membrane that holds the building together, we will also need to attach an angle along the enclosed length of the wall at the panel height.  Because of this, the walls need to be substantial enough to be tied into.  Block, stud and gypsum, or concrete walls are great.  Steel skinned buildings are not.  The wall should also be even across the locations where the building would tie in.  If there’s a significant gap, such as in some brick walls, you’ll need to add some flashing to seal off the gaps into the building.  In some buildings there has been a wall built in front of the steel skin wall.  Remember to make sure the height of the front wall is taller than the height of the building panels.

Modular wall system above and below a mezzanine

A four wall in-plant office above the mezzanine with a two wall modular building system below the deck

Recently, we have done a number of mezzanine supported in-plant offices along the perimeters of the customers’ buildings, and are often asked if we could utilize the existing building walls.  The issue here, though, is that even though you might not realize it, there is some movement on the platform different from the existing building wall.  These forces would weaken the structural integrity of the building system.  At the ground level below the mezzanine, we can potentially utilize the existing building walls, but we would need to go with a four wall system on top of the platform.

two wall building system below a mezzanine

This two wall modular building system allowed our customer to separate production from the employee entrance.

A two wall modular building system offers a number of advantages, such as the ability to utilize existing windows/wiring, as well as a cost savings from using fewer materials and labor.  If you are looking at putting in some in-plant offices, it might be worth your while to consider going with a two or three wall building system.

Mezzanine Supported Modular Office

Mezzanine with modular office above

Mezzanine supported modular office with a two-wall modular building below

Whether you’re running out of room on the plant floor or need to oversee production, mezzanines are commonly employed to support and elevate modular buildings.  Recently we received some great photos back on a project we completed last month for a mezzanine supported modular office that I thought you might like to see.  The customer was located right here in Northeast Ohio.  They were putting in a new line on the plant floor and needed to tear down some offices they had in order to make room.   There wasn’t enough space to relocate the offices elsewhere on the plant floor, so they decided to utilize some of their unused overhead space.

Side view of mezzanine and modular office.

A 9’ high mezzanine supported modular office with an 8’ high modular wall system below.

When thinking on putting in a mezzanine supported modular building, it’s important to consider just how much space is available.  Remember that with typical column spans in low seismic areas, you’ll probably lose 1’3” to 1’5” for the mezzanine itself.  If you plan on having people move through the area you will need to maintain a minimum of 7’ for clearance.  The modular building panels are typically 8’ or 9’ tall, and unless you are planning on supporting them by the structure above, you will probably want about a foot more in order to install the roof deck to the panels which helps form the membrane that holds the system together.   In this particular case the customer’s mezzanine had a clearance height of 8’7” with a 9’10” top of deck.  This provided us enough room to install a modular office above (9’ tall panels, 9’3-1/8” overall height, 8’6” clearance height) and an 8’ high (8’3-1/8” overall with a 7’6” clear ceiling height) modular wall system below.

inside modular building

Four wall modular office above the mezzanine with customer provided/ installed floor covering

While designing these mezzanine supported modular offices, we’re often asked if we can utilize the adjacent existing walls.  While this is commonly done on the main floor of a facility, unfortunately we cannot do this up on top of the mezzanine deck.   There will always be some movement and vibrations on top of an elevated structure and because of this the structure would need to be a four wall system and not tie into the adjacent walls.  In this particular care, we put in a four wall system above the mezzanine deck as well as a two wall system below the deck to create an enclosed pass way between the production floor, the front offices beyond the cinder block wall, and the production floor entrance way to the outside.

inside view of two wall modular wall system

Two wall modular wall system below the mezzanine

It took our installers 6 work days to unload and install (both mechanical and electrical) the 24’x10’ mezzanine, the 24’x10’ 4-wall modular office above, and the 9’x22’9” two wall modular wall system below, and we had yet another very happy customer.

