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Are Wall Panels in Your Future?
Viking Engineering develops ADT wall panel line. It could be a good fit for some pallet companies looking to diversify.

By Dr. Ed Brindley
Date Posted: 6/1/2003

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.—When I first heard that Viking Engineering, a well known supplier of nailing systems and nails to the pallet industry, had acquired and developed the ADT wall panel manufacturing line, the potential connection with the pallet industry seemed like it might be a stretch. After attending The Viking-ADT open house on April 23, my perspective took on a little different dimension.

Even though Viking has kept its work on the ADT 1000 Series wall panel assembly system relatively quiet, a number of pallet manufacturers have expressed an interest in this potential product line. Pallet manufacturers are experienced in nailing wood into useful products, cutting wood to the desired lengths, hiring people who can work in this kind of environment, and moving pieces of wood around efficiently. In a manufacturing sense, building wall panel units and building pallets are cousins.

This notion captured Viking’s attention as a potential market. Now that the ADT 1000 Series system is on the market, Viking Engineering is making it available to any interested wood product manufacturer. Viking bought ADT in January 2002, bringing Jim Boyle and Mike Hansen in along with the budding product line. These two men brought a huge amount of building and automating experience with them to add to the existing Viking team. Viking already has nine remote technicians in the field to service its equipment, along with four telephone technicians to help troubleshoot and provide needed parts. The company has well over 1,000 pallet nailing systems in the U.S. and spread around the world in 19 countries. Viking’s in-house financial services and manufacturing capability completes its ability to service customers’ nailing and materials handling needs.

Automated Housing Market

The question may be whether or not there is a good market for wall panel units. At one time virtually all houses were stick built on the site, and many still are. But the trend is growing towards building wall panel units in a factory, shipping them to a building site, and assembling them in a new house or housing unit.

Remember the time that roofs were virtually all stick built on site? Manufactured roof trusses are now an accepted fact in housing; their superior strength is well recognized. Wall panel units may be well on the way to a similar future. According to Mike, general manager of Viking ADT, who has devoted much of his life to the construction industry, there are around 3,600 factories in the U.S. and Canada building housing parts. Roof truss factories are the most common, but many truss manufacturers now build wall panels, and the number of dedicated wall panel factories is steadily rising.

Lineal feet of panel production is the common way of describing a factory’s output. A typical U.S. wall panel factory manufactures around 800 to 1,000 lineal feet of panels per day.

Housing starts have been very strong because of low interest rates. We may have entered a long-term market where rates will stay relatively low. If so, then there is reason to expect housing starts to remain strong. In addition, the low cost of borrowing money is allowing people to build larger houses, which of course require more feet of walls.

Other housing markets, such as apartments, assisted living units, and modular homes, are helping lead the charge toward automated construction. Estimates are that stick built versus factory built wall panels may be fairly close in market share, but market differences are widely spread according to region.

Dean Bodem, ceo of Viking Engineering, said, "We identified the wall panel market as a good potential market for our company. After becoming deeply involved, the parallel with the pallet industry has become that much more evident. Pallet people are experienced in fastening wood components and moving wooden parts, the same two elements that are fundamental to wall panel construction."

Why has wall panel construction grown in the housing market? The construction industry is having a difficult time getting qualified labor; sounds a little familiar to the pallet industry. If wall panels can be built faster for less in a factory, it frees on-site carpenters to be more productive. Many job sites use piece work, which can be expedited by prefabricated wall units. Construction scheduling becomes tighter over time, again favoring prefab units.

The increase in Hispanic construction workers has made the language barrier a problem for some foremen; wall panel units help simplify the construction process. Quality is said to be suffering in the construction industry. Factory construction provides a consistency that on-site construction can never match.

Architects often make mistakes. Building wall panel units in a factory tends to uncover these errors before the framing process. Construction is now a year-round process. Building during winter months is much easier and more environmentally desirable if you can enclose the structure quickly using factory built panels. Precipitation and temperature impacts are greatly reduced. Wood and disposal costs are reduced when construction takes place in a more controlled factory environment versus on the site.

Attracting and keeping good people is one of the biggest problems in construction. Like roof trusses, factory built wall panels are a plus in this regard.

The list of reasons why wall panels are growing in popularity is long. Thus, the potential of a good long-term market seems to be strong.

Viking ADT 1000 Wall
Panel Assembly System

Viking purchased an existing wall panel assembly system that was still in its developing and fine tuning stages. ADT started about 8-1/2 years ago, and Viking acquired it close to a year and a half ago. The result is the Viking ADT 1000 Wall Panel Assembly System.

Viking designed this system to be ergonomically desirable for the system operators. System owners can decide the degree of automation desired. The line is open for operators to move through the line at gate positions and down the center of the line between the conveyors. The system is set at a comfortable 32-inch working height.

A wall panel line consists of five different pieces of machinery or work centers: a component station, a framing station, a squaring station and accumulation station, a routing bridge, and a sheathing bridge. A company that has no automation can do all of the operations by hand. Of course, this requires more people and reduces the efficiency and consistency gained from automation.

Time can be easily wasted while waiting on components. The ADT 1000 component station uses manual or powered conveyors to allow the transfer of components from the component station to the framing station, setting the line’s production pace.

At the framing station, both powered and integrated models come standard with the Turbo Pro event driven wall panel assembly software. One operator can control all the functions from any of the three stations. The auto return home feature, event driven programming and cap plate nailing are all standard features. The ADT 1000 automated tool carriages reduce labor and increase efficiency.

The powered tool carriages are the brawn of the ADT 1000 framing station. With Turbo Pro event driven programming, the carriage senses the number of nails needed, be it for a 2x4 or 2x6, and drives them to the desired depth at the needed locations. The system also fastens headers on a preset schedule and returns to fastening studs to complete the wall panel. The ADT 1000 can apply nails, staples, or other desired fasteners into either wood or metal framing material. Viking is working with Packaging Inc., a six state distributor of Paslode fastening tools.

An assembled frame panel moves to the ADT 1000 squaring station, the foundation of the ADT 1000 sheathing bridge and routing bridge. The squaring station acts as a working height platform, product squaring device, and a material handling conveyor.

After the sheathing is placed on the wall unit, the ADT 1000 powered router floats above the material and plunges to cut at the push of a button. The joystick alignment and self-guided routing features allow the sheathing bridge operator to oversee the routing process and eliminate labor dedicated solely to routing.

The wall panel unit then progresses to the sheathing bridge, which fastens the routed sheathing to the wall panel frame. Change over time from one fastener type to another is a common complaint associated with this step in other systems. ADT answers this challenge by using only seven tools instead of up to the 40 or more used in many systems. The ADT sheathing bridge uses three tools for stud and seam fastening and four for plate, header and sill fastening.

A patented tool suspension allows consistent fastener drive depths on the moving carriage. The high load coil option allows the use of 3,000 fastener coils for each tool. A special 3 degree tilt for panel seams allows the tools to tilt in both directions for better seam fastening and avoiding shiners.

Any pallet and container company that is interested in learning more about wall panel construction and the Viking ADT 1000 wall panel manufacturing line, should contact the company at 800/575-3720. The growing wall panel market might offer a product that will complement pallets and containers and use much of the same skill pool.

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