Deciding how your technical building should be constructed is a tough decision. First, there is deciding whether to go with a steel modular structure or constructing the building on-site with traditional stick-built construction. Modular is the preferred method of technical building construction, but do you know why?   

Once you’ve decided to go modular, you are presented with another decision. Should I go with panelized steel construction or the standard steel construction for my modular technical building?

They can both be utilized to fabricate many different types of technical buildings, including RIEs, E-Houses, MCCs, and more, but each has unique advantages and disadvantages, depending on the building's specific use case and final installation location.

Armoda’s team of engineers have constructed technical buildings using both fabrication methods for numerous projects. Below we will breakdown how each building is manufactured, the similarities they share, and the advantages each one provides. This will help you understand which is right for your project.

How are they manufactured?

Both panelized and standard fabrication methods are pre-engineered steel structures. This means their components, or modules, are built in a factory setting according to the same codes as any traditionally constructed building. The finished modules are transported by commercial trucks or barges, for onshore and offshore locations, to the project site, where they are installed and commissioned.

Standard Steel Modular Building Fabrication

These buildings are similar in size, shape and appearance to a metal container, but they are custom built to the client’s specifications. They can incorporate doors, windows, HVAC, electrical and custom architectural finishes.

These buildings are typically constructed by welding a base foundation and then building the structure up from that base. The structural members are then welded to the base frame creating an open box.

Then, flat or corrugated metal sheets are placed around the exterior of the building and welded to the vertical structural members. They are welded from top to bottom, and then the roof is welded into place, creating a watertight seal. Windows, doors, and HVAC cutouts are pre-engineered and put into place whenever the walls are installed.

Panelized Steel Modular Building Fabrication

Like the standard steel building, the panelized building starts with a base plate and vertical structural members. Steel panels are then installed by screwing them to the top and bottom frame and then screwing the panels together where each panel overlaps the previous one, creating a watertight seal and forming a virtual stud at the joint. Then, the roof is installed similarly, with channel members going around the building's roofline, encompassing the panels below it.

Advantages & Disadvantages

The differences in fabrication methods used in each type of building give them both unique advantages. These differences are what help guide you in deciding which building is correct for you and your project.

Advantages of Standard Steel Modular Buildings:

  • Lower Material Cost – The flat or corrugated metal used to form the building's exterior is readily available and does not have to be custom fabricated like the exterior panels of the panelized building.
  • Higher Blast Rating - These are stronger buildings and can be manufactured to meet blast ratings.
  • Protect Lives – Because these buildings can be designed to meet higher certification standards and structural loads than panelized buildings, they are the preferred building to protect people in hazardous environments. This prevents major financial loss, injuries, and lost lives.

Disadvantages of Standard Steel Modular Buildings:

  • Heavier – These buildings have an increased weight due to the use steel, which requires a stronger foundation.
  • Increased Labor – You could see a great labor cost due to the amount of welding required for each steel section.
  • Typically, higher completed cost than a panelized building.

Advantages of Panelized Steel Modular Buildings

  • Quicker Fabrication – Overall manufacturing time to complete the build is faster due to fewer fabrication hours required to finish.
  • Reduced Labor Hours – Bolting the panels together can be completed in a shorter time frame than the welding method used in standard steel buildings.
  • Lower Overall Cost – Final completed cost is typically lower than a standard steel building.
  • Protect Equipment – The lower overall cost makes these buildings the go-to for providing housing of equipment-only units.

Disadvantages of Panelized Steel Modular Buildings

  • Higher Material Costs – The custom-fabricated panels typically cost more than the corrugated metal used in the standard buildings.
  • Lower Blast Rating – While panelized buildings can be built to meet a blast rating, they can only achieve a limited rating. Depending on the hazard analysis identified during facility siting studies, standard steel buildings may be required to mitigate risk due to damage levels and overpressure requirements.

Both panelized and standard steel modular technical buildings are great choices for housing and protecting your equipment and employees in remote or hazardous areas. Their modular construction allows them to reduce site disruption and lower the overall construction costs. Compared to stick-built buildings, the shorter installation times and minimal onsite labor needed for installation mean that these buildings get your projects up and running fast.

Each project is unique and has different requirements for the technical building utilized. The standard steel modular technical buildings can be built to higher certification standards, making them ideal for hazardous locations where both people and equipment need to be protected. Panelized steel modular technical buildings are lower-cost buildings with exterior access capabilities that make them the go-to for equipment housing.

Armoda has provided both panelized and standard steel modular technical buildings to our clients worldwide and we would love the chance to talk about the the differences between these buildings or how a technical building could right for your next project. If you are more the do-it-yourself type, you can always read more about modular technical buildings in our overview of the different types of buildings and how they are utilized.