Removable Access Panel in a Modular Building Equipment Enclosure

cmm room equipment enclosure

New CMM room with removable panel above the door

A very common application for modular buildings is as an equipment enclosure.  The customer is trying to cordon off an area on their production floor to encapsulate a certain process.   Sometimes they are trying to isolate the sound it produces.  Sometimes they are trying to isolate it from a dusty environment.  A lot of these machines, such as CMM machines, won’t fit through a 6’8” or 7’ high doorway.  Once the equipment is in place it usually stays there for many years, but customers often want the ability to get it in and out of the room on rare occasions should the need arise without having to disassemble a good chunk of the building.  For a doorway that will only be used once in a blue moon, it’s rarely cost effective to order a custom swing door, or put in an additional canister style door for equipment access.  A much more cost effective method that we’ve found is to put in a removable access panel.

Removable panel on a modular building

Removable panel above a 6′ x 8′ doorway

Recently, we provided a customer with a modular building to use as an equipment enclosure for their new CMM equipment.  On a day to day basis, a 6’ wide x 6’8” high double door would be more than sufficient for them, but they wanted to be able to occasionally pass something larger through the doorway.   If they were going to pass taller materials through the door way more regularly we could have ordered in a special 8’ high double door, but because they only needed once in a blue moon access we were able save them several hundred dollars in material by putting in a removable panel section above their doorway.  

removable panel drawing

Adding a removable panel is a fairly simple thing to do.  The panels were cut in the factory to accommodate a 6’ wide x 8’ high opening.  We took an additional panel section to cover the gap above the 6’ x 6’8” door and framed it in using the channel for the door frame and some additional “h” cap trim pieces we normally use along the top of the panels.  We also installed “h” cap to the building panels at the opening above the door and fastened the removable panel to the opening.  This sealed off the seams between the panels.  Now when the customer needs that little bit of extra space, all they need to do is remove the screws connecting the panel to the building, allowing them to fit their larger equipment through.

 

 

 

Visiting an Old Mezzanine Supported Modular Office

mezzainine supported modular office from 1997

After almost 20 years of service this modular office is holding up great

Occasionally, I’m asked about how well our modular offices hold up over the years if they are designed so that they can be reconfigured in the future as your needs change.  Surely, after general wear and tear they will want to just order a new building anyway, no?   Well, I recently had the opportunity to visit an old customer of ours.  Over the years, we’ve provided them with a number of mezzanines, catwalks, and modular offices.  Several of the modular offices have been disassembled, modified, and reinstalled in different locations.  While there, I got an opportunity to look at this old tank platform mezzanine and A-wall 300 modular office we provided them with back in 1997.  The steel decking has started to bend up a little at the seam in a couple areas, but after almost twenty years of service the mezzanine and modular office were in excellent condition.  If the customer wanted to, it would still be a simple task to disassemble the modular office and put it up again in a new location, possibly with a few modifications.  The components are all still compatible with what we provide today.  The only design change is that the I-splines used to connect the panels in the A-wall 300 modular building system are now typically painted to match the panels as opposed to the same color as the framing on the windows and doors.  So yes, these modular buildings are built to last.

 

Putting a Window and a Through the Wall Air Conditioner in the Same Panel of a Modular Building

Non progressive modular building system with a through the wall HVAC

The existing modular building with a through the wall HVAC, before modifications.

 

Modular building systems are designed to be relatively easy to modify should the need arise.  This past summer we put in this 10′ by 11′ odd shaped modular building to serve as a control booth at a steel plant here in Ohio.  All the panels had a window in them, aside from a small panel on the end which held a through the wall heat/cool air conditioner. After everything was installed, the workers who operate the control booth determined that they wanted to add a window to that panel as well, and move the air conditioner above the window.  Unfortunately, modular wall panels are not generally designed to support a through the wall air conditioner when placed above a window.   We could, however, modify it to put the air conditioner below the window.

non progressive modular wall system dissassembly

Removing the modular building wall panel to make the modifications

Depending on the modular building system used, there are a couple of different ways to go about making the modifications.  In this particular case, with it being a non-progressive modular building system with steel skinned panels, we reused the existing materials, and made the modification directly to the panel.  We shipped the customer a new custom width window to fit inside the narrow panel, and some new trim for the framed HVAC opening as the customer decided to put in a heavier duty air conditioner while we were doing the modifications.  All the other components were reused from the existing.

