Fabcon Precast

FabconFabcon is educating people about the advantages of precast.

By Alan Dorich, Senior Editor at Knighthouse Publishing

The use of precast wall systems is at the height of its popularity, making it a good time for Fabcon Precast to be in business. Compared to other construction means, “It’s a product that installs much faster and with less manpower,” Jim Houtman declares. “It offers a better-quality building.”

Houtman is the vice president of sales and marketing for the Savage, Minn.-based company, which is one of the leaders in its field. David Hanson and Gerald Rauenhorst founded Fabcon in 1970 with the goal of developing the potential of SpanDeck technology, which was used at the time for making concrete wall panels and floor slabs.Fabcon info box

But over time, Fabcon grew its capabilities, which included the purchase of The American Precast Co. in Grove City, Ohio, in 1995, and the additions of plants in Pennsylvania and Kansas, both of which were expanded in 2018. Out of its four strategic plan locations, Fabcon has built in 39 states and four Canadian provinces.

Today, Fabcon sets itself apart by not only designing, manufacturing and installing the precast wall panels, but also by providing the proper engineering support. Each project is customized to meet the unique needs of the customer.

For example, Houtman says, Fabcon will modify an existing building if necessary for additions and expansions, and team with general contractors to get buildings up quickly. Additionally, “It’s a great product,” he states.

“We offer some of the highest insulation values in the market and we have the greatest structural capabilities,” he continues. “We can go longer and taller than any other precasters can.” 

Spreading Awareness

Despite the popularity of precast, Fabcon still encounters confusion among clients about the product. But the company is taking steps to educate people about precast’s benefits with its new VERSUS campaign.

Tom Ostrom, the owner of Ostrom Creative and strategist behind VERSUS, explains that one of the common misconceptions people have about precast is that it is the same as a site cast product. When it is precast, “The panels are manufactured in a controlled environment,” he says.

But site-cast panels are cast and poured “on-site at some point in the construction process,” Ostrom says. “You might see a crane with the panels in play, but if you didn’t know how they got there, you might not know [the difference].”

Many architects, he notes, like precast but others are not familiar enough with it. “They think you build big gray rectangles,” he says. “We wanted to point out how precast is a great solution.”

Another goal of VERSUS is to show the advantages of precast over other products. When Ostrom met with Fabcon’s sales team, “They said, ‘We would love to take on these other forms of construction, head-to-head and objectively,’” he recalls.

The program also aims to clear up what types of buildings precast will work best for. Although the product is very cost effective and high performance, “It’s not for every building,” Ostrom admits. 

“Historically, this is something we’ve struggled with,” he says. “[But] there are times where we’re really the best solution in a lot of ways.” 

Clear Advantages

Fabcon is in the first stage of the VERSUS campaign, which has presented content via print and online. However, “We’re not only going after architects, but we are looking to talk with developers and building owners as well,” Ostrom says.

The campaign also has included continuing education courses on the product. “Our sales staff does presentations to architects,” Houtman says, adding that the company plans to present more courses in the future. 

Additional courses will be available on Building Design & Construction’s website in 2019. In addition, Fabcon is rolling out a 12-month video/animation campaign designed to educate audiences this coming year.

But a major focus of VERSUS’ first stage has been the advantages of precast over site-cast products. One area where precast is more flexible, he notes, is in the number of finishes it can have. 

It also is subject to less quality issues, while site cast is at the mercy of environmental conditions outdoors, such as the rain or cold. The quality, he notes, becomes even more important as the height of panels increase. When builders use site cast, “They tend to take over the whole site,” Houtman says. 

But precast allows them to better control quality by having it manufactured indoors, where there are more controls. “With precast, you can start manufacturing the panels before the job site is even ready,” Ostrom says.

The panels also can be manufactured, taken to the job site and stacked in sequential order. With site cast, “You can only erect them as fast as you can make them,” he says.

Going Forward

In its future stages, the VERSUS campaign will add more content to Fabcon’s website and highlight the advantages of precast over masonry, pre-engineered metal buildings and custom-engineered buildings. Houtman notes that the advantages of precast over masonry are similar to the ones it has over site cast.