Modular wall system with window and HVAC in the same panel

After the modifications the wall panel now has a new window and HVAC below

 

The modifications were fairly quick and easy.  When the installers arrived, they disassembled that section of the building to remove the panel in question.  They then cut the modular building panel to fit the new window and air conditioner.  Afterwards, it was simply a case of putting it back together.  All said and done, it took two guys about half a day to complete the modifications.

 

Using Modular Building Materials to Build a Control Room in a Steel Plant

Steel plant control room constructed of non-progressive modular building system

The shiny new control room made using modular building materials.

We recently received some photos back of a modular building we provided a customer that I thought would be nice to share with you.  The customer has a steel plant here in Ohio, and was looking to replace and expand upon an existing steel constructed control room pulpit on their mill floor.

Looking inside the odd shaped modular building control booth

The irregular shaped control panel dictated the pentagonal shape of the building.

The new control room was roughly 10’ long x 11’ wide x 9’ high, but due to the shape of one of their existing control panels, the room needed to be pentagonal with a diagonal wall.  The wall panels were made of 24 ga painted steel with a 3” thick polystyrene core.  The customer wanted the building to stand out and requested we paint everything safety yellow.

For this project we used a more traditional progressive building system where the wall panels were separated by wiring chases as opposed to our non-progressive A-wall system. While this system does not offer the uniform sound barrier that the A-wall system offers and has more pieces required to install, it did offer them some advantages.  Due to the overall design of this project, it was less expensive for the customer. If something were to happen to one of the panels that would require it to be replaced, they would not need to disassemble as much to replace it as the progressive system allows them to remove an individual panel without needing to start at the corner.  The customer also has several other control rooms in their facility of this same design.  They’re very pleased with them and wanted to maintain compatibility through their plant.

Exposed recessed beam in ceiling plenum of modular building control room

With the control room ready for electrical installation, you can clearly see the beam used in the ceiling plenum to provide the customer with a 25 PSF “walking load” for the roof deck.

Using a steel beam in the ceiling plenum, and some heavier gage reinforced wiring chases underneath, we were able to also provide the customer with a 25 PSF “walking load” capacity for their roof deck.  For one more special little touch, we were able to provide the customer with some cabinets that would fit above their windows to store their notebooks and such.

bright yellow steel mill control booth

The bright safety yellow control room really stands out.

Their existing control room was torn down on Saturday, and the new modular building was put up on Sunday, ready for their electricians to wire in the control panels.  The customer was really pleased with how quickly the transition went.

 

Finishes of modular building wall panels

When starting out on a project, it’s important to pick the right material. Painted mild steel rusts when used outdoors. Wood products swell when soaked. Stainless steel is expensive. You need to compare the properties of the material against the environment in which it will be utilized.

Modular wall systems are a versatile piece of equipment used in a number of different environments and applications. Because of this, we offer a number of different types of finishes on the panels so that we can meet the different requirements of the project.

 Modular building panels with a vinyl finish

6 mil. vinyl, Class A fire rated,  stipple textured vinyl.   Bone and white are standard.

Bone vinyl over gypsum A-wall building panel

The vast majority of the modular buildings we provide feature a vinyl finish to the panels. It serves as our best, and most cost effective, general all-purpose finish, offering you a clean finish to the panel so that you don’t need to paint the walls in the field. Being covered in vinyl also allows you to clean them with a damp sponge if the walls get dirty. One common application where we would use vinyl clad panels would be in an office space.

Modular building panels with a painted steel finish

Embossed, 24 gauge,  galvanized, painted steel.   Almond and white are standard. Smooth also available.

Almond painted steel over gypsum A-wall modular building panel

Another common option that we offer is to finish the panels with painted steel sheets, which can be applied to the inside of the panel, the outside of the panel, or both. Most commonly this is used in equipment enclosures where we are concerned that something might pierce the walls. The steel sheet acts as a layer of armor helping to prevent shrapnel from puncturing the system. The steel sheets also offer an additional benefit important in many equipment enclosures. Our typical wall panels consisting of two sheets of ½” gypsum board separated by polystyrene studs generally offer an STC of 32. The additional mass of the steel helps minimize the ability of sound to be transmitted through the walls. For each side of the wall that is clad in steel the STC rating increases roughly by one.

Fiberglass reinforced plastic modular building panel finish

Pebble textured, Class  C fire rated, Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic. Khaki and white are standard.   Smooth and Class A also available.

Khaki FRP clad gypsum modular wall panel

The third most common finish that we offer is fiberglass reinforced plastic (or FRP). FRP is our most durable modular wall panel finish. It holds up exceptionally well to various scrapes and abrasions, and the FRP is a more water resistant finish as well. One of the most common applications where we’ll use an FRP wall panel finish would be for bathroom walls.

Tempered Safety Glass Windows

This past week I had a customer who had a slight misunderstanding of what tempered safety glass was, so I thought I’d take a minute to discuss just what tempered glass is and the safety features it provides.

Tempered (or toughened) glass is a type of safety glass in which chemical or thermal treatments are used to strengthen it so that it is harder to break then standard glass.  Tempering compresses the outer surfaces and puts the inner surfaces of the glass into tension.  When broken, these forces cause the glass to crumble into granular chunks as opposed to larger sharp edged pieces, and are much less likely to cut you.  This is why auto manufactures use tempered safety glass in the side and rear windows of cars.

If you’ve ever had a broken side window on your car, you’ve seen how when tempered safety glass breaks it shatters into hundreds of small grainy pieces all over the inside of your car.  If you’ve broken your windshield though, you can see a spider web of cracks throughout the window, but it typically stays in its frame as opposed to filling the car with pieces of glass.  Auto manufactures do something different with the windshields.  They use laminated safety glass.

If the goal is to keep your modular building‘s window in its frame if it breaks, you’ll need to look at either wired glass or laminated glass.

Relocating a Modular Office

A-Wall 200 modular in-plant office.  Still in great shape after one reconfiguration and 6+ years of use.

A-Wall 200 modular in-plant office. Still in great shape after one reconfiguration and 6+ years of use.

One of the major advantages of modular building systems over traditional construction is their ability to adapt to your changing needs.  Let’s take this project for example.

6+ year old A-Wall 200 modular office.  Here, the first reconfiguration moved the door from the other side of the building.

6+ year old modular office after the first reconfiguration moving the door from the other side of the building.

Back in early 2008, we provided the customer with a 24’ wide x 42’ long x 9’ high modular in-plant office.  The original layout had three doors. There were two on one 24’ end, and one on the other.  A few years later as their layout around the building was changing, the 24’ long wall with two doors was going to get blocked off.   By disassembling a portion of the building and swapping 4’ panels with one another, the customer was able to relocate the doors to the 42’ long walls.

Over the years the customer’s needs continued to change.   They recently decided to remove the in-plant office.   If this was built out of traditional construction, the office space would be torn down and that would be the

Installing the reconfigured in-plant office in its new location. Recessed beams used to support the roof deck due to the long spans.

Installing the reconfigured in-plant office in its new location. Recessed beams used to support the roof deck due to the long spans.

end of it.  However, as this was modular construction, the customer found another spot in their plant where the building could be relocated in a slightly smaller (24’ wide x 34’ long) form.

We were able to reuse almost all of the materials when we relocated it.  We replaced the base track, as well as the ceiling grid and tiles.  The base track is very difficult to remove without creating kinks in the channel.   As the panels fit very snuggly into new base track, any kink in the track can make it almost impossible to fit.  Likewise, the material cost to replace the ceiling grid and tiles is usually significantly less than the additional labor to carefully disassemble the ceiling for reuse.

Relocating the modular office panels

Relocating the modular office panels

There were some additional considerations that went into the reconfiguration to maximize the materials we could reuse.  On the A-Wall building systems with a non-load bearing roof, we can span the roof deck a maximum 20’.  In the original 24’x42’ layout, we used a couple of 24’ long recessed beams to break the spans approximately into thirds.  By maintaining the 24’ width and by making sure that none of the spans between beams grew, we were able to reuse the beams and roof deck without needing to order any additional material.

The modular wall system’s ability to be rearranged and reconfigured for a new application, or disassembled and re-installed in a new location, is one of this customer’s favorite features.  They’ve purchased a number of modular buildings from us over the years and most of them have been rearranged or relocated at least once.