For example, “With masonry, if you get any height at all, you’re involved in scaffolding on-site and you’re dealing with grouted products,” he says, noting that this can lead to the disturbance of natural conditions. “It’s very labor intensive.”

So far, Fabcon and Ostrom Creative have seen a strong reaction to VERSUS, which has outperformed other Fabcon campaigns. “There seems to be an appetite for this,” Ostrom says. “It seems like we did find a hot button and they are consuming the content.”

When the campaign started, Ostrom expected to receive a negative reaction from some sales organizations. Instead, “It’s been very well received,” he says. “We run it in different segments where the audience is primarily architects.”

Houtman also credits VERSUS’ success to the educational approach it takes. “We’re not going out and pounding on people that precast is the perfect solution for every building,” he says. “We have had a few leads that have said, ‘We didn’t know you could do this or that.’”

More with Less

One of the misconceptions that many have about precast, Houtman says, is that they cannot get insulated precast panels. But Fabcon’s VersaCore+Green Sandwich panel proves that perception is wrong.

The product features a continuous 2.5-inch layer of insulation, which improves by the R-value by 250 percent over other methods, including site-cast panels and CMU construction. “The Fabcon sandwich is actually one of the most energy efficient wall systems in the marketplace,” he declares.

Another misconception is centered around lead times. “People think they have to wait a long time to get precast,” he says, noting that this can be true when working with some of the company’s competition.

But Fabcon can move much faster. “Typically, we can design, manufacture and get the panels to the job site in a shorter schedule than some would think,” he says, adding that the company also can install them with smaller crews.

Usually, “We come on-site with a crew of five people versus a masonry crew of 20 or 30,” he says, noting that when Fabcon on is on a job site, other trades can continue their work. “It’s a product that installs much faster with less manpower.”

Developing with Demand

Ostrom and Houtman are longtime veterans of Fabcon. While Ostrom has collaborated with the company for 18 years, Houtman joined Fabcon 36 years ago. He credits its success to its philosophy of seeking out new products.

“We’ve always been an innovative company looking for the latest development,” Houtman says. “Back in the day, we pioneered insulated wall panels and we developed new finishes. We’ve tried to develop with the market demand.” 

He adds that the company is currently launching its continuous insulation panel, Edge, to meet increasing building code requirements. “As we have in the past, we are providing work to existing, now under the name W2E, where we can augment an existing precast building by adding door/window openings as well as updating caulking and general building repairs,” he says.

Ostrom sees a strong future for the VERSUS campaign. “We’ll have good strong legs for two to three years,” he predicts. “At the end, we’ll have to find something that’s equally compelling.”

He also sees more success for Fabcon, as it continues searching for new ways to innovate. For example, “This summer, Fabcon built a panel that was 73 feet high,” he says. “That’s pretty amazing.”

Some regions, he notes, are looking for panels that are even bigger. “That’s definitely something that these other forms of construction struggle with,” he asserts.

Houtman also predicts that Fabcon will thrive, as the popularity for precast continues to grow. The product, he notes, provides its clients with more convenience, helping them cope with a tight labor market.

“A lot of the materials we compete against are pretty labor intensive,” he says, noting that it is becoming harder for Fabcon’s clients to recruit new, younger workers. “They don’t want to learn how to lay block. They want to make a career behind a computer versus working out in 15 below F temperatures.”

The product also meets the needs of escalating project schedules. “The faster someone can acquire a site, get a building up in the ground, the more I think precast is going to have a bright future,” he says. “It’s going to continue to evolve with new products, new capabilities and new finishes.”  

SIDEBAR – Superior Properties

Fabcon Precast’s product advantages include durability. “Our panels offer structural stability that is resistant to dents, corrosion and rust,” the company says. “They also require less maintenance without sacrificing aesthetics.”

The products also allow Fabcon to be efficient during all seasons. “That means less erection time lost to harsh weather, more accurate lead times and the ability to salvage projects that have fallen behind schedule,” it says.

They also offer advantages with site prep. “With Fabcon, there is less need for storage or staging areas on site, leaving more room for other trades to maneuver,” it says.

Finally, the panels also provide advantages with energy efficiency. “Fabcon’s superior, integrated insulating properties offer variable R-values up to R-28.2, so you can right size the thermal performance of your building,” the company says.


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